West Indies disorder again
Just as an element of quietness was descending upon West Indies Cricket, and with it a hope of improved grace leading to team consolidation, the immediate period just prior to the hosting this month of a tour by India is disturbed by a rock thrown into the pond by way of pronouncements to the effect that Dinesh Ramdin may be subject to exclusion from the Test side to take on the Indians. I thought in the interest of basic sobriety such matters would be handled tacitly, but we gather the dastardly use of the electronic media has been brought into play to couch a brandishing of authority. This is quite disorderly and puts me in mind of a situation of fifty years ago just when West Indies had gained acceptance on the elite world brotherhood of the sport.
As a preamble, let me state that West Indies after a buffeting in its inauguration to Test cricket, falling to England 3-mil- by: an innings in each match, went on to show progress by holding England to a drawn series in 1930 – inclusive of a deciding fourth Test in Jamaica which ran for nine playing days and produced the first ever individual triple century, 325 by Englishman Andy Sandham. An excursion to Australia in 1930/ 31 saw us chastened 4-1, but coming away with the distinction of taking the final Test at Sydney while declaring in both innings. However, the experience could well have been influenced by the overzealousness of the home umpiring of the Australians. In short order the postwar era was heralded with a 2-nil win at expense of England in the Caribbean in 1948 followed by a 1-nil result over India, the two series significant for Everton Weekes' enduring record of five centuries in successive Test innings.
The year 1950 ushered the full brilliance of accolade for our first ever victory on English soil by 3-1 which saw celebrated spinners Ramdhin and Valentine doing the damage. The second visit to Australia in 1951 was no less traumatic than the first – a 4-1 success to the Aussies, but leaving most persons convinced of the home side being augmented by the efforts of the men in white coats!
It was relatively plain sailing for West Indies with 1-nil in the same year over India making their first visit to the Caribbean. Finally just before Australia made their maiden tour to the Caribbean the West Indies had to be content with a 2-2 draw with England in a series marked by some degree of crowd controversy. It was Australia's visit that seemed to initiate a bit of ferment. Australia won this 1955 series 3-nil, inflicting increasing humiliation upon us. The burden of the leadership was shared by Denis Atkinson of Barbados as captain for the first, fourth and fifth Tests, and Jeffrey Sotollmeyer for the second and third Teats.
Severe wounds suffered against Australia led to the West Indies board deciding to stage a set of trial matches in Trinidad in 1956 to select the team to tour England in 1957. Allow me to indulge in the recounting of the selection process as if it was a hypothetical dominoes match! Remember, the Windwards and Leeward Islands had no selectors. Then, the four sitting at the domino table were the big four Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica and Guyana. Barbados to play first, their opening card was for the team captain. This came down as John Goddard. He was a fairly successful captain and had led West Indies in the 1950 triumph over England. Above all, he was white – a prerequisite at the time for the captaincy. Then, too, Atkinson and Sotollmeyer, the other white candidates had been smashed to bits by Australia the year before in the Caribbean.
Trinidad, Jamaica and Guyana not having any real cards to match the captaincy, so Barbados played again, depositing the three W's Worrell, Weekes and Walcott aged 32, 31, 30 to lead the batting. Goddard was 37 years old. Next, Jamaica played their batting card in support of O'Neill Gordon Smith, age 23 as a young contender for the middle order, having a century to his credit against the 1955 Australians.
Guyana realized the requirement for a sound opening batsman and posted their Bruce Pairaudeau on the strength of his relative maturity at age 25, having a score of 68 to his credit on New Zealand soil where conditions are similar to those in England.
Jamaica and Trinidad had no batting cards left so Barbados played Sobers – not only as left handed middle order batsman but as a highly talented bowler and creative fielder. With the other three territories not having allrounder cards in hand, Barbados slipped in Denis Atkinson; he had scored a fighting century against Australia in 1955, could use the new ball and, of course, he was white and had been tried for the captaincy and was still only 30 years old.
Jamaica deposited the first bowling card in the person of Roy Gilchrist, 22, knowing Alfred Valentine was an automatic certainty on the strength of his 1950 slow bowling and series winning combination with Sommy Ramadhin of Trinidad who was automatically shipped in by that territory.
Anxieties escalated on the part of Guyana, with only one card so far placed by them on the table – the stolid opener Bruce Pairaudeau. They needed to insert the card carrying the name of their exciting 21 year old batsman Rohan Kanhai - even if the middle order was already crowded with the three W's, Sobers, Smith, Goddard and Atkinson! The only recourse was to force Kanhai in as wicket keeper – even if he had not kept wicket to any extent previously, and his showing in that department was not inspiring in the trials.
Lo and behold, Jamaica would play the Kanhai card if Guyana would support by playing the Alexander card as deputy keeper. Alexander was unheard of except that he was studying at Cambridge! Thus, it was that Kanhai started with the gloves and opened the batting in England on that fateful 1957 tour of England.
As eminent a commentator as John Arlott intoned: "far be it for me to impute suggestions to the West Indies selectors, but Kanhai is only a fielder with gloves!" Kanhai was replaced behind the stumps by Alexander, who even after he had improved tenfold was nothing like a match to Dominica's Alec Reid, a man with the sole outstanding performance as keeper in the trial matches of 1956. Dinesh Ramdin can take heart. His demise is only the West Indies wicketkeeping curse once more raising its ugly head. Fifty years ago Trinidad should have played the Reid card for the wicketkeeping position. Actually, Reid had played with distinction for Trinidad in 1954 against a World Team.