West Indies 0 England 1

M.C.C. in West Indies, 1967-68

E.M. Wellings

From the English viewpoint the 1967-68 M.C.C. tour of West Indies was a conspicuous success. The team under the captaincy of Cowdrey and the management of Ames went unbeaten through a programme containing twelve first-class matches, and the Test series was won.

A team in the full sense of the word played good wicket in most testing circumstances. Neither on nor off the field did they obviously put a foot wrong, despite unpleasant incidents, which might have provoked a group of players less well controlled.

From the West Indies point of view the season's events were anything but satisfying. The tour focused a spotlight on unpleasant aspects of West Indies cricket.

Chief among these were the clearly sub-standard umpiring and unruly crowds. Such is the pressure from supporters desiring success for the home side that even an efficient umpire is apt to be influenced. Umpiring and crowd behaviour are, therefore, closely associated. Quite the most professional of the umpires was Sang Hue, but he was never so efficient after as before his correct decision against Butcher in the second Test, which sparked a bottle-throwing riot by his fellow Jamaicans.

That riot, the third serious one of its kind in recent West Indies Test history, came when England were winning the match. That was the worst crowd incident of the tour.

There was another act of hooliganism in Guyana after the final Test, when England had won the series. There the victorious side were attacked when leaving the ground. Lock was struck on the head by a stone, and Cowdrey was long compelled to wait in the pavilion until he could safely be escorted to his hotel by a police guard.

In the previous Test in Trinidad, where England gained the vital victory, Cowdrey was subjected to quite unjustifiable booing by disappointed home supporters. His offences were to have played two superb innings and to have led England much more skilfully than Sobers had led the West Indies.

There is no obvious solution to the allied umpiring and crowd behaviour problems. The West Indies authorities, however, must find a way out of their difficulties. In such an inflammatory atmosphere cricket ceases to be worthwhile. The most satisfying fixtures were those staged away from the Test match centres.

The West Indies Board of Control should no longer stand out alone against regulations agreed by the other countries. The most recent example was their refusal to accept the limitation of leg-side fielders behind the wicket for the matches of this tour.

Their difficult attitude was shown again when they took the travel and hotel arrangements entirely out of the hands of M.C.C. Some of their arrangements were by no means satisfactory.

Some would prefer that no mention should be made of such matters. Correction can never be achieved by concealment. For the future of big cricket in the West Indies it is essential that those things patently wrong should be put right. In the long run it will benefit the West Indies, if they are brought to light now to persuade their authorities of the need for solving the problems.

The islands, rich in cricketing talent, have much to contribute to world cricket. It would be a loss to the game if the conditions of their play compelled other countries to cease sending them Test touring teams.

It was against this background that M.C.C. triumphed. It was necessary for Cowdrey's team to be quite 30 per cent better than the opposition in order to come out on top. They did come out on top by winning one Test and drawing the other four. For the first time England became holders of the Wisden Trophy.

That had not been expected four months earlier. The West Indies were then generally regarded as the unofficial World Champions, and the M.C.C. team had been chosen in the midst of controversy.

The Board of Control selectors made public the fact that they wanted Close as captain, although he had been censured for his conduct of the Yorkshire team in their match against Warwickshire. The M.C.C. Committee overruled them and decided that the offence, for which he was censured, barred him from the tour captaincy. At this time M.J.K. Smith announced his immediate retirement from first-class cricket.

Cowdrey in fact was third choice, psychologically handicapped by the vote of no-confidence, which was implied when Insole, chairman of the Board of Control selectors, announced that they had opposed his selection.

In the event Cowdrey did a splendid job. I am quite certain that no other captain could have led the side so well and performed the numerous duties of captaincy so flawlessly in the exacting circumstances of this tour. He himself shared the batting honours with Boycott, and in collaboration with Ames he developed his sixteen players, who included Lock in place of Titmus during the final month, into a team pulling splendidly together.

Cowdrey's previous ventures as Test captain had not been particularly happy. On those occasions he had either been deputy captain or captain on trial without certainty of tenure. Now for the first time he had his own command, and he assumed it with authority, growing rapidly in stature as a leader and becoming more and more assertive as a cricketer.

The batting of Boycott and Cowdrey, who were well supported at crucial times by Edrich and Knott, and the fast bowling combination of Snow, Brown and Jones were the main ingredients of success.

Boycott grew in stature as a batsman no less than Cowdrey did as a leader. Boycott had already done big things for England, and on this tour, feeling himself established, he really asserted himself. He let loose the full range of his latent scoring powers and became a dominant batsman. Boycott had a tour aggregate of 1,154 in eleven first-class matches, while Cowdrey played in nine and made 871.

It was fitting that the two main batsmen should have played the winning roles in the decisive Test. Cowdrey played a brilliant pathfinder innings of 71 out of 118 for the second wicket. Boycott, 80 not out, first partnered Cowdrey perfectly and finally, judging the scoring rate precisely against the clock, carried the side to victory.

It was irony that a highly dubious decision against Cowdrey in the first innings, when he was 148, was the decisive stroke in the match. At the time he and Knott had put on 113 together and looked like carrying on indefinitely.

Had they done so, the match must have petered out. As it was the West Indies gained a lead of 122, and Sobers was fired with hopes of victory. In seeking it, he gave England a bare chance of winning, which Cowdrey and Boycott seized magnificently.

Sobers was criticised for his declaration, which left England to score 215 in two and three-quarter hours. Those who blamed him were being wise after the event. At the time none believed that England could score at 78 an hour over such a lengthy period, though they might perish in the attempt.

As the game is now played that is an uncommonly brisk rate, even against a predominantly spin attack. Griffith had pulled a muscle early in the England first innings and did not play again, leaving Sobers as the only pace bowler.

The mystery was why Griffith was not called to action in the final innings. He had a lengthy trial bowl in the nets on Monday morning before it was decided not to play him that day. If he could have such a trial on the Monday, it was reasonable to suppose he could have bowled the few overs - five minutes or more to the over - on Tuesday evening that would have helped the clock to beat England. A more valid criticism of Sobers could have been levelled at his handling of the bowling and his field placing.

The second big factor in the English success was the fast bowling. For the first time since Statham and Trueman dropped out England had the fast bowling advantage. Snow, Brown and Jones were faster and better bowlers than any the West Indies could field. Accordingly the West Indies did not indulge in the same concentrated bumper attack as during the previous M.C.C. tour eight years earlier.

When they did employ that weapon, concentrating it against Edrich in particular and later injudiciously against Snow, in the third Test, a period of retaliation by Snow and Jones dissuaded them from repeating the tactic.

Snow was the fastest of the trio, indeed the fastest and most dangerous bowler of the West Indian season. After a ragged start to the tour, his command over length and direction improved greatly. In four Tests he took 27 wickets, as many as any English bowler has ever taken in a full series in the West Indies. Brown and Jones each took 14 and have reason to believe that they earned greater reward.

When the crunch came in the final two Tests nobody did more to clinch the series than Knott, who helped Cowdrey on both occasions to retrieve the failures of the middle batting. He and Pocock were the youngsters of the party, eager to play in every match but patiently waiting for their chance. In the meantime they did everything they could to fit themselves to take the chance when it came.

Knott had to wait until the fourth Test, in which he proved his fitness and his perfect big-match temperament. He greatly raised the standard of wicket-keeping, which was otherwise unusually low in the series, and he was dismissed only once while making 149 runs.

Pocock also benefited much from the tour, suiting his spin bowling excellently to West Indies conditions and earning his place in two Tests. Spin bowlers develop more slowly than others. Pocock at 21 had already developed enough to hold out promise of future greatness.

His chance came when Titmus suffered a boating accident shortly before the third Test. Titmus lost four toes when his left foot was caught in the screw of a small boat, placed in the middle of the craft and, contrary to regulations, without a guard. Titmus could take no further part in the tour, and when he went home Lock, who had been leading Western Australia to top place in the Sheffield Shield, was recalled to Test cricket.

If Lock did not entirely adapt his bowling to West Indies pitch conditions in the short time available to him, his virile fielding was an obvious asset, and his innings of 89, mostly scored in a ninth-wicket stand of 109 with Pocock in the final Test, was alone worth the cost of transporting him from Australia.

So, injury almost certainly ended the Test career of Titmus. A total of 1,311 runs and 146 wickets are witness of the value to England of his gritty cricket. He scaled the heights during the 1962-63 tour of Australia and that of India a year later. Though suffering since from nagging shoulder trouble, he still held his own in bit cricket and was Cowdrey's vice-captain in the West Indies.

That post was taken over by Graveney, who is perhaps more ideally equipped to be first-mate than captain. Overall, Graveney's batting was a shade disappointing after he had played a gloriously cultured innings of 118 in the first Test. Twice subsequently, however, he suffered rare and unlucky dismissal when caught on the rebound or ricochet off one fielder to another. Moreover, his fielding in the slips alongside Cowdrey was the bright feature of otherwise dull English fielding.

Barrington also achieved less with the bat than expected in the later Tests, and the events of the tour gave clear warning that England would shortly have to give thought to the middle batting. At the start of the series Barrington was in top form, but after making 206 in his first two innings added only 82 in the remaining five.

The most disappointing player of all, however, was D'Oliveira, whose Test touring experiences perhaps began too late in life. His batting was no more than useful, his fielding surprisingly faulty, for which England paid dearly when he missed vital catches, and his bowling became of less and less consequence.

With Parks also failing to make runs, surprisingly after his fine batting in Australia two years earlier, though it is only fair to say that he had more than his share of dubious decisions, the side came to depend more and more on the early and late batsmen.

Edrich, who started the tour expecting to be the reserve batsman while Milburn opened the innings, became instead a key player, forming an ideal and profitable partnership with Boycott. His start was horrible, falling cheaply time after time as he dabbed and snicked. At last he was suffering from the obvious flaw in his batting method, but he tackled and largely conquered it. He schooled himself to play straighter and closer to his legs, and his Test aggregate was exceeded only by those of Cowdrey and Boycott.

Milburn similarly began badly. Before he could recover Edrich was established, and he was out in the cold. After the second Test, when he sorely needed encouragement, he was given out lbw in Antigua to his first ball, although he played it with his bat. He suffered another dubious decision when seemingly set for a century against Barbados.

In a playing sense his tour was a disappointment, but he remained a cheerful member of the group, materially helping team spirit in the side. Discontented reserves in a touring party can be a serious source of weakness. Cowdrey was fortunate in his reserves, who never vented their disappointment at being out of the main picture. Milburn, Hobbs and Higgs were the regular reserves, and they did not complain.

Hobbs played in the first Test and bowled and fielded valuably. From then he was the regular reserve fielder, who lifted the standard whenever he appeared. More importantly he was again an ideal tourist, willing to help in any way possible. And outside the Tests his leg spin took wickets valuably.

Higgs was always a willing worker, but, as in Australia, overseas pitch conditions did not suit his medium-fast bowling.

At the start of the series the West Indies were firm favourites, but their all-conquering machine was already beginning to creak. Doubts were expressed about the fitness of Hall and, to a lesser extent, Griffith.

In the event Hall proved to be little more than a shadow of the great fast bowler he had been. His pace was no longer to be feared, and only on the crazy paving pitch in Jamaica did he have any success. Griffith as a straight arm bowler was never in the highest class. Although he took five for 69 in the first Test, thanks to picking up the tail-end wickets, he was never a menace.

The West Indies had nothing of pace in reserve to these two, and the bowling responsibility rested on Gibbs and Sobers. Gibbs averaged more than 60 overs a Test. He did the donkey work against the leading batsmen throughout, while others usually had their chance against the tail-enders. Justice was finally done to his magnificently whole-hearted efforts, when he took six for 60 in the final innings of the series.

Sobers was less dangerous as a quick bowler than he had been in England, and he was strangely reluctant to make use of his googly type bowling. The fifth bowler usually was Holford. The selectors persisted with him, although he was a consistent failure with both bat and ball and twice missed D'Oliveira in the slips, when England were struggling to save the second Test. The selectors preferred Holford's generally accurate but anaemic leg spin to the more erratic, but much more menacing bowling of Rodriguez.

The selectors were also faithful to Murray behind the wicket, although he kept badly throughout, allowing an excessive number of byes, 90 in eight innings, and never looked like pulling his weight with the bat.

The West Indies did in fact suffer from having an extremely long tail, starting at number seven. There was ample strength in the top half of the order, but the most was not made of it until Sobers lifted himself in the order. No side can afford to have their outstanding batsman going in at number six or seven.

Sobers was not only outstandingly good but also unusually lucky in the matter of being missed, particularly in the Jamaica Test. There he proceeded to play a truly great innings of 113 not out on the unpredictable Sabina Park pitch after being badly dropped by D'Oliveira when he was seven.

Kanhai, vulnerable to pace on the fast pitches of Jamaica and Barbados, was a prolific scorer on the slower ones. Nurse had a good series, though he was not entirely happy as an opener, and Camacho, a batsman of differing moods, did all that could be expected of him as the one unvarying opening batsman. Butcher played his best cricket in the Barbados test, and in the fourth match had surprising success-five for 34 - when used as an after-thought leg-spin bowler.

The most exciting player of all was Lloyd, the large, spectacled left-hander, who could hit the ball with tremendous force off either front or back foot. Defensively he was as yet not the complete player, but he was a most dangerous opponent, capable of rapidly changing the course of a match, and in a side noted for fine ground fielding he was brilliantly prominent. He was an exceptionally fast fielder in the covers, swooping and pouncing on the ball to save innumerable runs, and none could take chances with his throwing.

The course of the Test series was strange. England should have won the first two Tests, and at one time had a chance of taking the third. They gained their victory in the fourth, when they were never in the hunt for such a result until the final stages, and hung on grimly to draw the fifth. There is no doubt that justice was done and that the right side won the Wisden Trophy, but justice in a somewhat roundabout manner to achieve that result.

The fifth Test was played over six instead of five days, because neither side then held a winning margin. I can see no justification for adding a day to the final match of a series in preference to any of the other games. The same conditions and hours should apply to every match. They are of equal importance and merit equal treatment.

One administrative lesson is to be learned from this tour. Teams flown rapidly several thousands of miles from one set of climatic conditions to a completely different set require quite ten days for preparation before starting the match programme. When sides travelled by sea the transition was gradual. Air travel involves a sudden change, and the players need a much longer period for acclimatisation in the new country. This is most obvious in the case of a team leaving the English winter for the perpetual West Indies summer, for conditions there vary little between midsummer and midwinter.

Cowdrey, having previous experience of West Indies touring, forecast that his side would take three weeks to settle down. He was correct almost to a day.

For three weeks they played shaky cricket and did not get into their stride until the eve of the first Test. On this occasion M.C.C. were engaged in match play in grilling sunshine three days after arriving. Adding a week to the beginning of all future tours would prove profitable.

Match reports for

1st Test: West Indies v England at Port of Spain, Jan 19-24, 1968
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: West Indies v England at Kingston, Feb 8-14, 1968
Report | Scorecard

3rd Test: West Indies v England at Bridgetown, Feb 29-Mar 5, 1968
Report | Scorecard

4th Test: West Indies v England at Port of Spain, Mar 14-19, 1968
Report | Scorecard

5th Test: West Indies v England at Georgetown, Mar 28-Apr 3, 1968
Report | Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co
 
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