Remembering the West Indies support cast
The legendary fast bowlers are celebrated, as they must be, but many others played a part in the team's supremacy
Sometimes our memories can rewrite history, and the passage of time has a way of covering over cracks.
For example, we tend to remember a collection of great players within a certain era and not the specific teams they actually played in. I remember a cricket-obsessed friend from the West Indies proposing that the wonder team of Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lara, Richardson, Lloyd, Dujon, Marshall, Holding, Ambrose, and Garner was undoubtedly far greater than any Australian team that ever took the park during the 2000s.
However, he was a little put out when I noted that, unfortunately, they never actually all took the field at the same time, and that in fact Lara didn't debut until approximately six years after Lloyd retired. This led me to think about the supporting players who clearly assisted teams in their quest for greatness, but who perhaps have never been recognised personally in the same way.
West Indies are remembered for their great pace bowling line-ups for two decades between the mid-1970s and 1990s. It is easy to believe in hindsight that Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Colin Croft and Joel Garner played for the first ten years, and were then replaced by Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop. However, in reality there were many other fast bowlers who ably supported West Indies during this period of their world supremacy.
Some, such as Wayne Daniel, Sylvester Clarke and Patrick Patterson, are still reasonably well remembered, perhaps in part also due to their performances in English county cricket. It is worth noting that their respective Test records are very creditable, with Clarke taking 42 wickets at an average of 27.85, and Daniel 36 wickets at 25.27. Patterson took the most wickets of these three (93 at 30.90) and was clearly very quick at his peak. Graham Gooch, a fairly handy player against the fast ball, said the only time he was in actual fear of his life was against Patterson at Sabina Park in 1986. However, how well did the other quicks who played during that 20-year era perform? There were a number of fast bowlers, many of whom have been largely forgotten by the general public, selected for West Indies between January 1, 1975 and December 31, 1995. This supporting cast included Keith Boyce, Vanburn Holder, Bernard Julien, Ezra Moseley, Norbert Phillip, Tony Gray, Winston Davis, Milton Small, Eldine Baptiste, Kenny Benjamin, Winston Benjamin, Cameron Cuffy, Anderson Cummins and Ottis Gibson.
The famous 1984 "blackwash" tour of England is remember for the fearsome fast bowling feats of West Indies. What is often overlooked is that it featured Milton Small and Eldine Baptiste, playing their roles as members of the fast-bowling quartet
Boyce and Holder, each more of a medium-pacer than being genuinely quick, had both started playing for West Indies before the emergence of the four-pronged pace attack as the default option. They opened the bowling in the period after Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith had retired in 1969 and before Roberts and Holding joined forces in the mid-1970s. Boyce took 60 Test wickets at an average of 30.01, with best match figures of 11 for 147 against England, while Holder's 109 wickets cost him 33.27.
They both spasmodically played for West Indies after 1975, but were largely sidelined by the arrival of Croft and Garner in 1977. Interestingly, Holder's best Test bowling performance of 6 for 28 came in the 1977-78 series against Australia, after he was selected in a West Indian side lacking any of their Packer-aligned players.
One of the oddities of the West Indian fast-bowling dynasty is the lack of left-handed quickies. Julien was another fast bowler of that mid-1970s period, a rare left-armer, who took 50 wickets at 37.36 but also scored two Test centuries and averaged 30.92 with the bat. The next left-hand fast bowler to play for West Indies even semi-regularly was Pedro Collins, who didn't debut until 1999.
The famous 1984 "blackwash" tour of England is remember for the fearsome fast bowling feats of West Indies. What is often overlooked is that it featured Milton Small and Eldine Baptiste playing their roles as members of the fast-bowling quartet, following the retirement of Roberts and injury to Michael Holding. The bowling line-up for the Lord's Test was Garner, Marshall, Small and Baptiste. Small only took four Test wickets at a cost of 38.25 and had to leave the tour early with a knee injury. He never got another opportunity at Test level after that series, but Baptiste played ten Tests over a period of seven years from 1983 to 1990. He finished with 16 wickets at 35.18 but was also a useful lower-order batsman who averaged 23.30 with a highest score of 87 not out.
Baptiste was somewhat of a lucky charm for West Indies, in that they won all ten Tests in which he played. His 100% Test career of ten straight wins remains a record, leading current players Dean Elgar (seven consecutive wins) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (six), and the retired Lord Hawke and Ken Archer (both five)*. Elgar and Kumar are both still young enough to play more Tests, which may either extend or finish their winning sequences.
Winston Davis also played in that 1984 Test series against England, featuring in the fourth Test, where he scored an invaluable 77 in a partnership of 170 with Gordon Greenidge. He was on the periphery of the West Indies side for a large period of the 1980s, and finished with 45 Test wickets at 32.71. However, he is perhaps best remembered for the then-world record 7 for 51 against Australia in the 1983 World Cup. One of the more unlucky fast bowlers, statistically anyway, would appear to be Tony Gray, who was a contemporary of Davis in the 1980s. In his five Test matches he took 22 wickets at an average of just 17.13 and a fantastic strike rate of 40.3. While he didn't bowl enough deliveries to formally qualify for the best strike rates in Test history, there are only four bowlers on that list who bettered Gray's 40.3, and two of them played in the 1800s.
It would appear that this isn't just a simple statistical anomaly from a small sample, as he had similarly impressive performances in 25 one-day internationals, with a bowling average of 18.97 and a strike rate of 28.8. Unfortunately he was injured at inopportune times and was overtaken in the pecking order by Ian Bishop in the late-1980s.
During the late-1980s and early-1990s, West Indies' fast bowling line-up started to dwindle a little, but the chances of a long career for a newcomer were still restricted, with Marshall, Ambrose and Walsh being automatic selections when fit and available. Winston Benjamin took 61 wickets at 27.01 and Kenny Benjamin (no relation) managed 92 wickets at 30.27 from intermittent opportunities. Ezra Moseley finished his career having played only two Tests in 1990, in which he took six wickets at 43.50. However, these Tests occurred when Moseley was 32. He had first burst onto the scene in the early 1980s before suffering a serious back injury. This put him out of action and he then signed with the rebel team that toured South Africa in 1982-83 and was banned until 1989. It is hard to know whether this rebel tour similarly curtailed the chances of other fast bowlers, or if their chances in the main team would have been few and far between either way. Julien, Croft and Clarke were three Test players whose international careers ended completely with their participation in the tour. Hartley Alleyne ultimately never played a Test but had toured Zimbabwe with a West Indies B team in 1981 that was composed of both current Test and aspiring players, including Haynes, Dujon, Marshall and Daniel. Alleyne finished with an impressive 254 wickets in 85 first-class games, but he never played for West Indies as he had also chosen to join the rebel tours. Ray Wynter was another fast bowler who never played for West Indies after deciding to tour South Africa. Yet another promising fast bowler, Franklyn Stephenson, was similarly banned for being part of the rebel tours. Stephenson is widely considered one of the best players never to play a Test, having taken 792 first-class wickets at an average of 24.26 and also scored 12 first-class centuries.
While we remember the great West Indian fast bowlers like Holding, Marshall, Ambrose and Walsh, it is worth also taking a moment to recall the back-up they received. The West Indian era from the 1970s to 1990s was dominated by legendary fast bowlers, but just think, without the excellent supporting cast, we may have instead heard more of spin bowlers such as Roger Harper, Arthur Barrett, Harold Joseph, Inshan Ali and Elquemedo Willett. I am sure that there are many batsmen who wish that was the case!
*Many thanks to cricket statistician extraordinaire David Barry for helping with this article.
Stuart Wark works at the University of New England as a research fellow