The West Indies team of 1966 was the seventh to visit England and play a series of Test matches over a period of 39 years and, inasmuch as they outplayed the old country in three of the five Tests, they proved highly successful.
Yet, overall, the combination led by Garfield Sobers failed by a long way to reveal the power of the team that came three years earlier under Sir Frank Worrell, the first to win The Wisden Trophy.
In 1963, Worrell's men won 15 of their 30 first-class engagements, whereas Sobers's men could point to only eight wins in 27 matches. The wet summer partly contributed to the number of draws but it seemed that this latest side was not so well balanced and relied too much on the allround excellence of the captain. Moreover, England, until the last Test, in which the West Indies themselves were outplayed, proved most disappointing, and were at their lowest ebb for many years.
For the left-handed Sobers, the Tests were one triumph after another with bat and ball as well as in the field as a master tactician and fantastic catcher close to the bat.
Sobers scored 722 in the five Tests: 161 at Old Trafford; 46 and 163 not out at Lord's, 3 and 94 at Trent Bridge, 174 at Headingley and 81 and 0 at The Oval. He averaged 103.14 an innings, and his aggregate beat the record of 709 he set up for his country against England in the West Indies in 1959-60.
A brilliant strokeplayer, Sobers always made his runs at a tempo to suit the situation. If the West Indies were in difficulties, he would proceed steadily until things improved and then he dealt out heavy punishment, showing himself the complete master.
Originally a left-arm slow bowler, Sobers, apart from his batting, would be worth his place in the attack of any current Test side. Excelling in three different roles, Sobers was a genuine opening bowler with an occasional extremely fast ball, an orthodox slow left-arm bowler and, thirdly, a skilful exponent of wrist spin in the tradition of George Tribe who taught him the art.
Only Gibbs took more wickets than Sobers for West Indies in the Tests, 21 to 20, but in all first-class matches Sobers finished with most wickets, 60 at 20.58 runs each. He also gained the distinction of being the first bowler from the West Indies to take nine wickets in an innings in England. That feat was achieved against Kent on a perfect pitch at Canterbury where his figures were nine for 49.
Sobers had the good fortune to win the toss in all five Tests -- May and Cowdrey did so for England in the West Indies in 1959-60 -- yet in three of their first innings, at Lord's, Trent Bridge and The Oval, they were put out for 269, 235 and 268, which rather suggested that sometimes batting first when the pitches were fresh and lively was a more difficult hazard than taking second knock.
What mattered most was that Sobers won the toss in the first Test at Old Trafford. There the surface soon deteriorated and England, who faced a total of 484, gave a pathetic display at their first attempt.
Another important factor was the ability of this West Indies team to extricate themselves from critical situations as they did in the Tests at Lord's and Trent Bridge. They came as World Champions and by their skill and determination they retained the title.
Twelve of the 17 players had previously toured England. The selectors preferred to rely on experience, but there were occasions, particularly in the matches against the counties, when the resources of the side were severely tested.
Some of the older batsmen like Solomon, McMorris and Carew could not be termed successes, and of the five newcomers, Holford, Hendriks, Lashley, Brancker and Cohen, only the first two really proved their worth.
For this tour the West Indies agreed on the system of umpires calling and/or reporting cases of suspicious bowling actions as applied in 1965 when New Zealand and South Africa were in England. On the previous West Indies tour in 1963 there was no reporting.
The side was chosen in two batches. In the first list, announced several months ahead, Lester King, the Jamaica fast bowler who came in 1963, was included, but a cartilage operation caused his place to be given to Cohen, who at 23 was the youngest member of the party. The average age was 30.
Undoubtedly the side would have been stronger had King been fit enough to come. Cohen lacked experience; too much work could not be thrown on Hall, the key man of the attack, and Griffith, of the controversial action, came under fire in the press, especially from Test player-writers.
This was an unpleasant feature of the tour. Day after day we had the unsatisfactory spectacle of umpires scrutinising his action from square leg and point. In mid-May Griffith was called for throwing by umpire Fagg in the match against Lancashire at Old Trafford, and during the Headingley Test he was warned by umpire Elliott for an illegal delivery.
When Griffith attempted his fullest pace, or his bouncer or his yorker, he seemed to have to take care and was seldom the same deadly bowler as on his previous visit.
At times, Sobers preferred to take the new ball himself. Hall did not strike his best form until the second Test at Lord's, and reserved his biggest triumph for the fourth Test at Headingley, where his speed in the first innings sent England headlong towards defeat.
Another valuable member of the attack was Gibbs, who maintained his reputation as the world's leading exponent of offspin. He made the most of his opportunity on the crumbling Old Trafford pitch in the first Test and headed the Test bowling averages, despite much punishment at The Oval.
As in 1963, the West Indies failed to solve the problem of providing a reliable opening partner to Hunte; McMorris, Carew and Lashley all being tried. Even Hunte faded after giving them a noble start with 135 at Old Trafford -- a repetition of his success in 1963 -- for he scored only 108 runs in the four remaining Tests. Kanhai performed in reverse and did not really blossom forth until the fifth, when he hit his tenth Test century but only his first in England.
The reliable consistency of Nurse was a great asset, his only failure in eight Test innings being on the opening day at The Oval. He hit 137 at Headingley and altogether helped himself to 501 runs from the England bowlers. Moreover he always made his runs attractively.
Butcher, like Nurse, finished with a Test average of 60, but nearly half his runs came from his not-out double-century at Trent Bridge, where he stood in the breach with Kanhai when England threatened to break through.
Holford, one of only three members of the party without previous Test experience, soon established for himself a permanent place. A cousin of Sobers, he came to the rescue at Lord's after five second-innings wickets had gone for 95, by hitting 105 in an unbroken stand of 274 with Sobers that staved off the possibility of defeat. Standing over six feet, he drove splendidly and did some useful work as a legbreak bowler, besides being a fine close-up fielder.
Brancker, a left-handed slow bowler, could never seriously challenge Sobers for a place in that art. Lashley was a diminutive left-handed batsman, very restricted in his forcing strokes, but in his solitary spell as a Test bowler, he removed Boycott and began England's second-innings slide at Headingley.
The side was adequately served by the wicketkeepers. Indeed, Hendriks, after being kept out of the first two Tests by a hand injury, proved extremely efficient; Allan, on his second visit, performed admirably at Old Trafford but was less confident on the faster pitch at Lord's.
The West Indies players brought a heap of criticism on themselves midway through the tour by their apparent lack of interest in many county engagements. Possibly a contributory factor was the short interval of only three years between their previous tour and the poor standard of some pitches which drew adverse comment from their popular manager, Jeffrey Stollmeyer.
Anyhow, they put up some drab batting displays and did not gain their first victory over any county until they overcame Derbyshire on the eve of the first Test. Immediately after that Test, they drew with Gloucestershire with the scores level and then lost to Sussex on a frightful pitch at Hove. They later lost to Northamptonshire, both these matches being over in two days.
During a season when football intervened, with England staging the World Cup, the West Indies played a vital part in keeping cricket alive. Unfortunately it was a wet summer with many days ruined by rain but happily the Tests met with little interference nor did the dates clash with the Soccer matches during July.
Nevertheless, although record crowds attended the Tests at Lord's and Trent Bridge, and 90,000 went during the four days at The Oval, the profits fell by nearly half compared with 1963.
Test Matches -- Played 5; Won 3, Lost 1, Drawn 1.
First-Class Matches -- Played 27; Won 8, Lost 4, Drawn 15.
A11 Matches--Played 34; Won 13, Lost 5, Drawn 16.
Wins -- England (3), Duke of Norfolk's XI (one-day match), Cambridge University, Derbyshire, Minor Counties (two days), Kent, Surrey (one day), Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire (one day), Rest of the World (one day).
Losses -- England, Sussex, Northamptonshire, T.N. Pearce's XI, An England XI (one day).
Draws -- England, Worcestershire, Oxford University, Nottinghamshire, M.C.C., Lancashire, Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Essex, Middlesex, Somerset, President of M.C.C.'s XI, Glamorgan, Scotland (one day), Hampshire, A.E.R. Gilligan's XI.
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