England v West Indies, 1950 August 21, 2008

Those two little tormentors of mine

Trevor Bailey
When all that could go wrong for England did, against West Indies in the summer of 1950
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West Indies 503 (Worrell 138, Rae 109) beat England 344 (Hutton 202*, Goddard 4-25, Valentine 4-121) and 103 (Valentine 6-39, Ramadhin 3-38) by an innings and 56 runs



Ramadhin and Valentine took 59 wickets between them in four Tests © Getty Images

West Indies beat England 3-1 in the series of 1950, and they saved their best performance for last: The Oval Test, where they trounced us by an innings.

The batting line-up was certainly the strongest they had ever sent to England. It contained the three Ws, who would rank as world-class performers in any era. Weekes was technically the most accomplished of the trio, Worrell the most elegant and beautiful, and Walcott the most powerful. Gerry Gomez, Robert Christiani, and their captain John Goddard were allrounders of international standard. They had batsmen capable of scoring a century down to No. 8.

However the main reason for West Indies' success was the unexpected effectiveness of their two contrasting slower bowlers, Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine, who almost single-handedly dismissed England in three Tests on very good pitches. This was very unusual as in the past it had been their pacemen who had caused the damage.

Surprisingly, West Indies lost the first Test on a sub-standard Old Trafford pitch that was ideal for spinners. Although Ramadhin and Valentine took 15 wickets, the English trio, Jim Laker, Eric Hollies and Bob Berry, exploited the conditions better. West Indies then bounced back in the Lord's Test, where Ramadhin and Valentine demolished England with 18 wickets between them. That proved to be the turning point.

Ramadhin was an unconventional, slow, very accurate offbreak bowler who also possessed a flighted legbreak, which I and numerous other batsmen were never able to pick from his hand. Valentine was a brisk left-arm spinner. From round the wicket he was frequently able to deviate the ball sufficiently to beat the bat and take the edge, just like a wrist-spinner.

England were handicapped by injuries and by selectorial blunders, with the result that no one player figured in all four Tests. Twenty-five players played, including two amateur captains whose combined contributions with bat and ball in the series came to 123 runs, and two wickets at the cost of 168.

Had England been able to open with Len Hutton and Cyril Washbrook, with the world-class Denis Compton, Bill Edrich and Reg Simpson to follow in all four games, they would certainly have drawn the series - perhaps even won.


You'll never dance alone: West Indies supporters, led by Lord Kitchener (with guitar), celebrate after the win at Lord's © Cricinfo Ltd
 
Instead, in the final Test England fielded virtually a new team. Only three players were retained from the side that had been slaughtered in the third Test . Hutton and I returned after injuries, Freddie Brown took over as captain, Compton made his first appearance in the series, and four other players came in.

Our first setback was losing the toss, since the pitch at The Oval, even without rain, was bound to become difficult over time. West Indies batted first and amassed 503 rather slowly on Saturday and Monday. Allan Rae contributed a workmanlike century, and there were useful innings from Gomez and Goddard in the lower order. Worrell, who retired ill for a while, returned eventually to complete his century. When England's turn to bat came, Hutton and Simpson dropped anchor for 70 minutes and were still together at stumps.

Tuesday provided a classic example of the difference between world-class players - Hutton and Compton - and the rest of our batsmen. Hutton batted all day and completed his century. I had never seen him bat better. Compton might well have made a hundred, if he had not been run-out for 44.

There was some rain during the day and it continued on Wednesday morning, making the pitch treacherous. Hutton continued to bat superbly, and there was a gallant last-wicket stand between him and Doug Wright, but we fell 10 runs short of saving the follow-on. Hutton remained undefeated with a wonderfully constructed double-century.

Our second innings turned into a rout as Valentine and Ramadhin picked up nine wickets between them for 77 runs. Although Valentine took 10 wickets in the match, for me it was the silent Ramadhin who got us. He was hardly known in the West Indies at the time, less so in England. He was shy and sensitive, considering he was an Indian in a team full of white and black men. We had never faced someone like that, bowling from that position and at that pace, who turned the ball on a good wicket. Valentine had an easier style, bowled quicker, and was a big spinner. Those two were really the surprise.

Trevor Bailey played 61 Tests for England, taking 132 wickets and making 2290 runs. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket