by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 10 2009)
The oldest rivalry in cricket began in 1877, more than twenty years before the sport’s first governing body, the Imperial Cricket Conference was established in 1909. The member nations were the eternal rivals Australia and England, who were joined by South Africa who wanted to organise a triangular tournament in England.
Despite the Australians’ hostility to the idea the tournament took place in 1912, but was ruined by English weather. Nevertheless, it was very much a sport for white gentlemen at that time as its amateur status meant only the privileged could afford to play, but there were occasional exceptions – Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji was a stylish batsman, who was good enough to play Test cricket decades before his countrymen achieved membership of the Test-playing club.
He was the first non-white player to play cricket at the highest level, playing fifteen Tests against Australia between 1896-1902. He also captained Sussex before returning to India and becoming the Maharajah of Nawanagar in 1907. Rich cricketing genes ran in his family as his nephew, Kumar Shri Duleepsinhji also played twelve times for England between 1929-31. Despite India gaining Test Match status the following year the stylish batsman never represented his own country. The major competitions in Indian cricket are named after the pair.
Iftikhar Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, played just six Test Matches, but he was the first to play for both England and India in 1932-33 and then in 1946. But India had to wait its turn and was not the first new member of the ICC to join the founders.
Colonialism spread the popularity of the sport to different corners of the globe and eventually ensured that the preserve of privileged white men became a racially inclusive sport. The growth of cricket in the Indian sub-continent was essential to the development of the sport as indentured labour took the Indian diaspora to Africa, the Caribbean and to South America as they brought a love of the game with them, which helped the game to grow in South Africa and Guyana especially.
It is somewhat ironic that despite this rich history India was not the first non-white member of the Imperial Cricket Conference; it was beaten to the honour of the inaugural tour of England by a colony – both Australia and South Africa held dominion status at the time – by the West Indies.
The Black Knight
Cricket had been introduced to the Caribbean in the 1890s, which included occasional tours from the colonial power. The popularity of the sport grew over the next four decades, aided greatly by the first Caribbean superstar of the game – a man who would go onto hold political office as ambassador of Trinidad and Tobago to the United Kingdom, after settling in London after the war.
He was later knighted and ennobled – the first and to date only black cricketer who became a peer of the realm, – but before switching careers he also tried his hand at journalism and law. Learie Constantine was an exceptionally talented cricketer.
A swashbuckling batsman and quick bowler, he was also an athletic fielder and batsmen soon learned not to challenge his arm. Constantine thrilled followers of cricket in the 1920s and 30s in Lancashire league cricket for Nelson and also in the fledgling West Indies side.
A Star is Born
The West Indians first tour of England was in 1928, having been admitted to the ICC two years earlier, but their selectors made the horrible mistake of failing to select a young Panamanian-born batsman who settled in the Caribbean at the instigation of his father to learn English as ten year-old. The boy not only learned English, but showed an aptitude for cricket, supplanting even the great Constantine in all sensible discussions on the greatest West Indian cricketer before the war.
George Headley was such a talent that he was dubbed ‘The Black Bradman,’ but his team-mates jokingly referred to the greatest cricketer ever as ‘The White Headley.’ Then aged just 19, Headley remained in the Caribbean while his compatriots made history as the West Indies played their first Test Matches. Their introduction to the arena of top-level cricket was a harsh learning curve, consisting of three Tests that were scheduled to last three days. Unaccustomed to English conditions and facing a gulf in class they were soundly beaten in each of the matches.
A Harsh Learning Curve
Their first Test Match was at cricket’s headquarters, Lord’s. England was captained by Percy Chapman, but their line-up included controversial future captain Douglas Jardine, who was making his début and some legends of the inter-war years as well, such as Herbert Sutcliffe and Walter Hammond.1
The fearsome Harold Larwood also played, but had little impact despite his pace. England mustered 401 all out, thanks to Lancastrian Ernest Tyldesley’s highest score in Tests, 122. Nevertheless, Constantine distinguished himself with the ball, taking a very respectable 4 for 82 from 26.4 overs and he took three catches as well.
The West Indies’ batting was poor, as they collapsed to a meagre 177 all out despite an opening stand of 86 between George Challenor and top-scorer Frank Martin, who missed out on the distinction of being the first West Indian batsman to hit a half century in Test cricket by six runs.
The Guyanese right-handed batsman Maurice Fernandes only played in two Test Matches and had the unwanted distinction of being the first West Indian to be dismissed for duck in Test Matches, sparing the far more talented Clifford Roach, who also went for nought, that fate. Roach more than made up for the disappointment, beating the great Headley to several important marks.
Vallance Jupp was the pick of England’s bowlers, taking 4 for 37 from 23 overs and Chapman, fresh from his own half-century understandably enforced the follow-on. After all new-comers, or not, there was no room for sympathy. Challenor made the first of four ducks in the West Indies’ second innings as the tourists got away to a terrible start.
Constantine also made nought, one of Alfred (Tich) Freeman’s four victims, which he took for 37 runs from just over 21 overs, including the match-winning dismissal of Cyril (Snuffy) Browne for 44 as the Barbadian ran out of partners. Meanwhile, Joe Small only played three Tests, but the Trinidadian will always have a place in the annals of West Indian cricket as he made up for the disappointment of his first innings duck to become the first Caribbean batsman to hit a half-century in Test cricket, but the West Indies’ first experience of top-level cricket was defeat by an innings and 58 runs in three days.
There was a huge gulf in class with almost a month to fix the flaws before the second Test began at Old Trafford with Roach promoted to open the innings with Challenor. He responded by top-scoring with 50 out of a total of 206 and Freeman became the first bowler to take five wickets in an innings against the West Indies, 5 for 54 from 33.4 overs.
England was given a solid start with a century partnership by the great Jack Hobbs and Sutcliffe, both of whom made 50s, as did Hammond and Jardine. England was all out for 351, but the West Indies’ batting fell apart in their second innings, resulting in defeat by an innings and 30 runs as they were skittled for 115, with Freeman claiming another five wickets, this time for just 39 runs. His figures were the best he had achieved in each innings and he had the distinction of being the first bowler to take ten wickets in a match. England had won the series easily.
After another month to regroup they arrived the the Oval for the final Test Match of their inaugural tour of England. Roach and Challenor made another good start with the former becoming the first West Indian batsman to score half centuries in consecutive Test Matches, but 238 was never going to be enough on a pitch that had a habit of producing high scores.
England made exactly 200 more, anchored by Hobbs’ 159. Sutcliffe, Tyldesley and Maurice Tate scored fifties as well, yet the tourists found positives from that innings, as Herman Griffith became their first bowler to take a five wicket haul in a Test, 6 for 103 from 25.5 overs, which including dismissing future England stalwart Maurice Leyland for a duck on his début. George Francis took the other four – 4 for 112 from 27 overs, even taking the catch to give Griffith the final wicket of England’s innings. He never took five in an innings in ten Tests, but claimed four twice more.
Having done the hard work, the West Indies’ batting let them down again with Frank Martin, top-scoring with 41 out of a poor total of 129. Larwood, Tate and Freeman shared the wickets as the West Indies lost by an innings and 71 runs.
The Drawing Board
Their first series was over and it was clear that they had a lot of work to do to become competitive, as they had lost all three Test Matches by an innings in three days. Their batting was quite simply not good enough at the top level, but one mistake was quickly rectified, when England toured the Caribbean in the winter of 1929-30.
England would get their first exposure to George Headley, whose achievements will be detailed in the next issue of the magazine to coincide with the centenary of his birth. The West Indies were a very ordinary side at the time and would take time to grow into the status as the fourth member of cricket’s top club. Somewhat surprisingly New Zealand became the next Test playing nation in 1930.
1 Hammond was a great batsman who passed Bradman’s record score of 334 in 1933 against New Zealand by just two runs, although he remained undefeated. Five years he was England’s captain when Leonard Hutton comfortably broke his record with 364 out of 903 for 7 declared. England inflicted the heaviest ever defeat in cricket’s history on Bradman’s Australia in that Test at the Oval, although both Bradman and Jack Fingleton were injured and unable to bat in either innings.