I had completely forgotten that almost 15 years ago, living in Grand Cayman, I had sent my friend Colin Cholmondeley (then living in Jamaica) a short column from Wisden Cricket Monthly by BBC broadcaster and writer John Arlott on the West Indies cricket tour of England in 1950.
Recently, with both of us now back living in Guyana, Colin sent me a copy of the email. I’m reproducing it below partly because of Arlott’s fine prose, but mainly because, written 60 years ago, it’s a stark reminder of how far West Indies cricket has fallen. For the younger folks, also, it may be a story they are hearing in detail for the first time. Over to John Arlott:
“After Bradman’s steamroller Australians of 1948, and the anticlimax of the New Zealanders, given only three three-day Tests in 1949, there was little advance public enthusiasm for the West Indians of 1950. Simply enough, England had not experienced the best – or more successful – of the cricketing West Indians. They had never won a series in England, and public consciousness tended to lose sight of the fact that England had never won a series over there. The British attitude was due to change most violently
“Sadly, after the pleasant summer of 1949, the season started cold and wet. The initial match against Worcestershire suffered much from rain; against Yorkshire the tourists were hard put to it to achieve a three-wicket win. Then, against Surrey, the record stand of 247 for the fourth wicket by a West Indian side in England helped to build them to a total of 537 for 5 and Surrey only narrowly evaded defeat.
“The tourists’ next match – against Cambridge University – saw John Dewes and David Sheppard achieve an opening stand of 343 towards a total of 594 for 4. In retaliation, Bob Christiani (111), Jeffrey Stollmeyer (83), Frank Worrell (160), and Everton Weekes (304 not out) made a towering 730 for 3. That impression was somewhat weakened when MCC beat them by 118 runs.
“Gradually during the tour two raw West Indian youngsters, both bowlers, Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine, had become acclimatised to English conditions. To call them surprise selections almost flattered them at the start of the tour. They had played two first-class matches apiece before they arrived in England, and their elder team-mates conceived it a duty to teach them to sign their autograph on board ship coming over. They were both slow bowlers, and they celebrated their birthdays within three days of each other at the start of the tour. Ramadhin, 21, slight, a bare 5ft 4ins tall and of Indian extraction, was a right-arm spinner who, so observation confirmed, spun the ball rather as S.F. Barnes had done: turning his off-spinner from the inside of the right forefinger; the legbreak, from the middle. Few – if any – though could read him and, from the outset, he proved something of a problem to English batsmen.
“Alf Valentine, 20, strongly built, with immense stamina, heavy-footed and rather ponderous, bowled rather mechanical slow left-arm. Jack Mercer of Glamorgan had coached him in West Indies and exhorted him to spin the ball as much as he could: he did so, yet retained a somewhat automatic length. Immediately before the first Test, which was to be played at Old Trafford, Valentine took 13 Lancashire wickets for 67 runs and assured himself of a Test place which, until then, was by no means certain. England, thanks mainly to an innings of 104 by wicketkeeper Godfrey Evans, well supported by a dogged Trevor Bailey (82 not out) won the match by 202 runs. Valentine, however, took 11 wickets and Ramadhin four. Thus their places were ensured for a quite unique Lord’s Test.
“To begin with, it was the first truly bipartisan Test match. It was amazing to see the number of West Indian spectators, even after their defeat at Old Trafford. Allan Rae scored 106 of their first-innings 326: Ramadhin and Valentine took nine wickets between them. When the tourists batted again, 168 not out by Clyde Walcott, and useful contributions by Worrell, Weekes and Gerry Gomez took them to 425 before John Goddard declared.
“Then came the performances which gave birth to the calypso which still, from time to time, echoes over Anglo-West Indian Test matches: ‘With those little friends of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine.’ The two spinners between them took, this time, nine wickets at a cost of 165 runs. It gave West Indies their first Test-match win in England and it was achieved by 326 runs, despite a dogged 114 by Cyril Washbrook in an England second innings of 274. Above all, the West Indian supporters created an atmosphere of joy such as Lord’s had never known before.
“So to Trent Bridge, where an England first innings of 223 was largely trimmed by the pace bowlers, Johnson and Worrell. When West Indies batted, Rae and Stollmeyer gave them a useful start but Worrell and Weekes carried them to 479 for 3 by the close on the third day. Their stand grew with verve and style to 326, and a final total of 558. This was the highest score in any Test against England, Worrell (261) made a record Test score for Trent Bridge, and the partnership of Worrell and Weekes – 283 – was the highest for either side in a Test in England. Washbrook (102), Simpson (94), Parkhouse, Dewes and Evans all put up resistance in England’s 436, but West Indies needed no more than 102 to win and they achieved that without losing a wicket.
“In matches against the counties, West Indies rolled on remorselessly and, allotted only four Tests, they took the fourth by an innings and 56 runs. At The Oval, Rae made 109 and Worrell 138 in a total of 503. When England batted Len Hutton carried his bat for 202, but nobody else scored as much as 50 for England in either innings, and those two ‘little friends’ did it again – Ramadhin 4 for 101 and Valentine 10 for 160.
“Of the 77 England wickets that fell in the four Tests, Valentine took 33 (at 20.42) and Ramadhin 26 (23.23). On the entire tour, the pair hauled in 258 wickets: for the rest, only Gomez, a stock offspinner, with 55, took more than 39. Of the West Indian batsmen, Worrell scored 539 at 89.83 in the Test, Rae, the sheet anchor, averaged 62.83. The quick-footed Weekes 56.33, the polished Stollmeyer 50.83, the hugely powerful Clyde Walcott 45.80 and that useful allrounder, Gomez, 41.40. It was a most convincing victory and yet it was mainly achieved by two unknowns – one from Trinidad, one from Jamaica – and that made the West Indian supporters all the happier.
“Not only were the West Indian followers delighted, but English spectators who had never known such a jolly atmosphere at cricket matches were carried along by the carefree yet, at the same time, purposeful cricket of the tourists. The batting of Hutton, Washbrook, Bailey and Evans must not be forgotten, while Eric Hollies, Alec Bedser and Roley Jenkins all bowled gamely in the face of most weighty competition. West Indies, by winning a rubber in England for the first time, established themselves as a major cricketing power; and if their effective strength was soon to switch from spin to pace, that still cannot detract from the diverting effectiveness of the legendary and calypso-established Ramadhin and Valentine – nor, indeed, the entertainment they provided – partly by their own transparent delight in their success.”
Even for those of us in the Caribbean who know the 1950 WI cricket story, reading John Arlott’s paean today shocks us in the recollection of how good we once were.