1950 June 24, 2006

Those two little pals of mine ...

On June 29, 1950, West Indies completed an emphatic 326-run victory over England at Lord's. It was defining moment, not only in West Indies cricket, but in the history of the Caribbean ... and it sparked the release of a famous calypso



Lord Kitchener (with guitar) leads the celebrations at Lord's © Wisden
On June 29, 1950, West Indies completed an emphatic 326-run victory over England at Lord's. It was a defining moment, not only in West Indies cricket, but in the history of the Caribbean. CLR James, the legendary writer, had said that West Indian independence and national consciousness would not be shaped until they had beaten England at home at the game they had invented. They had now done that.

The enduring image of the Test, however, is not the game itself, but the post-match celebrations by a small group of West Indian spectators who, as The Times reported, rushed onto the field armed with "guitar-like instruments", and their celebratory calypsos.

The immediate post-war period had seen an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean into the UK, beginning in earnest in June 1948 when the British Nationality Act came into force. By the time the 1950 touring side arrived, there were around 5,000 Caribbean-born people in the country.

While their numbers at Lord's in June were relatively small, they made their presence felt, maintaining, according to The Times, " a loud commentary on every ball". The Gleaner noted that they had been "gathering strength and originality in their applause", adding that an impromptu steel band had emerged, "beating out time on dustbin lids". Quite what the MCC members made of it we will never know, although one diarist sniffed it was "unnecessary". But drums, rattles and maracas all beat out time, and "one enthusiast scraped away on a cheesegrater with a carving knife".

At the start of the last day - a Thursday - there were few spectators present and those that had made the trip were almost all West Indian. Even then, they numbered fewer than 100. England were heading for defeat; 281 for 4 chasing a ungettable 601 to win.

At lunch, England were nine down, and the end came shortly afterwards at 2.18pm when Johnny Wardle was trapped lbw by Frank Worrell. Sadly, both BBC radio and TV missed the event as there were the distractions of Wimbledon tennis and Women's Hour to contend with.

There was a scramble among the West Indies team for stumps as spectators rushed to the middle. John Goddard, the West Indies captain, led the sprint for the pavilion as well-wishers mobbed his team. "Frustrated in their efforts to get near the players, [the crowd] then joined up in a follow-my-leader fashion and victory jog around the field," reported The Gleaner. "Bottles of rum were produced as if by magic and toasts were drunk to Goddard." About 30 policemen barred the fans from getting too close to the pavilion itself.

Inside the dressing-room, the MCC had laid on champagne, and the sounds of the West Indies' side's celebrations floated across the ground. By the time the squad returned to their base at the Kingsley Hotel, the front of the building had been draped in various flags from across the Caribbean.



Lord Kitchener: a calypso legend © Cricinfo
Sonny Ramadhin, who took 11 for 142, recalled that he was not part of the party as he did not drink at the time. "I used to wait outside in the street until everybody had finished, just biding my time," he smiled. "All I ever drunk was ginger beer. When everybody went out celebrating in London, drinking champagne, I just had a quiet meal with some friends from Trinidad who were in England as students."

The celebrating spectators, meanwhile, continued to meander round Lord's. Popular myth has it that the calypso they strummed and sung was Cricket, Lovely Cricket. That was not, in fact, composed until later in the day.

Leading the revellers was Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), a calypso star who had been in London since 1948. "Right round the ground he went in an African war dance," it was reported, "all in slow time. Kitch, with a khaki sash over bright blue shirt, carried a guitar which he strummed wildly."

"Do you see that patch of ground over there moving," one of the West Indians shouted towards the pavilion. "That's WG Grace turning in his grave."

Kitchener had been composing and singing calypsos through the game, and on the final day one ended:

Walcott, Weekes and Worrell held up their name
With wonder shots throughout the game
But England was beaten clean out of time
With the spin bowling of Ramadhin and Valentine.

The seeds of Cricket, Lovely Cricket had been sewn. There appears to be some confusion about who actually penned the song itself. It was released by and recorded by Lord Beginner (Egbert Moore) and it generally credited as being by him.

Both Kitchener and Beginner had arrived together on the Empire Windrush, the first ship carrying immigrants which docked at Tilbury in 1948, as had Sam Cook, who went on to become mayor of Southwark. He, too, was at Lord's. In 1998 he was interviewed by The Guardian. "I was about going home, about 20 voices said, `Sam, you can't go home, man. Kitchener going to make a song.' I said, `What?' They said, `Just come.' We sat down on the grass and Kitchener says, `Cricket, lovely cricket,' and someone said, `Put Ramadhin in, man.' And he put Ramadhin in, and he went over it, and in 30 minutes he wrote the song, `Cricket, lovely cricket, at Lord's, where I saw it. Yardley won the toss, but Goddard won the Test, with those little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine.' I was there. That was history."



Lord Beginner: released the record of Cricket, Lovely Cricket © Cricinfo
That account was backed by EL Cozier in The Gleaner who said that Kitchener had "already composed a calypso on today's victory and they will be playing it tonight at the Paramount and the Caribbean, two London night clubs most frequented by West Indians." He added that the song had been a work in progress throughout the final day. "I heard Kitchener with its beginnings before the match this morning, but it's probably undergone considerable changes since then."

What is likely is that the final product was something of a joint effort, but Cricket, Lovely Cricket has gone down in folklore.

From the ground, the crowd, led by Kitchener left Lord's and headed for Piccadilly, to the bewilderment of passers-by. "I think it was the first time they'd ever seen such a thing in England," Kitchener beamed. "And we're dancing Trinidad-style, like mas, and dance right down Piccadilly and around Eros."

In the Caribbean, the victory sparked scenes of delirium with public holidays in Barbados and Jamaica. In London, the press praised the West Indians while turning on the England side. Only the curmudgeonly EM Millings in the Evening Standard was less than fulsome, claiming it was "the blackest day for English cricket".

What was sure was the game in general, and Lord's in particular, and the Empire would never be the same again.

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Bibliography
The Cricketer Various
Various newspapers

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo