Most cricketers who come to England from the British Commonwealth are hailed apostles of brighter cricket, no doubt because their blood has been heated during almost perpetual summers by many tropical suns. Hot blood, therefore, courses through their veins. They radiate sparkle in their batting, dash and untiring zeal in their bowling and fielding, even if admitting in some cases to the sacrifice of soundness and equanimity.
Yet even the phlegmatic and respected Australian in ability is a son of the tropics. The West Indian, you may say, is his contrast. The West Indian may not cause as many thousands as the Australian to pass through the turnstiles and has yet to prove as great a Test money-spinner as the giant from down under. But the West Indian has probably introduced more sparkle and brightness to English cricket on his occasional visits than any other of his overseas contemporaries.
We in the Caribbean are told that our too rare visits are likened unto a welcome western zephyr that passes too quickly. It carries nothing of the tempestuous ferocity of the south wind that more often than not--in fact as late as 1948--blows everything before it. But the western zephyr wafts along good, unadulterated, light-hearted and honest-to-goodness cricket.
I can assure the English that the team this year will in this respect be no exception to their predecessors. I warn you that the zephyr has developed velocity and the Englishman who keeps abreast of overseas cricket will realise this is no idle boast.
Only as recently as 1928 were the West Indies given Test status, but the game was probably played in our islands more than one hundred years earlier. It is on record that in 1842 the Trinidad club was of very long standing. The Kingston club in Jamaica was formed in 1863, and in 1886 came the first West Indian tour when a team visited Canada and U.S.A. We received our first official cricket visitors in 1887 in the shape of an American team.
In 1891 the first Triangular Tournament was staged between Barbados, Trinidad and Demerara. By this time the game was flourishing, and in 1895 the first English side, captained by R. S. Lucas, arrived. So enthusiastically did they sing the praises of the West Indies that in 1898 two teams from England under the captaincy of Lord Hawke and Arthur Priestley came to us.
It is important to state that a member of Lord Hawke's side was Sir Pelham Warner, born in Trinidad in October 1873. He has been a friend to cricketers all over the world, and to none more than the West Indies. His brother, R. S. A. Warner, was captain of the first West Indies team which went to England in 1900 and played most of the counties.
Altogether the West Indies have sent seven sides to England: 1900, 1906, 1923, 1928, 1933, 1939 and 1950. M.C.C. have come to us six times: 1911, 1912-13, 1925-26, 1930, 1934-35 and 1948. Besides those early visits of Lord Hawke and Arthur Priestley, Lord Brackley brought a team in 1905, Lord Tennyson three teams--1927, 1928 and 1932--and Sir Julian Cahn in 1929 and Yorkshire in 1936 visited Jamaica.
When the second West Indies side came to you in 1906, S. G. Smith, the best all-rounder, scored 1,000 runs and took 100 wickets. He was a grand cricketer, and stayed to qualify for Northamptonshire. On that trip came L. S. Constantine, father of Learie, and a very popular captain in H. B. G. Austin.
No one did more to raise West Indies cricket to the highest standard than Challenor, a superb opening batsman, who almost carried the side. He had the advantage of the blood of English ancestors and quickly adapted himself to your arctic climate. One of the great days in our history was February 26, 1930, when we gained our first Test victory, beating England at Georgetown by 289 runs. George Headley hit a century in each innings.
Another milestone was reached a year later when we went to Australia, and though losing the first four Tests gained a notable triumph at Sydney by 30 runs after declaring twice. Those were the days when the West Indies possessed three of the best pace bowlers in the world in Constantine, George Francis and H. C. Griffith. In fact, we have been well endowed with fast bowlers right down the years, no doubt because of our climate. One of our greatest was George John.
So far the West Indies, like India and New Zealand, have never won a Test in England, but judging by the way we outplayed G. O. Allen's side in 1948 and India in 1948-49 we may provide some shocks this time. Looking back, one must pay tribute to the work of R. H. Mallet, who arranged the programmes for several West Indies sides in England, and managed our side in Australia.
Compared with the Test grounds in England and the large stadia in Australia and India, West Indies lack accommodation in their four cricket centres, Bridgetown, Port of Spain, Georgetown and Kingston; but our populations are small, so that we experience difficulty in paying our way. Except at Port of Spain, where the red soil prevents grass flourishing and necessitates the game being played on matting, we have splendid turf pitches and outfields.
Since 1939 has come almost a new generation of West Indian cricketers. J. B. Stollmeyer, one of the finest back-players of the day, and G. E. Gomez learned much on the eve of war and developed into batting dreadnoughts in local cricket. Those on the brink of prominence when the holocaust burst, and those who achieved prominence during it, have matured into players now ranked with the best in the world.
Among batsmen, we have Everton Weekes, successor to Headley for stroke production; F. M. Worrell, whose nonchalance makes batting look a dream, C. L. Walcott, a young giant, sound in back-play and a powerful hooker; A. F. Rae, a left-hander, who may rank with A. Morris, B. Sutcliffe and M. P. Donnelly; the quick-footed R. J. Christiani, and K. Trestrail, who hit his first-class century at the age of sixteen.
For bowling we look to H. H. Johnson, tall and strong, and whom some think faster than R. Lindwall; the untiring Prior Jones; Lance Pierre, who also excels with the new ball; leg-breaker C. B. Willliams; the talented Sonny Ramadhin who mixes his spin, and A. Valentine, a left-hander of immaculate length and skilful in varying pace.
We hope to make prophetic the words of the Rt. Hon. Herbert V. Evatt, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, in the 1949 Wisden, "Who would dare to say that in five years' time the cricket supremacy will not have passed to the West Indies?"
Under equitable conditions, our batting promises to be more powerful than that of the Australians of 1948. The attack may not command the fury of the combination of Francis and John in 1923, and Constantine, Francis and Griffith in 1928.
The West Indian, particularly the coloured son, is probably cricket's most natural player. He very rarely enjoys the advantage of coaching. Sir Pelham Warner calls him the National Cricketer. W. R. Hammond writes: "I hope it will not be considered a reflection on those other lands that play cricket so attractively--including my own!--if I say that I would rather watch West Indian batsmen of the top class than any other."
Despite his unorthodoxy, Learie Constantine was, indeed, the incarnation of the true West Indian cricketer. He was one of cricket's most commercialised players, not as the result of his Test records, but because of his dazzling personality and antics on the field. Headley ranked with Bradman and must be considered our greatest batsman. Quoting Sir Pelham Warner again: "Some of his innings were masterpieces of the art of batting," and Constantine reckoned he came as near to a perfect batting machine as it is possible for a man to be. His averages in first-class and Test cricket are still only second to Bradman's.
We believe this tour will be our big test. In fact, England is the testing ground of the great cricketer and the great side. West Indies are on the crust of greatness. Will it crumbled?
Our success in India is no criterion because their conditions are so similar to our own. The West Indies must first appreciate the hazy, overcast weather and the conditions after a shower of rain, as they do their own sunny, tropical atmosphere. We must, like the Australians, adapt ourselves to adverse weather conditions. Fortunately, Weekes, Worrell and Rae have, during the last two years, accustomed themselves to English conditions, and Stollmeyer and Gomez have the 1939 tour behind them. We have found a sterling captain in John Goddard, a real fighter. We are sure our fielding will be of the class expected from a side ambitious to become champions of the world.
West Indies welcome the honour of five-day Tests in England--a privilege only previously enjoyed by Australia. Given good weather, our new-era cricketers should justify this splendid gesture by England.