Fazeer Mohammed
Writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain
Trinidad & Tobago Express

England in West Indies 2008-09

Backyard Blues

To say Kensington Oval has not been a happy hunting ground for West Indies recently is putting it mildly

Fazeer Mohammed

February 20, 2009

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England's almost complete dominance of West Indies at Kensington in this modern era has a lot to do with the huge support that successive touring sides have enjoyed © Getty Images
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Whether or not the match was saved yesterday, West Indies need to prepare for an uphill battle in Barbados, for if they felt like foreigners at the Antigua Recreation Ground over the last five days, the fourth Test starting next Thursday at Kensington Oval will underline once again why the island is known as "Little England" and, more importantly, why the real visitors have been virtually unbeatable at the former bastion of Caribbean intimidation and dominance over the past 15 years.

Of course, they are well known for massing in significant numbers in support of the national team at every ground from Dunedin to Sabina Park. However, there surely is no other venue outside of their homeland where English supporters are so overwhelming in number that it will almost be farcical to refer to Chris Gayle as the home captain when he goes out for the toss with Andrew Strauss.

Indeed, he and his teammates will be exceptionally fortunate if the few hardy West Indian souls in the stands are heard above the almost constant din of singing, chanting and cheering by nearly 8,000 barmy and boisterous voices that will turn the refurbished stadium into a five-day version of an English Premier League fixture.

Even if we take into account the dramatic decline in Caribbean cricketing fortunes since 1995, it surely cannot also be a coincidence that England's almost complete dominance of West Indies at Kensington in this modern era has a lot to do with the huge support that successive touring sides have enjoyed at a ground where all visitors invariably came away empty-handed, and most often battered and bruised for their troubles, virtually from the first-ever Test match anywhere in the region was played there in 1930.

That historic fixture against the English ended in a high-scoring draw with Trinidadian Clifford Roach compiling 122 in the first innings to become the first West Indian to register a Test hundred, while George Headley confirmed all expectations of greatness in the making with the Panama-born Jamaican stroking a masterful 176 in the second innings on his debut.

In stark contrast, the next Test there in 1935, also with England as the opponents, was such a batsman's nightmare that West Indies' first innings total of 102 was the highest of the match, yet the visitors prevailed by four wickets.

But that was the last time West Indies would be beaten in a Test at Kensington for 59 years, until 1994, when the first wave of the British fan invasion washed across the ground in jubilant hundreds after their team, led by centuries in both innings from Alec Stewart, completed a crushing victory by 208 runs. It was a performance made all the more remarkable as in the previous Test at the Queen's Park Oval, the English were blown away for just 46 in their second innings to surrender the series with two matches still to play.

Since then, it's been virtually all England at Kensington in terms of support in the stands and results on the field, the sole exception in eight matches (three Tests, five one-day internationals) being a nail-biting one-wicket win courtesy of Ridley Jacobs' determination in the second of two ODIs in 1998.

It was also on that tour that rain ruined England's push for victory on the final day, although West Indians boldly contended that, at 71 without loss overnight in pursuit of 375, they had as much a chance of coming away with the win as England.

 
 
What no doubt made the [1981] humiliation all the more acute was the sight and sound of thousands of Brits singing themselves hoarse and essentially wining on our heads in our own backyards, even if they were severely deficient in the requisite flexibility and sense of rhythm to accomplish the feat with aplomb
 

Fast forward to 2004 and there was no dispute about the result this time nor the degree of the anguish felt by so many former West Indian greats. On the ground where he will forever be remembered for his opening over to Geoff Boycott in the 1981 Test, Michael Holding seemed almost transfixed in disbelief on the sidelines of the post-match ceremony after Matthew Hoggard's hat-trick triggered West Indies' second innings collapse for just 94 and allowed England to cruise to an eight-wicket victory and a 3-0 lead in the four-match series.

What no doubt made the humiliation all the more acute was the sight and sound of thousands of Brits singing themselves hoarse and essentially wining on our heads in our own backyards, even if they were severely deficient in the requisite flexibility and sense of rhythm to accomplish the feat with aplomb.

Even when there was cause for West Indians to cheer, like Ramnaresh Sarwan's unbeaten 104 in a one-dayer later in that same series, England still prevailed.

And, of course, they proceeded to rain on Brian Lara's farewell parade in the last match for both sides at the 2007 World Cup, Kevin Pietersen blazing an even 100 and Stuart Broad hitting the winning run with just one ball and one wicket to spare after the champion left-hander's dismissal by the run out route triggered all sorts of accusations against Marlon Samuels from Trinis enraged that their hero and fellow countryman should have his swansong cut short so abruptly.

So to say Kensington Oval has not been a happy hunting ground for West Indies recently is putting it mildly. It should be noted that since England's breakthrough triumph in 1994, Australia (three times), New Zealand and South Africa have also stormed what has been left of the ramparts there.

It's just that, while losing is bad enough, to be sulking amid thousands of celebrating visitors in what is supposed to be your home ground is almost too much to take.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad

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Fazeer Mohammed Fazeer Mohammed's claim to cricketing fame is that he once played in the same 2nd XI at the Queen's Park Cricket Club in Trinidad with Brian Lara. It was only a brief association, as one was on the way up and the other refusing to come to terms with the depressing reality that his limited ability would take him no further in the game. It certainly has been for the good of the game that Lara never allowed such severely critical assessments to stunt his development. In allowing his fellow countryman to blaze a trail on the field, Mohammed has opted to follow West Indies cricket from the media centre since 1988 as a journalist, and since 1992 as a radio commentator.
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