The three W's, Sobers, and Gibbs for starters, 1976

Eleven West Indies men of my time

Richie Benaud

thIf one word had to be used to describe West Indian cricket at Test level it would be unpredictable. Exciting yes, enthusiastic certainly, friendly by all means, and often electric, but unpredictable stands out from all the others. They can turn a Test match their way in a couple of astonishing overs, sometimes they can turn it in the opposition's way with a burst of excess zeal that loses wickets, drops catches, provides run outs and generally drives their supporters to distraction.

It is not easy to come up with the best eleven players spanning a period of a quarter of a century but it brings the memories flooding back. I first played against them in 1951 when John Goddard's team came to Australia and had lost the series 3-1 by the time the Fourth Test was played. The Australian selectors chose to blood three young players for the final Test -- Colin McDonald, George Thoms and me -- and there was no shortage of excitement over the next four days, with Miller and Lindwall bowling on a green Sydney pitch and letting the West Indian batsmen have their fair share of bumpers. Some said more than their fair share but, at the time and now, I could see nothing outside the rules in the manner in which either man bowled.

Weekes, Worrell and Walcott were in that team and Walcott in particular extracted some revenge four years later when we went to the West Indies by hitting a string of centuries against us. It was quite an experience playing in the West Indies that year and, on those pitches and against those batsmen, one's bowling experience was enriched; not all of it pleasantly.

Although it was 20 years ago, I vividly remember just one over I bowled to Clyde Walcott in the opening Test of that series at Sabina Park, Jamaica. The ground is small, the pitch is like a piece of reddish coloured glass, the outfield is like lightning. At the end of the innings the bowling analysis read Benaud 19-7-29-0 and it is one of those maidens to which I refer. In the covers was Neil Harvey, at extra cover Ron Archer, at mid-off Arthur Morris. At the end of the over they were covered in dust from diving either to the right or left, skidding along the turf to cut off six magnificent drives off back and front foot by Walcott. There should have been 24 runs from the over--if ever there was a deceitful statistic it was the one in that maiden column.

Walcott was a dynamic player, a man of immense strength who hit the ball like a thrashing machine with a great whirling of the bat. There was nothing at all elegant about him ... or was there? Could anyone be brutally elegant? If the answer is yes, that was Walcott -- the perfect complement to the other W's. He was a more than useful wicket-keeper and could bowl medium pace as well, as he proved when back trouble cut short his 'keeping career, but it was in the tremendous power of his strokeplay that I best remember him.

Everton Weekes was one of the greatest batsmen I ever watched, even though I only saw him when that wasted leg muscle was restricting his footwork. He had one of the widest bats I have ever seen from 22 yards and that Yorkshire adage of show 'em the maker's name might have been devised just for him. Memory tells me that he had the back of his left hand facing a little more to the bowler than normal -- perhaps that had something to do with the straightness of his play -- but unfortunately for the bowler he was also wonderfully and successfully unorthodox when he wished. He made 139 and 87 not out against us in Trinidad in 1955 and 81 at Georgetown but he was never quite himself in that series, nor against England in 1957.

Francis Maglinne Worrell... now there was elegance for you. There was a man for all summers. I did not believe it when Keith Miller told me Frank used to prepare for battle by having a sleep with the pads on on the massage table. True. A wonderfully relaxed person and one of the great men ever to grace any sporting field. I ran him out in my first Test in Sydney with a throw from mid wicket but ten years later he was back again, captaining West Indies with such calm authority and wonderful flair that spectators watched one of the greatest Test series of all time. For Frank Worrell to captain West Indies required quite a change in thinking on the part of the West Indies Board of Control; for him to make a success of it was therefore doubly important. For his many friends and advocates in the West Indies it was vital.

I remember meeting him at Sydney airport when the West Indies team arrived in 1960 and, in the course of chatting, he said he thought we would have a lot of fun during the summer. At the time he was not having much fun as he was suffering with shellfish poisoning picked up on the way to Australia. Not only did we have a lot of fun but so too did the spectators, with the freak results obtained in the summer.

There was no more elegant mover in the game in my time -- Australians tell me Kippax and Jackson were his equivalent, though I can hardly believe it. He moved with the sleepy grace generally associated with the cat family and when he batted he was rarely boorish enough to hit the ball. Occasionally he stroked it but mostly he caressed it through the covers or past mid-on, sometimes there was a flick past square leg as a concession to conventional power. A great player, a great man and a wonderful servant to cricket.

Of course that trio must go into any West Indies team in the past 25 years and this then restricts the batting places available in any combination. Sobers is the all rounder at seven, Kanhai must play at number three as one of the finest batsmen the world has seen. That leaves the openers to complete the batting line-up and here I would use Conrad Hunte and Seymour Nurse, the former a splendid player of the new ball and of all types of spin bowling, and Nurse a most underrated player in my opinion. I went on tour with him some years ago and not many batsmen could have played better.

With Kanhai at three and Sobers at seven flanking the three W's, it is a terrifying batting line-up. When Kanhai and Sobers came to Australia in 1960 there was intense competition between them as to which one would score most runs. This is the sort of competition an opposing bowler like myself or Davidson could do without, for both of them took dismissal as a personal affront. On that tour I thought Kanhai just shaded Sobers with the bat but then the latter had his four styles of bowling to lift him to the class of a great all-rounder. Both were fine fieldsmen and wonderful close to the wicket catchers.

With Walcott keeping wicket, that leaves four bowlers to be included and I go for two from my era around the 'sixties and two from the early 'fifties -- Hall and Gibbs, Ramadhin and Valentine. Although I actually played against all four, it was in those periods named that they were at their peak.

Ram and Val had their own calypso... an anthem would not have been out of place for the deeds they managed when West Indian cricket was pummelling England in 1950. Ramadhin, the little mystery spinner who turned the ball both ways on English pitches but was more restricted in Australia, burst on to the cricket scene in that summer when hardly any English batsmen could consistently lay the bat on him. At the other end, Valentine was spinning his fingers raw with his delightfully orthodox action -- the perfect complement to his partner. By the time they came to Australia, in 1960, they were past their best and when Neil Harvey game Ram some stick in the Melbourne Test of that series the West Indies tour selectors dropped him in favour of a spindly youngster named Gibbs who looked as though a substantial meal would do him more good than twenty overs in a Test match.

He soon showed us all about that! Magnificent bowling in the next Test in Sydney was followed by the hat-trick in Adelaide (as I watched from the non-striker's end) and some more superb bowling in the final match in Melbourne. Not even greying hair will stop him from beating Freddie Trueman's record haul of wickets in Test cricket to give West Indies the dual honour of most runs (Sobers) and most wickets (Gibbs) in the history of the game.

At the other end, in most of Gibbs' triumphs over the following eight years, was Wesley Winfield Hall, now Senator Hall, who was one of the great fast bowlers the cricket world has seen. Miller and Lindwall, Lillee and Thomson, Tyson and Statham, Gregory and McDonald?... Hall was on his own when I played against him in 1960, as indeed was Alan Davidson in the time he took the new ball for Australia from 1958 to 1963.

Frank Worrell and Gary Sobers shared the new ball with him at different times but the big fella did it the hard way until Charlie Griffith came along.

How would you like to face that line-up on the first morning of the opening Test match at Lord's or the Sydney Cricket Ground:

1.-- C. C. Hunte, 2.-- S. M. Nurse, 3.-- R. B. Kanhai, 4.-- E. D. Weekes, 5.-- C. L. Walcott, 6.-- F. M. Worrell (Captain), 7.-- G. S. Sobers (Vice-captain), 8.-- W. W. Hall, 9.-- L. R. Gibbs, 10.-- S. Ramadhin, 11.-- A. L. Valentine.

I do not think the opposing batsmen would be all that happy in any conditions, opposing bowlers would simply be tired!

© John Wisden & Co