The West Indies have been close to England for a long time by virtue of the relationship and status of Colonies. Even at cricket England has stood in the unassailable position of parent and tutor; the fact that the parent can now be beaten at her own game has never altered the relationship. But West Indies cricket has grown up and in the summer of 1950 reached a peak that it has since striven to maintain, but without success.
We like to think in my family that when cricket was born in the West Indies a Constantine was there as chief midwife. Test Match status was not granted to the West Indies side that toured England in 1923 and my father did the same on two previous occasions many years before that. Trinidad was discovered by Columbus in 1492 and by the M.C.C. in 1895; when I discovered England in 1923 there had already been quite a lot of cricket between the two countries.
In my boyhood there was an enthusiasm for cricket in Trinidad such as I have seldom seen equalled anywhere else in the world. My father set the family to work to make a private pitch from rolled clay covered with matting; it was the fashion everywhere and tremendous cricket battles were fought out between neighbouring families. My mother could keep wicket almost as well as a Test 'keeper; my sister had as much aptitude for batting as I had; one of my uncles was an international player and another was just as skilled. When we small boys were not playing in bigger games, we incessantly opposed each other, using oranges for balls and coconut branches for bats.
Such intense interest bred great young cricketers. I shall always remember watching two famous Trinidad clubs play a match during my boyhood. One of them, Stingo, boasted no less than seven bowlers in the International class. Stingo won the toss, and put in their rivals for the fun of skittling them out. But this time their opponents had prepared a surprise. The name of this rival club was Victoria, for which my father played, so you can guess where my sympathies lay. I could hardly bear to breathe as the Victoria opening pair took their places at the wicket. One was the secret weapon, a slim and immature-looking boy called Wilton St. Hill--alas! now no more. He was smoking as he walked out; he took his stance, still smoking, glanced idly round the field, then threw away his cigarette. George John--also now gone to the great divide--one of the most formidable fast bowlers who ever handled a ball, thundered up at the other end and sent down a red lightning flash--atomic if you wish--but the slender boy flicked his wrists and the ball flew to the boundary faster than sound. The next went the same way. The boy batted from his wrists; he never seemed to use any force. I don't believe he had the strength even if he so desired. His was just perfect timing. Wilton St. Hill became famous later, but I never saw him or anyone else play a more heart-lifting innings than he did that day.
I began in club cricket in Trinidad when such men as St. Hill, George Challoner, Pascal, Cumberbatch, Bertie Harragin, John, Small, Dewhurst, Tarilton, Austin, C. R. Browne and my father were the great players of the day. Then came my selection for the 1923 voyage to England.
In the first games in England most of us youngsters found that we could not tell one white player from another. It was bewildering and annoying, especially when, as it seemed to us, people like Jack Hobbs, Andy Sandham, Ernest Tyldesley and Harry Makepeace, having been dismissed and sent back to the pavilion, immediately came walking out to bat again! It was many years after that I learnt that some English players shared the same thoughts and anguish about us.
The last match of that tour was the most exciting of all. At Scarborough, against what was really an All-England XI, we were twice put out for low scores on a nasty wicket and in the final knock our opponents needed only 31 runs to win. Hobbs, Stevens, Tyldesley, Rhodes, Chapman and Mann were sent back by John and Francis for 19 runs, and for a moment it looked as if we had a chance. Then some unfavourable lbw decisions robbed us of our hopes. Sir H. D. G. Leveson Gower stated later that it was mainly because of that terrific game that the West Indies won Test Match status for the next tour in 1928.
I was selected for that tour, also. We did not win a Test, but I shall always remember a match at Lord's against Middlesex. I had torn a muscle just previously and was ordered not to play. But we needed financial help and as our team-manager considered me a drawing-card, he asked me if I could possibly manage to turn out. The doctor was very worried and said that if I played I must on no account do any bowling.
Middlesex, batting first, declared at 352 for 6. We began with 79 for 5; then I got 86 in 55 minutes and we managed a total of 230. After that, I had to bowl! I took 6 wickets for 11 in one spell and when we walked in after the innings closed, the members in the pavilion rose for me. Again our first five wickets went down for a poor score, but my star was in the skies; I made a century in an hour and we won by three wickets. As we walked in, the members rose for me a second time, as they did for Keith Miller last summer.
I was with the first West Indies side to tour Australia. That was in 1930-31 and I shall never forget it. Being a drawing-card is an exacting business. For example, during this tour of 15 games I played in 14 and rested once. In one big match I took 6 for 45 and made 59 in 35 minutes including four 6's; and in another a century in 50 minutes. I also had the pleasure of clean-bowling Sir Don Bradman and Stan McCabe on the same day. But far more important to me and to us all was the terrific thrill of beating Australia in the final Test. That, too, made history for my country.
In the autumn of 1934 came one of the happiest events of my life--an invitation to visit India and play in the Gold Cup Tournament. I stayed in a Maharajah's palace for a few days amidst such beauty and luxury as had seemed formerly to belong only to dreams--gold coaches, gold chairs, diamonds, turquoises, sapphires, ivories and silks. I found Indian cricketers equal to the best in the world in technique and invariably sporting and cheerful, however the game went. I was amazed and impressed at the fine contdition of many of the Indian cricket grounds, and even more by the magnificent enthusiasm of both players and non-players for their country's fortunes.
I went back to the West Indies for the 1934 Tests against England. Wyatt, the English skipper, said publicly that his side was the strongest ever sent to visit us. It included Hammond, Hendren, Ames, Iddon, Holmes, Leyland, Farnes and others as good; I doubt whether any team as powerful has visited the West Indies since. I did not reach home in time to play in the first Test, which England won, but in the second, bowling the last over of the match, I took the final English wicket with my fifth ball with sixteen seconds to go! For the second time in history, West Indies had beaten England in a Test Match--and my hand had discharged the fatal missile.
The next Test was drawn and the fourth and final one provided another terrific thrill--more than one, in fact. First, Wyatt, the English captain, was knocked out and had to leave the match in the hands of a deputy. Then Grant, our skipper, sprained an ankle at a critical point of the game, and so the Test deputy-captaincy fell on me. But again our fortunes were in the ascendant and once more a ball from me took the last wicket; this time we had won a rubber against England and for the first time.
I was back again in Test cricket in 1939 just before World War II began. In fact, as an old man (as cricketers go) I made 79 in 55 minutes and took 5 for 75 beneath the silvery barrage-balloons that were already floating over The Oval ground. Then our team had to cut short its tour and get home as best it could the long way round via Glasgow and Montreal, with the U-boats already hunting the seas for victims.
Big cricket for me ended with the sunny pre-war era when nobody had heard of atom bombs and when cricket could compete for the headlines. But West Indian cricket has gone from strength to strength. Such names as Worrell, Weekes, Ramadhin, Valentine, Walcott, Rae, Stollmeyer and Gomez and many more have rung around the world. Records have been gleefully made in the sun-shine on many a green field; Test matches have been doggedly fought; Commonwealth countries have played each other and also challenged on equal terms the might of England and, I think it just to say, covered themselves with honour.
Even as old man in his fifties I, myself, can go and cheer at such games--and I can add a little more to my store of cricket knowledge. It all comes in useful, especially at such times as three years ago when I went out to Ceylon on a coaching and cricket-lecturing tour. There are some grand young players coming on in Ceylon; they are well worth watching. Some are now engaged in English League cricket, enlarging and cementing the philosophy of Commonwealth solidarity.
Of English cricket I would say that on its showing against Australia and South Africa the standard is improving rapidly. Never let anyone tell you that the heroes of yesterday's English cricket will never be equalled. I know so many of them so well and they are the first to laugh at such a statement and to say that cricket, like other forms of sport, should and will steadily improve. We old fellows who set up records made them for youngsters to break, just as we broke our predecessors' records whenever we could.
The West Indies tour of England in 1950 stands out as the finest in our history. Whether we shall be able to repeat the performances and win the rubber again, I have grave doubts. Ramadhin and Valentine, I suspect, will be there. The terrible trio--Worrell, Weekes and Walcott--will also be there. Goddard has accepted the captaincy and will lead the side. His task will not be as simple as in 1950 when English cricket was struggling to shake off the effects of the years the war had eaten. Nevertheless, the material at his disposal will be good and if England maintains its progress under May, a terrific series of Tests should ensue, with the odds in favour of England.