First Test match

England v West Indies 1939

Norman Preston

While England were unquestionably the better side and deservedly gained the victory, the match provided a personal triumph for Headley who had the distinction of being the first cricketer to make two separate hundreds in a Test at headquarters. Moreover he became the first player to hit two hundreds against England twice, for besides this achievement at Lord's in 1939 he made 114 and 112 at Georgetown in 1930. The West Indies bowled and fielded keenly, but in batting too much responsibility devolved upon Headley. While he stayed the resistance was stubborn, but the side collapsed twice. In the first innings the last five wickets fell for 32 runs and when the side batted again the last five fell for 35.

England possessed a team of specialists, six top-class batsmen, a wicket-keeper and four bowlers; every man contributed his share. In fact, this was the best eleven which England put into the field against the West Indies during the summer; attempts to improve the bowling at Manchester and the Oval did not succeed. In this match at Lord's, Copson, who toured Australia with G. O. Allen's side, made his first appearance in a Test and proved a great success. He bowled keenly and if a trifle short of a length, always commanded respect.

On the opening day a cold North wind did not encourage enterprising cricket. The pitch, which had been completely protected, was lifeless, and Grant on winning the toss naturally took first innings. The West Indies captain, owing to the illness of V. H. Stollmeyer and the failure of I. Barrow to find his best form, went in first with J. B. Stollmeyer. Without becoming too venturesome. Grant drove and cut both Bowes and Copson well until he played a half-hearted defensive stroke and fell to a smart left-handed catch at forward short leg. Then Headley joined Stollmeyer and for a long time the English bowlers were mastered. Before lunch the light became very bad and the batsmen must have been severely handicapped, especially when facing the dark background of the pavilion.

Possessing a beautiful style, Stollmeyer rarely missed an opportunity to score on the leg side. His most profitable stroke, a forcing shot off his legs, he used to great advantage when dealing with the in-swingers of Copson who aimed repeatedly at the middle and leg stumps. Stollmeyer also drove and cut smartly though there were only three boundaries in his 59.

In two hours 20 minutes, Stollmeyer helped to put on 118, but afterwards Headley received little assistance. He was not the same dashing batsmen that England knew in 1933, but the occasion demanded discretion and, in the interests of his side, he refused to take the slightest risk. Few cricketers watch the ball so closely on to the bat and most of his strokes were played very late off the back foot. Yet his drives and hooks were extremely powerful, while his strong wrists were responsible for some dazzling cuts. Except when at 53 he edged a ball from Copson high over the wicket-keeper, he never looked like getting out. For four hours ten minutes, Headley stayed and when seventh to leave at 250 he had hit thirteen 4's.

At the tea interval the total was 226 and only four men were out, but on taking the new ball Copson did chief damage by accounting for Constantine, Headley and Barrow. England fielded splendidly. Gimblett showed remarkable improvement, being quick on the ball and returning accurately from the deep. He brought off a superb right handed catch when a skier from Weekes dropped over his left shoulder in the neighbourhood of cover. Copson, Compton and Paynter were also conspicuous and Wood was faultless behind the stumps.

On Saturday evening Hutton and Gimblett scored 11 and on Monday, when the weather was much warmer, England placed themselves in an impregnable position by taking their total to 402 for the loss of half their wickets.

The day's cricket was memorable for the glorious batting of the two youngsters, Hutton and Compton, who in a feast of run-making put on 248 for the fourth wicket in two hours twenty minutes. During the early part of the day runs were not readily obtained. Hylton, Martindale and Constantine, if not really troublesome, gave nothing away, while Cameron commanded so much respect that he bowled his off breaks from the pavilion end continually while the score crept from 48 to 184. As soon as Cameron relieved Hylton, he bowled his former Somerset colleague, Gimblett, and he also dismissed Paynter and Hammond, the England captain falling to a fine catch at mid-off by his rival leader.

In this way the first three wickets went for 147 and West Indies had reason, to be satisfied, but as soon as Compton joined Hutton, there occurred some vital incidents which turned the game in favour of England. With only a single to his credit Compton offered a hard chance off Martindale to second slip, and from the next ball the Middlesex man gave one on the leg side to the wicket-keeper who threw himself to the left, but could not hold the ball. In the following over from Cameron, Hutton, too, might have been taken at slip, but, like the two chances given by Compton, this catch was very difficult. In this way the initiative passed to England, for Compton, appreciating his luck, immediately proceeded to attack the bowling. He refused to be curbed and delighted everyone with his easy stroke play. Meanwhile, Hutton completed his first Test century at Lord's and then he followed Compton's example, so that from a sedate pace the score leaped ahead at 100 runs an hour. The new ball soon lost its shine. Compton enjoyed an escape when 66, but he claimed sixteen 4's before a well-judged catch near the boundary brought his spirited innings to a close. Compton excelled with strokes all round the wicket, his pulling and driving being specially noteworthy. Hutton soon followed Compton to the pavilion. The Yorkshireman's defense was absolutely sound, and though he spent four hours reaching three figures, his last 96 runs came in 95 minutes. There were one 5 and twenty-one 4's among his strokes; fourteen of his boundaries came after he passed the century when he revealed a grand array of strokes. Bad light caused stoppages and at one time flashes of lightning threatened a deluge, but happily Lord's escaped the storm.

On Tuesday, Hammond declared at the overnight total and he brought his bowlers fresh into action after two days' rest. The morning opened well for England; without a run on the board Stollmeyer was unfortunate to receive a ball which shot up from a perfect length. It struck his glove and Verity made an easy catch in the gulley. Grant was missed at slip off Wright, but at 42 the West Indies captain failed to keep his bat straight and was bowled. From that point Headley alone looked capable of saving his side from defeat. While he stayed England were always worried, but sound bowling, well managed by Hammond, and supported by magnificent fielding, brought full reward. For an hour and a quarter Sealy defended gallantly with Headley, Sealy once hooking a slow ball from Bowes into the Mound Stand for six. Weekes was another stubborn opponent to England, but Wood caught both men. Constantine brought off some excellent strokes so that when the total was approaching 200 with only four men out, West Indies suggested they might save the game. Then Hammond caught Constantine at slip and in the space of twenty minutes Wright put a different complexion on everything by dismissing Cameron, Headley and Martindale. Vigilant defence was the feature of Headley's second hundred. He cut delightfully - both late and square - and seldom failed to take toll of any punishable ball. His 107 occupied three hours fifty minutes and included eight 4's. He was caught at silly mid-off and three grand catches ended the innings. Bowes made an astonishing right-handed catch at deep mid-on from a hard hit by Martindale; Hardstaff held Hulton from a hard hit close to the turf at cover and Copson accepted a low return from Clarke with his right hand, also near the ground.

England needed 99 for victory and, thanks to the enterprise of Hutton, Gimblett, Paynter and Hammond, the runs were knocked off in an hour and a quarter, the match being won with thirty-five minutes to spare. The opening pair made some brilliant strokes, Gimblett hooked Hylton's first two deliveries for four and six, but forcing cricket cost each man his wicket. Then Hammond and Paynter saw England safely home, the captain making the winning hit with a majestic off-drive. Throughout the three days the match was splendidly patronised. Altogether 55,000 people paid for admission.

© John Wisden & Co