Third Test match

England v West Indies 1939

Norman Preston

The final Test was notable for the enterprising batting of both teams. In the course of three days 1,216 runs were scored while only 23 wickets fell. The West Indies had special cause for satisfaction as, after facing a total of 352, they so severely thrashed the England bowling that they gained a first innings lead of 146 runs. The two Stollmeyers, Weekes and Constantine, were in brilliant form and R. S. Grant's men proved that, given real cricketing weather, West Indies could hold their own in the best company. For various reasons England called on only six of the men, Hammond, Hutton, Compton, Wood, Hardstaff and Wright, who took part in the defeat of Australia on the same ground twelve months previously. For once, since Hammond took over the captaincy, England fielded poorly and the absence of Bowes, Copson and Verity left the bowling somewhat wanting in hostility and guile.

Though Hammond's luck in the toss deserted him in the first two Tests, it returned and England gained first innings on a perfect pitch. They soon suffered a setback as with only two runs on the board, Keeton played the ball on to his leg stump. In this way Johnson, the West Indies tall, left-arm fast bowler, claimed a wicket with his first delivery in Test cricket, repeating his achievement in the match at Worcester where he took a wicket with his first ball in first-class cricket in England.

West Indies, encouraged by this early success, bowled and fielded splendidly but a second wicket stand of 131 between Hutton and Oldfield enabled England to recover. Oldfield, like Johnson, was new to Test cricket and he seized the opportunity to prove his worth. He scored freely with a delightful late cut, timed his leg glances with masterly skill and also drove fluently. Hutton played a very different innings compared with his marathon 364 at The Oval in 1938. The young Yorkshireman never neglected a scoring chance and his off-driving off the back foot was superb. In contrast Hammond spent an hour and three-quarters over 43 before falling to a grand catch at short-leg. Nor was Compton at his best, but Hardstaff treated the crowed to a magnificent display. He drove cleanly and vigorously and with Nichols put on 89 in 65 minutes. This stand was proving very troublesome to West Indies when Constantine, the bowler, fielded the ball at cover and threw down the wicket in amazing style. This incident led the way for the West Indies to dismiss the tail cheaply, for the last four wickets went down for 19. Hardstaff made a great effort to reach a hundred but, with his colleagues falling so quickly, he abandoned all caution and was last out, bowled middle stump, Throughout the innings not a single full toss was bowled and Grant managed his attack shrewdly. Johnson bowled better than at any time during the tour and Constantine, mixing his pace, cunningly, was never mastered. Clarke, too, bowled his leg-breaks better than the analysis would suggest.

Before stumps were drawn on Saturday, West Indies lost Grant, caught in the gully, and they resumed on Monday with their total 27 for one wicket. Not for a long time had England spent such an unsatisfactory day in the field. In brilliant sunshine the West Indies batsmen gave an exhibition of the cricket they play in their own islands. First thing J. B. Stollmeyer and Headley set out on a policy of wearing down the bowling which Hammond changed with bewildering frequency. For two hours England laboured unsuccessfully and then Hutton, in his second over, broke the stand, which yielded 113, by getting J. B. Stollmeyer caught at mid-on. In this way the younger Stollmeyer made way for his brother Victor, who, owing to tonsilitis, had to defer his Test debut until this match.

Early in his innings V. H. Stollmeyer was unfortunate to cause Headley to be run out. Apparently he did not see Hardstaff behind the square-leg umpire and attempted a single which Headley at first declined, but afterwards attempted with fatal results. During a stay of two hours twenty minutes, Headley made some delightful square-cuts, strong forcing shots off his legs and a few excellent drives. His dismissal was, at the time, a severe mishap for West Indies and, as Gomez failed to settle down, four men were out for 164.

Any hopes England entertained of bringing about a collapse were frustrated by the promotion in the batting order of Weekes. The left-hander and V. Stollmeyer quickly took complete control and the bowling received drastic punishment. Whereas the first 200 runs occupied three hours and fifty minutes, the next hour yielded 110, 43 coming in four overs when Nichols and Perks took the new ball. England's fielding became very slack and Wright made a particularly costly blunder when he dropped a simple catch offered by Weekes when 52, off Nichols. The partnership had put on 163 in 100 minutes when Stollmeyer, playing a defensive stroke, was stumped. He made his 96, which included eleven 4's, in two and a quarter hours and, besides revealing perfect style, produced plenty of strokes. Weekes raced to his first century in Test cricket in 110 minutes and when he fell to a superb right-hand catch by Hammond high at first slip, he had scored 137 out of 225 in two and a quarter hours. Besides lifting Hutton for 6, he hit eighteen 4's. Weekes always hit fearlessly though his stance and footwork were somewhat unorthodox. After tea when Weekes and Sealy were hammering the bowling to all parts of the field, a thunderstorm held up the game for over an hour and though little rain fell it certainly saved England finishing the day a long way in arrear. As it was, Grant's men had to be content with a lead of 43 with four wickets in hand.

It was a real joy to watch the carefree cricket of the West Indies on the last day. Constantine, in the mood suggesting his work in Saturday afternoon League cricket, brought a welcome air of gaiety to the Test arena. He revolutionised all the recognised features of cricket and, surpassing Bradman in his amazing stroke play, he was absolutely impudent in his aggressive treatment of bowling shared by Nichols and Perks. While the four remaining wickets fell those two bowlers delivered 92 balls from which Constantine made 78 runs out of 103. Seldom can there have been such a spreadeagled field with no slips, and Hammond did not dare risk further trouble by changing his attack. With an astonishing stroke off the back foot Constantine thumped Perks for 6 to the Vauxhall end - a very long carry - and helped himself to eleven 4's before he was last out to a very fine catch by Wood; running towards the pavilion the wicket-keeper held the ball that had gone high over his head.

England lost Keeton and Oldfield for 77 and then Hutton and Hammond, with a definite result already impossible, set up a new Test world record third-wicket partnership by adding 264 in three hours. Hutton enjoyed another personal triumph at the Oval for, following his 364 against Australia a year before, he hit 283 for once out in this match. Hutton never looked in trouble and, defying the bowling for five hours and ten minutes, he claimed seventeen 4's. Towards the end of his innings Hammond hit at everything and, although it was not one of his best efforts, there were twenty-one 4's in his 138.

Altogether, 42,252 people paid at the turnstiles to watch the match and it was estimated that the attendances were 20,000 on Saturday; 23,500 on Monday, and 9,000 on Tuesday.

© John Wisden & Co