The sad demise of West Indies cricket saddens all its supporters. The reasons are many: from players’ laziness, arrogance and lack of patriotism; the W.I. Boards’ ineptitude and lack of spine or the breakdown of the traditional social fabric that once cemented West Indian society and molded its cricket team.
Even sadder is the shocking lack of knowledge and appreciation by current W.I. cricketers- youth, domestic or national- of our rich cricketing heritage and the achievements, exploits and greatness our past cricketers. Sad also when W.I. were cricket’s kings for two decades from 1976 and that was preceded by the equally great teams of John Goddard, Worrell and Sobers that were equal to or better than any in the world.
W.I. cricket kingship was won- not by one set of batsmen, or bowlers, one state/province or one race, creed or religion. But by their collective effort of what became known as The West Indian Way – the “cook-up rice” mix of the English planters’ technique, the exuberance and talents of the sons of slaves, the artistry and style of the “East Indians” and the uniqueness of the “Chinaman”.
Their Disparities and Diversities became their strengths- the Whites, Blacks, Browns and Yellows; the Rulers and the Ruled, Rice workers and Cane-cutters- all fed off each other and became a cohesive team of tigers that took on the world cricket giants- as the ‘National” team of a disparate region that was bonded only by Cricket.
The founding states of W.I. cricket- Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica and British Guiana, in a very short time, bonded and blended into the West Indies team and were later joined by the Leeward and Windward Islands.
W.I. inaugural First Class game was in 1865 - Barbados vs British Guiana. This was only fourteen years after Australia’s first game. W I made their first overseas tour in 1886 to USA and Canada. We played our first test in 1887 (only ten years after England’s first test against Australia) and the first ever W.I. team played against England in Trinidad and WON.
The first English county overseas professional was a West Indian- Charles Ollivierre- an outstanding batsman in W.I. first tour to England in 1900. Lebrun Constantine made the first W.I. century in England (at Lord’s) on that tour. His ship’s passage was not paid by the W.I. Board but by public donations for his begging bowl.
EXACTLY ONE HUNDRED YEARS LATER, THE W.I. TEAM CAPTAINED BY THE MILLIONAIRE BRIAN LARA, HAD BARRICADED THEMSELVES IN A LONDON HOTEL LIKE TERRORISTS, DEMANDING MORE MONEY TO GO TO THE SOUTH AFRICA TESTS TO PLAY FOR WEST INDIES!
In thirteen years from its birth, W.I. had beaten England once and a W. Indian had scored a ton at Lord’s. No other country had done that. By 1923 George Challenor was considered to be the best batsman between Trumper and Bradman with his grace and power – traits that became the “West Indian way”. WEST INDIAN BATTING’S GRACE AND POWER HAVE NOW DETERIORATED TO W.I. PLAYERS’ SLOG AND SMASH FOR MONEY!
George Headley was Atlas holding up the W.I. team with his scorching strokes and solid defense-the batting mainstay for a generation that dominated fast and spin bowling, dusty or seaming pitches; off or leg side to an extent that Bradman never reached. Headley’s two centuries in a Lord’s test (1939) was a feat not matched even by Bradman. He was also the first batsman to hit twin centuries against England twice.
Clifford Roach holds two batting landmarks in W.I. cricket heritage – the first W.I. batsman to score a test century and a double (both in 1929).
In 1934 W.I. recorded its first series win (against England). But the 1950 England tour is a watershed in our history. Three batsmen – the famous “W”s- blasted England away giving W.I. their first win in England and at Lord’s, the HQ of cricket. It was W.I. first series win in England. Two spin bowlers, without any first class experience, wrecked England: “those little pals of mine – Ramadhin and Valentine”.
Ramadhin was the first doosra bowler in cricket history and the first East Indian to be selected and W.I. becoming a multi-ethnic side in 1950. The great Rohan Kanhai, almost forgotten now, invented the “Kanhai falling sweep shot”. No other batsman in our history has, like Headley, blended majestic stroke play with stoic defense, as did Rohan Kanhai.
Learie Constantine (Lebrun’s son) became cricket’s first great all-rounder as well as the world’s greatest fielder. Gary Sobers, starting as a schoolboy spinner, became the greatest all-rounder in cricket history. Ellis Achong, of part Chinese descent was the origin of the ‘Chinaman” delivery (1933)- the only cricketer to have a cricket term named after him.
The dashing Brian Lara is the only batsman in cricket history to have scored the highest test innings TWICE (375 in 1994 and 400* in 2004). The dependable and indispensible Shiv Chanderpaul is the only test batsman to face 1000 consecutive deliveries without being dismissed and batting 25 hours between dismissals.
A West Indian-Pelham Warner was the first man to have a Lord’s stand named after him. He is also the first cricketer to be knighted (1937).
It is now 130 years since the birth of West Indies cricket. In that time West Indian players have created a rich heritage for our people and our posterity that is unequalled in any other country.
Past West Indian cricketers would be distraught to see the current money- grabbing, medallion-dangling pseudo-cricketers now dishonoring their sacred W.I. caps. They would not believe that a W.I. captain would denigrate TEST cricket; that W.I. players refuse to continue a W.I. tour; that some would refuse to play for their motherland but play for any foreign paymaster. Our young players should remember and be sustained by our cricket heritage and not emulate these cricketing paupers.