How they rose to fame, 1976

Welcome West Indies

Henry Blofeld

The West Indies may not have made much of an impact on Test cricket until after the Second War, but their cricket and their cricketers have always been as full of character and individuality as any in the world. The West Indians are a people with volatile temperaments and they have always tended to play their cricket in the same way that they live their lives. Because they are by nature gay, excitable and flamboyant, their approach to cricket has captured the imagination in a way which the cricket of no other country has done.

There is about the development of West Indies cricket a curious paradox, however, which is perhaps worth stating at the start of an article which is, incidentally, being written just a week before I fly out to Australia to watch them play six Test Matches against the West Indies, the result of which may possibly temporarily invalidate one or two of the comments made in following paragraphs.

Ramadhin and Valentine

In spite of all their exciting and compelling characteristics, the West Indies did not become a major cricketing power until their best players had learned to discipline themselves to the demands of Test cricket. This moment arrived in 1950 when Ramadhin and Valentine spun England to defeat, but by then a generation of West Indian cricketers had grown up who understood what was required to win a Test Match against top class opponents. Quick fifties and sixties may be breathtakingly memorable, but it is seldom that they have a lasting impact on a Test Match. [Hence their recent collapses in Australia. -- Ed.]

Rae, Stollmeyer, Weekes, Walcott and Worrell knew this and in 1950, after their spin bowlers had disposed of England's batsmen, began to build up big enough totals in an uncharacteristically consistent way, and the last three being the batsmen they were, in a glamorous way at that. At last their batting was reliable and if Rae and Stollmeyer were less than typically flamboyant for West Indian batsmen, the value of their batting was immense. So often the three wonderful strokemakers who followed came in with a solid foundation laid which meant that they could concentrate all their efforts on scoring runs from the start. I think that the importance of Hunte's batting is sometimes underestimated in the later success of Worrell's side when Sobers and Kanhai batted so enthrallingly. Hunte seldom failed to give his side a solid start which made it easier for those who followed.

Great Fun

To be fully understood and appreciated West Indian cricket ought really to be seen in its own indigenous surroundings in the Caribbean. There, the game and the crowd are one and indivisible and there is total participation not only by the players and the spectators, but also by the entire population of each island or territory. When West Indies teams have played abroad in recent years, particularly in England, the expatriate West Indians have done their best to recreate the atmosphere which is found at, say, the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain. Great fun it has been too, but West Indian gaiety and frivolity and exuberance do not always lie easily on the more staid and unbending atmospheres of Lord's or The Oval. An impromptu calypso is splendid, but it is not the same as an impromptu calypso under a palm tree on the popular side of a West Indian ground. How could it be?

Although the success which has followed West Indies cricket since that tour of England in 1950 is relatively new, their essential tradition of cricket is anything but new and it embraces many characters who were just as colourful as any produced in the last two decades, but who, because they never had the chance or at any rate, a slender chance at Test level, remain unknown to all save the most ardent followers of the game. It was these rich characters who handed down to the present generation the West Indies way of playing cricket, which has given the game so much in recent years.

Early Days

Cricket in the West Indies as everywhere else was originally played by the English colonists. At the start of 1897 two English teams, one captained by Lord Hawke and the other by Mr. Arthur Priestley, toured the West Indies and both found that cricket in that part of the world had considerably improved. It was still predominantly a white man's game and black men were not allowed to play in the Inter-Colonial Cup Competition. In their matches against the two English sides neither Barbados nor Demerara (Guyana) included black men, but Trinidad did and they were, according to P. F. Warner's account of Lord Hawke's tour in the 1898 edition of Wisden, the strongest side of all.

It is an account which does not tell us much about the individual players they encountered, but Mr. Warner states his opposition to the policy pursued by Barbados and Demerara in respect of coloured players. He goes on to say, "These black men add considerably to the strength of a side, while their inclusion makes the game more popular locally and tends to instil a great and universal enthusiasm among all classes of the population." These guarded words form probably the first written acknowledgement of the spectator participation which is so much a part of the tradition of West Indies cricket.

Two Black Bowlers

Lord Hawke's side lost both their matches against Trinidad as did Mr. Priestley's side later on in February 1897. Mr. Warner says of their performance, "The chief credit of the victory rested with the two black bowlers, Woods and Cumberbatch, who between them took thirty-nine wickets in the two matches. Woods bowls very fast with a somewhat low and swinging action. He is very straight and every now and then breaks back considerably. Cumberbatch, who is perhaps the better bowler of the two, is a medium pace right-hander. He breaks a little both ways and varies his pace with much judgement. The fielding of the Trinidad team was splendid. The black men are especially fine fielders; they throw very well and seldom miss a catch." He tells us that Trinidad also had excellent batsmen in D'Ade and L. Constantine, Senior, who played in all the matches against both touring sides and came to England with some West Indian cricketers in 1900.

Mr. Warner ends his piece by saying, "The hospitality of the people is unbounded. We had numerous picnics, dinners, dances, etc. A trip up the Essequibo river in British Guiana stands out very prominently. The visit of a West Indian team to England is by no means improbable and there can be little doubt that a capital side could be got together from the different islands and British Guiana if the black men were included. Without them it would be absurd to attempt to play the first-class counties."

All of this was written about West Indies cricket in its very early days and yet even in this rather dated description of Lord Hawke's tour one can sense something of the same atmosphere which is to-day so much a part of the West Indies and the cricket which is played there. Indeed, the first three sentences might have been written by one of Denness's M. C. C. sides in 1974. West Indians have their own way of appreciating cricket just as much as they have their own way of playing it and the one can be as much fun as the other.

First Tour to West Indies

The first-ever tour of the West Indies had been undertaken in 1894 by a side captained by R. Slade Lucas and as there were few first-class cricketers among them, they were made to struggle. Although this was the first time that West Indian cricketers had played against the English, inter-colonial cricket had been going on in the Caribbean for more than thirty years and there had been tours with Canada and the United States of America and so they were well prepared for this first English side.

After these early tours, minor tours between players from England and the West Indies happened fairly regularly. A party of West Indians came to England in 1900 and indirectly produced the original forerunner of all the West Indians engaged in county cricket today. C. A. Ollivierre from Jamaica played some brilliant innings and later qualified to play for Derbyshire. All the time the standard of the West Indies side improved and when H. B. G. Austin, the captain of Barbados, brought a team to England in 1923, they won twelve matches and George Challenor, also from Barbados, hit eight hundreds and scored almost 2,000 runs.

Learie Constantine Arrives

Each time an English side went to the West Indies the party was stronger and in 1926 the Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe's team included Walter Hammond, who made 238 not out in the first representative match. At last, in 1928 the West Indies were awarded three Test Matches on their tour of England, but under the captaincy of Karl Nunes from Jamaica they lost all three matches by an innings. It was during this tour that the young Learie Constantine first made a name for himself with his fast bowling, his furious hitting and his amazing fielding. Against Middlesex at Lord's in 1928 he made 86 out of 107 after the West Indies had been 79 for five and then took seven for 57 before taking his side to victory by scoring 103 out of 133 in an hour -- Sobers in excelsis.

Constantine was a cricketer whose value could not be seen in terms of statistics, indeed from his statistics it seems surprising that he acquired the reputation he did. Yet, Constantine epitomised West Indies cricket. He was never consistent, he was always exciting, sometimes incredibly so, he was gloriously and extravagantly unorthodox and a wonderful entertainer.

In the last fiften years West Indies cricket has had many brilliant moments. There has been the bowling of Hall and Roberts and Sobers the batting of Sobers and Kanhai, and Lloyd and Kallicharran, the fielding of Sobers and Boyce and Richards and the most incredible moment of all when late in the day on an almost empty ground at Brisbane in early December 1960 off the second last ball of the match, little Joe Solomon picked up the ball at cover about twelve yards from the bat and with one stump to aim at, knocked it over with Meckiff still a couple of yards short of his crease and Australia and the West Indies had shared the first and only tie in the history of Test cricket. Somehow all these great West Indian moments seems to have their origin in Constantine. Learie Constantine is a legendary figure, but one who has not the figures to rival any of the later players, and yet one cannot help but feel that their explosive powers, their most brilliant moments and their attitude to the game of cricket has been handed down at least in part from Constantine.

Such is the power of legend and those who saw the West Indies sides before the war will be able to point to others who played with the same uncomplicated whole-heartedness, but Constantine's was a voice in the wilderness in that he was the first composite West Indian cricketer and not just a Trinidadian cricketer.

Inter-island rivalries and jealousies have so often worked to the detriment of West Indies cricket and maybe at times still do in the matter of team selection. Frank Worrell may have been the first man successfully to overcome this, but Constantine saw that if West Indies cricket was to become a major force in the world it could only be on a composite basis. He was an Old Testament prophet rather than a Messiah, but he had a clear vision of the future of West Indies cricket and no one derived greater pleasure from seeing his hopes become fact.

George Headley Truly Great

When the Hon. F. S. G. Calthorpe took his second side out to the West Indies in 1930 they could only halve the series although of course he did not have a full-strength M. C. C. party. In that series George Headley appeared against England for the first time and made a tremendous impact. In the four Tests he scored four hundreds including two in the match at Georgetown and 223 in the last at Kingston after Sandham had made 325 for England. Headley was undoubtedly the best of the pre-war West Indies batsmen and his runs for the West Indies are made to seem even more remarkable when one remembers that he was given such slender support by his colleagues at the other end. Headley made 2,190 runs in 22 Test Matches and has an average of 60.83, which is higher than Sobers, Kanhai, Weekes, Worrell, Walcott or any other West Indian.

When the West Indies came to England in 1933 they again disappointed, but the two exceptions were Headley who was from Jamaica and scored over 2,300 runs and Manny Martindale from Barbados, a fast bowler, who took 103 wickets on the tour. Two years later R. E. S. Wyatt took another M. C. C. team to the West Indies and this time the West Indies won their first series against England, 2-1. England lost the last Test at Kingston by an innings and Headley made 270 not out. Then, in the final series before the war, in 1939, England won, 1-0. Up to that point the West Indies had justified their rise to Test Match status on their own pitches against M. C. C. teams which missed a few of the best English players, but they had been less successful in England, although they had improved on each succeeding tour.

The Three W's

Although the war put an end to Test cricket, the domestic competition continued in the West Indies and by the time it had ended three young Barbadians, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes, were carrying all before them. Worrell and Walcott put on 574 without being dismissed for Barbados against Trinidad in 1945/46 which is still the second highest partnership ever recorded in first-class cricket. The future of West Indies cricket looked assured. When G. O. Allen brought a slighly makeshift England side to the West Indies in 1947/48 they were well beaten, although in fairness it must be said that they were plagued by injuries.

For all that, the new West Indies side which was being built up under the leadership of the Barbados captain, John Goddard, had a greater depth of batting, a more dependable bowling line-up and in general more consistency than perhaps any of its pre-war predecessors. They were scheduled to come to England in 1950, a fine batting side, but short of top class bowling. Before the touring party was chosen they staged some trial matches, however, and two young spin bowlers, neither of whom had played in a first-class match before, were chosen for these games. A nineteen year-old called Sonny Ramadhin from Trinidad who was able to bowl a mixture of leg breaks and off breaks which were difficult to distinguish at slow medium, took twelve wickets and was chosen to tour England. More surprisingly perhaps, Alfred Valentine, who was also nineteen and came from Jamaica, played in these matches as a slow orthodox left arm spinner and after taking only two wickets was selected to go to England.

The Inscrutable Pair

These two formed an inscrutable combination, Ramadhin short, shirt sleeves buttoned at the wrists, bowling in his cap with a bustling action, and Valentine on the tall side, slim, lugubrious looking with a slow precise action. Between them, Ramadhin and Valentine gave Goddard's West Indies side the key which turned a very good side into a winning one. England were beaten by three matches to one in the four match series. Valentine took 33 wickets and Ramadhin 26. Of course, the five main batsmen all played very important parts, but it must be doubtful if without their two spinners the West Indies would have had the bowling to beat England. In their eleven years of Test cricket up to the outbreak of the Second War, the West Indies had struggled, at times painfully, to hold their own at the highest level of the game. Now, four years after the war had ended, they had convincingly beaten England in England and their place in the top company was assured as of right.

The two who had made it possible were both rather different from the idea of the typical West Indian cricketer to which Constantine had given birth, but both were in keeping with the part of the world which had produced them. Valentine kept on bowling seemingly for ever, so much so that when he went to Australia with the West Indies in 1951/52 he was known as 'Young Man River' for he just kept bowling along. He pushed the ball through, usually found some turn and gave the batsman no rest.

Ramadhin, who was of Indian extraction, was a more highly strung, temperamentally unpredictable character and was more the conjuror. At that time no one could tell for sure which way the ball was going to turn, he varied his pace cleverly and then there was the one which floated late across the batsman's body from leg to off. Like so many of the great West Indies cricketers they were remarkable in terms of their ability, their sheer virtuosity and as their careers went on, unpredictability. They complemented one another perfectly, but although they were only twenty when they achieved their finest performance, in England in 1950, for some reason they never quite found this devastating form again.

Elegant Worrell

While their 59 wickets -- an astonishing achievement -- in just four Test Matches destroyed England, the unhurried elegance of Frank Worrell, the almost mechanical beauty of Everton Weekes' strokeplay and the murderous power of Clyde Walcott especially off the back foot were other abiding memories from that tour. So too were the efficient if less glamorous opening partnerships of Rae and Stollmeyer. The first three combined everything that is good about West Indies batsmanship and together showed for the first time that instinct, although supreme, could be effectively disciplined to bring victory. Before the war George Challoner, one of the most correct batsmen the West Indies has produced, and George Headley had both shown that it could be done, but they were without support. Now Rae and Stollmeyer were another indication that the West Indies understood Test cricket and its requirements more fully.

In 1950 it seemed that the West Indies were unbeatable, but eighteen months later they lost 4-1 in Australia. They were unlucky with injuries to Weekes and Walcott, and Ramadhin and Valentine found the pitches less responsive than they had done in England. Another factor probably was that although they had shown in England that they could come to terms with the extravagant demands of their West Indian temperaments, they had not got the upper hand completely.

West Indies sides have always been temperamentally suspect. When they are good they are very, very good, but when things go badly they tend to go really badly. They lost again to Australia 3-0 in the Caribbean in 1954/55. Then, in England in 1957 with Goddard again captain, Ramadhin and Valentine were thwarted by May and Cowdrey in their fourth wicket stand of 411 in the first Test at Birmingham after they had bowled England out for 186 in the first innings and made 475 themselves. The side never recovered from this stand.

Sobers and Kanhai in England

This tour was the start of a period of rebuilding for the West Indies. Weekes and Walcott were no longer quite the batsmen they had been, Ramadhin and Valentine were less effective and Sobers and Kanhai made their first tours of England. In the next three years the marvellous side which Worrell took to Australia in 1960/61 and to England in 1963 appeared. First, Gerry Alexander of Jamaica succeeded Goddard as captain while Wes Hall and Lance Gibbs and Seymour Nurse and Cammie Smith and Conrad Hunte filled the main places in the side. This was the nucleus of the side which tied with Australia at Brisbane in the First Test in 1960/61. In that side Hall, Sobers, Kanhai, Smith were all the direct descendants from the spirit of Constantine while Worrell himself, Hunte and Alexander who had such a wonderful series with the bat, and at times the others too, had added the extra dimension of discipline to this same spirit without detracting one wit from the entertainment value of the side at the same time as increasing enormously the success potential although the series was eventually lost.

Explosive Griffith

By 1963 the explosive qualities of Charlie Griffith and the dapper precise batting methods of Basil Butcher had been added to the above side. But most important of all, Worrell, the captain, had managed to weld his team together in a way which almost completely conquered the West Indian temperament. Nothing was left to chance any more. This was to be Worrell's last Test series, however, and within four years he was dead, a tragic victim of leukaemia.

Sobers was his natural successor and in 1966 almost the same side again beat England convincingly, but then once more age began to take its toll. It is at times like these that the minute-to-minute tactical considerations of a good captain are so important to a side and which enable it to keep together. When Sobers took over Worrell's side it captained itself to a large extent, but when the West Indies reached Australia in 1968/69 they were past their best. After winning the first Test they lost the second at Melbourne and then fell apart in a remarkable way, losing the series 3-1. Sobers did not have the same authority over his side as Worrell and on a short tour of England the following summer the West Indies lost two of the three Test Matches and they entered another period of rebuilding.

Evergreen Gibbs

The vast reservoirs of natural talent in the Caribbean islands seem to be unending and soon successors for Worrell's old side were being found. It was not quite such an easy transition as that of the late 1950s though, and the West Indies had to suffer the humiliation of losing a series to India in the West Indies and then, in the following year at home, of failing to beat New Zealand in any of the five Test Matches on their first ever tour of the West Indies. After that tour Sobers was replaced by Kanhai as captain and by now Clive Lloyd, Vanburn Holder, Keith Boyce, Bernard Julien, Alvin Kallicharran, Roy Fredericks and Lawrence Rowe were taking over from the previous generation, although Gibbs bowled his off breaks as well as ever and remained a link between the old and the new.

The next winter Australia won by two matches to nil in the Caribbean, but by then it was obvious that the new West Indies side was about to break through and become probably as good as its predecessors. But the first victory proved elusive and after losing a splendid game of cricket to Australia in the fourth Test at Port of Spain, the innate weakness of temperament showed itself again and they were beaten unnecessarily badly in the last Test Match at Georgetown.

Another Formidable Side

In 1973 they were back in England again and now at last everything came right for them. They won two Tests out of three against England and were a formidable side. Again it was all based on the spirit of Constantine. Fredericks and Kanhai and Lloyd and Kallicharran played thrilling innings and Boyce, Julien and Holder bowled England out. But now it was left to Sobers with an impressive innings of 150 and occasionally Kanhai and some of the others to provide the stabilising element when it was required. They were checked very surprisingly the following winter by Denness's England side which, although completely outplayed for the first three Test Matches managed to win the last at Port of Spain and to draw the series. This was Sobers' last series and also Kanhai's. He was replaced by Clive Lloyd as captain and by now three more exciting players, Andy Roberts, their fastest bowler since Hall, Vivian Richards and Gordon Greenidge had come into the side. The first two came from Antigua, which was an indication of the improvement shown by the smaller islands in the West Indies.

World Champions

After winning an exciting series in India by the odd Test Match in five, Lloyd brought his side to England last summer where they won the Prudential Cup for the first-ever one-day world championship, beating Australia narrowly in a thrilling finish to a wonderfully successful competition. It was therefore as World Champions that the West Indies went to Australia at the start of an arduous twelve months' cricket. On their return from Australia they were due to play four Tests against India before undertaking a full tour of England in 1976 which will mean playing fifteen Test Matches in ten months.

© John Wisden & Co