Pieces missing to the jig saw puzzle
Among the sayings in sport is one which loudly proclaims: "there is no substitute for skill". This is a consideration very largely affecting the current West Indies team at year's end on tour of Australia. It is not anything new and its application can be traced back far into the past. When it was thought that the Caribbean had finally assembled a side seriously capable of challenging England on English soil for the first time much faith was placed in the batting. There was Rae and Stollmeyer to open followed by the W's Worrell, Weekes and Walcott in the upper middle order supported by Gomez, Christiani and the skipper John Goddard. It was a strange situation in that the bowling was largely entrusted to a pair of relatively untried spinners in Ramadhin and Valentine, neither older than twenty. The assemblage proved triumphant – but not at the very outset of the four match series of the year 1950.
The first Test match at Old Trafford in Manchester saw England batting first and from a position of 88 for five recovered to 312 through an unexpected quarter. Godfrey Evans chose to slam his only Test century, 104. Alfred Valentine's debut yielded 8 for 104 with his partner Sonny Ramdhin 2 for 90. They bowled 89 overs between them.
Response by the much vaunted West Indies batting proved disappointing. They were bowled out for 215, discomfited by spinners Eric Hollies 3 for 70 and John Berry 5 for 63. England held on to its advantage getting 288 in the second innings and routed West Indies for 183 as Hollies and Berry again came good with nine wickets between them. England's win was by a comfortable 202 runs.
What is not written into this picture is the fact that the weather was reportedly cold and the Lancashire drizzle and poor light were constantly in attendance. Lords provided less bleak a picture for the second Test twelve days later on 24th June. Allan Rae with 106, Worrell 52, Weekes 65 came good for the 326 total, to which England could only reply with 151 – mesmerized by Ram 5 for 66 and Val 4 for 48.
West Indies second innings provided a calypsonion with full voice as Walcott and Gomez reversed a position of 199 for 5 to an undefeated 425 for 6 when the declaration was taken. England never got to grips with the challenge of getting 601 for victory. Ram and Val snuffed them out taking nine wickets between them at a cost of 166 runs. Only Cyril Washbrook with 114 provided meaningful counter in England's 274 all out, defeated by 326 runs.
Moral of the story lay in the ability for one or other of the top West Indies batsmen to come up to scratch in the scoring. The same occurred in the third Test at Trent Bridge. Worrell and Weekes slammed centuries: Worrell 261 and Weekes 129 out of 558 to negate England's 223 and 436 leaving openers Rae and Stollmeyer to get 103 to register victory by 10 wickets. It was a similar story in the 4th Test at the Oval. Centuries by Rae and Worrell saw West Indies to 503 – too much for England despite a double century by Len Hutton, 202 not out batting right through in a total of 344. Again Ram and Val put the final nails in the coffin with nine wickets between them as England succumbed for 103.
It was extreme joy to the West Indies but their very next experience would be Australia in Australia – first Test at Brisbane 15 months later, starting 9th November 1951. Mouth watering anticipation to cricket fans was: could the West Indies batting stand up to Australia's pace bowling led by Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Bill Johnston. Then conversely, could the Aussies supply answer to the West Indies spin of Ramadhin and Valentine. The short reply was that West Indies failed in their first innings with 216, but Australia fared little better, restricted to 226.
West Indies did little better next time around with 245 and Australia scrambled home with 236 for 7. Summing up, the West Indies batting never really blossomed forth on that tour to Australia who took the series 4-1. The sole win for West Indies came in the Christmas Test in three days: Australia 82 and 255, West Indies 105 and 233 for a 6 wicket triumph.
The presence of highly talented batsmen available to West Indies did not provide the key to becoming fully competitive against the Aussies, and it was left to Frank Worrell's genius in finally unlocking a decent flourishing of that potential – lubricated by thoughtful discipline in all three departments of the game.
Worrell gave way to Sobers in the captaincy and eventually to Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards. The appointments of the last two were made far easier by the availability of six or more guilt edged pace bowlers in the guise of Andy Roberts, Richard Holding, Joel Garner, Curtley Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall, Floyd Patterson and others. In addition, the wicket keeping and fielding matched the bowling in its brilliance.
Jason Holder and his men will go down in history as presenting no more than a tasty ice cream item in the Aussie menu of the first Test at Hobart: Grimly, Australia 583 for 4 declared (Burns 33, Warner 64, Smith 10, Shawn Marsh 182, Voges 269 not out) with along the route a 449 fourth wicket partnership. West Indies dismissed for 223 and 148 in 138 overs thereabout.
Let it be admitted the weather at Hobart was cold. However, Darren Bravo got to 108, his 7th Test century, in the first innings, and Kraigg Brathwaite reached 94 in the second innings, only getting out largely through a shortage of partners. This supports the view that West Indies could and should have done very much better with the bat. This is not to deny the potency of the Australian pacemen Hazelwood, Siddle, Marsh and Pattinson, all of whom were models in maintaining threatening direction close to the line of off stump. Yet, the unfolding of ten innings on the part of five accredited batsmen totaling a paltry 81 runs, has to be no less than extremely worrisome. Wishing West Indies a Merry Christmas has to be feeble as encouragement, the wish has to be for our batsmen to pay close regard to the skill of utilizing proper footwork. There is no substitute for this – and there never will be. The old players never lacked in this respect. Our current ones should spend Christmas looking at films of Sobers, Worrell, Kanhai, Nurse, Richards, Greenidge, Haynes, Kallicharran etc. Something admirable could profitably rub upon them.