Those two pals, and Toothpick
Spin bowling is definitely not West Indies' best suit. With only Sonny Ramadhin, Alfred Valentine, and Lance Gibbs of the quality to rank with the lowest of their great openers, middle order, and their long line of fast bowlers, the truth is that when it comes to strength in numbers, West Indies' spin bowling ranks just below their wicketkeeping and probably only above their allrounders.
In terms of quality, though, it's a different matter. No one can question, for example, the quality of batsmen like Conrad Hunte and Gordon Greenidge, George Headley, Viv Richards, and Brian Lara, allrounders like Garry Sobers and Learie Constantine, wicketkeepers like Jackie Hendriks and Jeffrey Dujon, and fast bowlers like Wes Hall and Andy Roberts. The same is true of the three great West Indies spin bowlers. All three of them, Sonny Ramadhin, Alf Valentine and Lance Gibbs possessed quality of the rarest breed.
Two of them, "the spin twins", one bowling with his right hand, the other with his left, were the architects of West Indies' first victory in England and their first series victory anywhere. The other - so slim they called him Toothpick - was an important member of the first great West Indies team, which after victories over India, England, and Australia in the 1960s was rated the unofficial champion of the world.
Valentine was the first (and remains the youngest) bowler to reach 100 Test wickets for West Indies. When Ramadhin finished his career in 1960, after 10 years and 43 Test matches, he held the West Indies record for the most Test wickets, with 158. When Gibbs called it a day in 1976, after 18 years and 79 Test matches, he held the world record for the most Test wickets, with 309.
Although it is "Ramadhin and Valentine" and not the other way round, in West Indies' first Test of 1950, Valentine was called into action before Ramadhin, and he went on to take the first eight wickets in England's first innings. With three more in the second, Valentine got 11 for the match. He went on to finish with 139 in 36 Test matches at an average of 30.32. His haul of 33 wickets in that four-Test series lasted as the West Indies record until 1988, when Malcolm Marshall took 35 wickets in the five-Test series against England.
While Valentine picked up the wickets in the first Test, Ramadhin got match-winning figures of 5 for 66 and 6 for 86 in the second, at Lord's. Bowling offbreaks and legbreaks that were difficult to pick, his greatest day was probably May 30, 1957 at Edgbaston, when he mesmerised England with 7 for 49 runs off 31 overs.
A slim offspinner, Gibbs was a perfect foil to the pace of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, and the many skills of Garry Sobers, during the 1960s. He spun the ball viciously, got it to bounce, varied his pace, length and line beautifully, and bowled a straight one that went on towards slip. While many may talk about his three wickets in four deliveries and his hat-trick against Australia, his best performance was probably the one against India, when, against batsmen who were nurtured on spin, on a Kensington Oval pitch that traditionally favoured fast bowling, he took 8 for 38 runs off 15.3 overs.
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Former sports editor of the Jamaica Gleaner and the Daily News, Tony Becca has covered West Indies cricket for 30 years