West Indies Cricket in Time and Place: The 1950 Moment

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The rise of the decolonization movement in the region was accompanied by the rise of the West Indies cricket team as a major force in world cricket. The connection between the two developments was not accidental. As cricket scholars such as CLR James, Hilary Beckles, Tim Hector and Michael Manley have argued, the independence impulse was not confined to the political arena. The movement for independence from colonial bondage colonialism was an absolute system which consumed all of the colonized. Anti-colonial resistance, therefore penetrated the far reaches of the society. As the poet, Martin Carter, wrote in his Poems of Resistance- “All are involved/All are consumed.”

It was against this background that the West Indies cricket team visited England in 1950 for the first time since regular test cricket resumed with the end of the seemed world war. By this time the West Indies team boasted a new crop of players. Although the team was still captained by a white player, the majority of players were Black and Brown and from the working classes. This was a significant shift from previous teams which were dominated by white and brown players.

Much to the surprise of the cricket world the West Indies defeated England. This was a massive blow to the now declining empire. Cricket was a central pillar to British society – along with Christianity and the classics, it was a central aspect of the colonial project of domination and civilization. But here was the colonized turning the game into a form of liberation. The significance of this victory was not lost on the Caribbean society both at home and in England. The Caribbean immigrants in England, most of whom had gone there as cheap labor to help rebuild England after the war and as students, flocked to the cricket grounds to celebrate the West Indian triumph. There were similar celebrations at home.

While the entire team contributed to the team’s success, a few members stood out. Five of them would form the nucleus of the team for the next decade and emerge as the first group of great players since George Headley and Learie Constantine in the pre-war years . The “Three Ws” – Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell – were the team’s primer batsmen. Born in Barbados, not far from each other, they formed a fearsome trio. Worrell was the most beautiful, a stylist – his movements at the crease were majestic. He made batting look simple, and was the first of a special breed of Caribbean batsmen for whom the word “graceful” would be aptly applied.

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Walcott was the most fearsome of the lot. Tall and well built, he hit the ball with fierce power, especially off the backfoot. Like Worrell he would become the father of a long line of Caribbean “hard hitters” of the cricket ball. Weekes, who was considered the best of the three, fell somewhere between the other two in terms of style. He possessed beauty and could also hit the ball very hard. He is perhaps best known for his ability to hit the ball all along the ground. By 1950 he had already established a record as the batsmen to score the most consecutive centuries. That record would remain unbroken for another fifty years.

The other two stars of 1950 team were two spinners, Alfred Valentine and Sonny Ramadhin who were immortalized in song by the calypsonian, Lord Kitchener, as “those two pals of mine/Ramadhin and Valentine. Valentine, a Jamaican was a tall left arm spinner, who was a vicious turner of the ball. His impact on the West Indian performance was decisive – he took thirty three of the sixty wickets captured by the West Indians. Ramadhin, a Trinidadian, was the first player of East Indian descent to represent the West Indies. Prior to the 1950 series he had hardly played the game at a high level. He mesmerized the Englishmen with his ability to turn the ball in both directions. The batsmen therefore had a difficult time “picking him.”

 



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