The jewel of the Caribbean
The most easterly of the Caribbean chain of islands, Barbados has always punched way above its weight in world cricket. Although it is only 166 square miles in size, much of it devoted to growing sugar cane, it has produced a wealth of great cricketers, so much so that until recently it could have arguably fielded a Test-standard side on its own.
The first reference to cricket on the island comes in a newspaper report from 1806, although it is more than likely that the British garrison played the game before then. By the mid-nineteenth century, cricket was well established and many of the more famous clubs had been formed. In 1877 the Wanderers were started, and five years later Pickwick CC, the most famous side, came into being.
Seventeen years earlier, in 1865, Barbados hosted the first inter-colonial match when Guyana (then known as Demerara and later as British Guiana) were thrashed at the Garrison Savannah. That game, as with most representative contests for some time, was limited to white players; Frederick Smith, Barbados's first captain, was easily the highest scorer in the match with 50 not out, and he also chipped in with ten wickets.
In 1891, British Guiana and Trinidad sent teams to participate in the first triangular tournament (hosted at the Bay, the Wanderers' ground) and it was so popular than almost 100 local firms shut for the afternoon when Barbados were in action. The event was a great success, and Barbados were again triumphant. At this time, Barbados cricket was dominated by the Goodman brothers - Clifford, a fast-medium bowler, and Percy, one of the first of the great West Indian batsmen, who toured England with success in 1900 and 1906.
Following the success of the triangular series, a biennial tournament was launched among the colonies - this later became annual - and Barbados again dominated, winning seven of the 12 competitions before the Great War. More important was the first visit by a side from England, when an amateur team, led by R Slade Lucas, started their Caribbean tour in Barbados. Thousands turned out to see them, and the excitement was even greater when Barbados beat the Englishmen by five wickets, Clifford Goodman taking 14 for 85 in the first major match to be staged at the Kensington Oval. Despite the logistical obstacles presented by the geography of the region, that tour started a trend and in 1897 Barbados were again victorious over a side led by Arthur Priestley, this time by an innings and 41 runs.
In 1901-02 Barbados again beat a visiting side from England, this time fielding professionals for the first time. Until then, locals had been limited to being paid for bowling in nets and during club games. Arthur Somerset, who led two MCC tours to the Caribbean before the Great War, commented that Barbados were harder to beat than combined representative West Indies XIs.
In that period, the leading player was Harold (later Sir Harold) Austin, an outstanding batsman and captain, who was locally known as the King of Barbados. He first played against Slade's side in 1895, aged 17, and 31 years later was still good enough to warrant his place in the side on merit when MCC visited. Had he not then been in South Africa fighting for Britain in the Boer War he would have captained the 1900 side, although he did go on to lead the touring sides in 1906 and 1923. At the same time, George Challenor was carving out an immense reputation with the bat and became the first West Indian to score 5000 first-class runs.
Barbados's dominance of the inter-colonial tournament continued after the Great War, but after winning the 1926-27 competition, they were in the wilderness until after the Second World War even though they continued to produce a string of excellent players, including the fast bowlers George Francis and Herman Griffith.
After the War, Barbados again asserted themselves, as any side which contained Clyde Walcott, Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes had to do. The three Ws, all born within a mile or so of each other within the space of 18 months, became West Indies legends, and Barbados benefited immeasurably.
Their legacy ensured that pitches - which switched from matting to grass during this time - improved and a stream of outstanding players followed, the most famous being the legendary allrounder Garry Sobers.
The arrival of jet travel made inter-island competitions easier to schedule and also more encompassing, and Sobers led Barbados to the first two Shell Shield titles after its introduction in 1965-66. That legendary side also contained Conrad Hunte, Seymour Nurse and the bowling was fronted by the fast pairing of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. They in turn gave way to Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Malcolm Marshall, Vanburn Holder and Wayne Daniel.
Although the production line of truly great players is not what it was, Barbados remain one of the dominant forces in the region.