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The change in the balance of cricket power among the members of the Imperial Cricket Conference during the last seven years was reflected in the outcome of the five Tests played by West Indies in England last summer. Far from repeating their success of 1950, when they won the rubber by three matches to one, they were thrice beaten by an innings in less than three days and escaped only narrowly in the other two matches that were drawn.
This bare summary paints a gloomy picture of the doings of the 1957 West Indies team and, while the players were naturally disappointed with their lack of success in the Tests, one might well attribute the failure to England's undeniable strength. The West Indies certainly found England a much tougher proposition than was the case seven years earlier, while they themselves, though still possessing plenty of talent, were not so well blended nor so well served in some vital departments.
Yet the overall results of the tour showed little change from those of 1950. Then the first-class victories numbered 17, including the three Test wins; now, minus any Test wins, they showed 14 victories. West Indies, beaten three times in 1950--by England, M. C. C. and Warwickshire--again had to acknowledge three defeats, all by England.
Compared with the all-conquering side of 1950, this one lacked three essentials; reliable opening batsmen, a good spin combination and a first-class wicket-keeper. Indeed, the fielding as a whole fell far behind the high standard set by England, the returns from the outfield being particularly erratic.
None of the four recognised opening batsmen, Pairaudeau, Ganteaume, Asgarali and Rohan Kanhai, came up to expectations and consequently Worrell went in first in each of the last three Tests, being partnered by Sobers at Nottingham and at Leeds, and by Asgarali at The Oval.
Much was expected from the three famous W's, Worrell, Weekes and Walcott, but with the side rarely receiving a sound start, none of them proved such prolific scorers as on their first visit when, incidentally, the pitches generally were more to their liking. Then the number of first-class centuries totalled 34 compared with 19 on this latest tour. Still, all three enjoyed their days of triumph, especially Worrell who touched true greatness at Nottingham where, after a noble spell of bowling, he carried his bat through the first innings for 191.
Weekes had to wait until the last first-class match of the tour at Scarborough for his solitary century, whereas in 1950 he reached three figures seven times, including a triple century at Cambridge and four double centuries. The fall in Weekes' aggregate from 2,310 runs to 1,096 could be partly attributed to sinus trouble and a broken finger he suffered in the third week in June during the Lord's Test. Despite his mishap he went on to play a glorious innings of 90 in that match, but the injury troubled him to the end of the tour.
Walcott, too, laboured under a handicap. He pulled a leg muscle in the first Test at Birmingham at a time when he appeared to be in his best form and, if he did not dominate any of the big matches, he finished fifth in the season's first-class averages.
The biggest disappointment was the failure of the two spin bowlers, Ramadhin and Valentine, to repeat the havoc they wrought in the 1950 Tests. Though there appeared to be little falling-off in Ramadhin's ability to deceive batsmen with his mixed right-arm spin, the fact remained that whereas in 1950 this pair were responsible for the fall of 59 England wickets in four Tests, Ramadhin claimed only 14 victims in five Tests in 1957 and the slow left-hander, Valentine, could not manage even one wicket. Valentine seemed to lose all faith in himself when he faced an England batsman. His control of length simply vanished and he sent down no more than 26 overs in two Test appearances.
Ramadhin was seen at his best on the opening day of the Test series at Edgbaston--a day the England batsmen are not likely to forget. On a perfect pitch he took seven wickets for 49--his best Test performance--causing England to be put out for 186. Then the rubber seemed within the West Indies' grasp, especially when they gained a first innings lead of 288. But there followed a record English Test stand of 411 by May and Cowdrey and, with two members of the attack (Worrell and Gilchrist) off injured, Ramadhin was compelled to bowl 98 overs while taking only two more wickets and conceding 179 runs. Altogether he delivered more balls than any other bowler in any single innings or in a whole Test match. Never again did Ramadhin worry the England batsmen and though the circumstances were exceptional with two men laid low, it did appear that the West Indies sacrificed their ace bowler at Birmingham in much the same way as they did to Australia on a similar occasion at Brisbane in 1951.
That only four centuries were hit against West Indies by the Counties indicated that the side possessed much bowling ability. Indeed, the party of 17 players contained plenty of natural as well as tried talent. As in 1950, John Goddard came as captain, this time having Walcott as vice-captain, but when late in the tour neither was available, Worrell showed unmistaken gifts of leadership.
Of the seven newcomers to England as cricket tourists--some had enjoyed League experience and Alexander kept wicket for two years at Cambridge--Smith, Sobers, Kanhai and Gilchrist were particularly impressive. Smith had already scored a century on debut against Australia and not only did he repeat the feat with 161 in his first match against England at Edgbaston, but he also hit 168 in a glorious match-saving effort at Trent Bridge. As Smith was also a brilliant fielder and no mean off-spinner, besides always being a joyful character, he won many admirers. More about Smith and also Walcott will be found earlier in the Almanack, where both figure among the Five Cricketers of the Year.
To Sobers, a tall left-handed all-rounder, fell the distinction of hitting the highest score of the tour--219 not out against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge. Sobers undoubtedly was a very fine stroke-player who should go far. Rohan Kanhai, 21 years old and the youngest member of the party, came primarily as a batsman and in this respect he too could make a name for himself, but when, in order to strengthen the run-getting powers of the side, he was pressed into service as wicket-keeper in the first three Tests, he was little more than a stopper.
The side had three specialist seam bowlers in Gilchrist, Hall and Dewdney, and if none approached the skill of Worrell, Gilchrist was menacing by virtue of his genuine pace and ability to produce a bouncer as venomous as any sent down by the opposition.
Of nine bowlers who performed more or less regularly, Denis Atkinson, a former West Indies captain, took 55 wickets at an average cost of 22.45 runs. He came to the front in the opening first-class engagement at Worcester where, finding an ideal surface for his off-cutters, he took ten wickets for 62, but later he was overworked and a strained shoulder kept him out of many matches.
When things were going right for them, this West Indies team, like their predecessors, provided rare entertainment. Hailed on arrival as the gay Calypso cricketers from the Caribbean, they possibly became careless in their efforts to play attractive cricket. More determination was necessary, but for many of the youngsters the experience gained on such a long and arduous tour, which produced so many pitches of very different character, should be invaluable.
One could not always understand the reasons for some team selections. For instance, England relied mainly on Statham, Trueman and Bailey to bowl on the pacy Lord's pitch, but West Indies decided to call up Valentine, who had been omitted from the previous Test, instead of giving a chance to Dewdney or Hall.
Goddard himself did not enjoy a successful tour, though his resolute defence was invaluable in averting defeat in the two drawn Tests. The uncertainty of the early batting was always a problem, and on top of this he had key men either out of form or beset by injury. Finally he, too, was put out of action by influenza at the end of the first day of the last Test.
For all his troubles, Goddard returned home knowing that his side had been well received by the cricket public of Great Britain. Both on and off the field the players were extremely popular. Everybody liked them and their approach to the game
Match reports for
1st Test: England v West Indies at Birmingham, May 30-Jun 4, 1957
2nd Test: England v West Indies at Lord's, Jun 20-22, 1957
3rd Test: England v West Indies at Nottingham, Jul 4-9, 1957
4th Test: England v West Indies at Leeds, Jul 25-27, 1957
5th Test: England v West Indies at The Oval, Aug 22-24, 1957