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The First West Indian Test Cricketers

Roach
Frank Martin and Clifford Roach

The 1980s were a painful time for England supporters. We did beat Australia three times, but that apart the cricket was pretty grim, partly if not entirely due to the hammerings we got from the West Indies. I remember taking the view at one point the only answer was to tell Barbados they had to have their own Test team and thus, perhaps, we might be able to give either the Bajans or the remaining West Indies a half decent game.

When the men in maroon started to slip as the 1990s wore on there was a sense of relief that the game remained cyclical, and that every dog could still have his day, but the trough there has persisted. There are less top class players, inevitably, particularly amongst the bowling classes, but the excuse that there is plenty of talent that simply needs to be properly harnessed is beginning to wear just a little thin.

These days a West Indian win even over the likes of Bangladesh, Ireland and Zimbabwe is not to be taken for granted, and their unpleasant experiences at the hands of today’s ‘minnows’ got me thinking back to when they themselves were the new boys of international cricket, and their first ever Test. Like all the best inaugural Tests it was played at Lord’s, and England showed no mercy. With an Ashes tour coming up the selectors might have seen the three match series as an opportunity to experiment, but other than picking three different wicketkeepers in the three Tests the best side available was selected. Unsurprisingly the visitors lost all three Tests by an innings, the margins being 58 runs at Lord’s, 30 at Old Trafford and 71 at the Oval.

Were those results genuinely indicative of the distance between the sides? The answer seems to be an equivocal one. In his book The Rise of West Indian Cricket Frank Birbalsingh states that dropped catches let the tourists down at Lord’s. Unfortunately no source is stated, and it seems the comment is at best misleading and at worst wrong. There is some criticism of the West Indian ground fielding in both Wisden and The Cricketer, but the outfield may have been in part to blame for that, the particular complaint being that in the fielders’ anxiety to get a speedy return in the ball was sometimes fumbled. Neither The Cricketer or The Times mention any dropped catches. Wisden does, but as it was Ernest Tyldesley when he was on 73 and 119 who received the let-offs, and the latter seems to have been a very difficult chance, the reality is the die was cast long before the two lapses.

England do seem to have been a little fortunate however. The Cricketer was very impressed with Francis, Griffith and Constantine, commenting; Better bowling has not been seen in a Test match in England since 1921. Before lunch on the first day anything might have happened. So if the quicks had had a bit more luck England, after winning the toss, might not have ended up with as many as 401. West Indies made a good start in reply too, getting to 86 before the openers were parted, but then there was a collapse to 177 all out which carried on through the follow on to 44-6. The tail wagged somewhat as 122 were added for the last four wickets but The Cricketer felt the batting looked very poor, and was particularly critical of Learie Constantine for seeking to take too many liberties with ‘Tich’ Freeman, who dismissed him in both innings.

The men who paved the way for so many of the game’s immortals were, in batting order:-

  1. GEORGE CHALLENOR

A right hand batsman and medium pace bowler Challenor was born in Barbados in 1888. He was the first top class West Indian cricketer and his prodigious talent became apparent from an early age. He first represented his island at 17, and he was a junior member of the West Indian side that toured England in 1906 where he met with considerable success. The next ‘international’ opposition for Challenor was a reasonably strong MCC side which toured the Caribbean in 1911/12 where he did all he could, scoring a century in each of the two games that the tourists played against Barbados.

Challenor’s greatest deeds were saved for the West Indies tour to England in 1923 and his performances with the bat on that visit were a major factor in the next side having Test status. In 1928 Challenor played in each of the three Tests but at 40 was no longer the player he had been and 101 runs at an average of 16, with 29 and 0 at Lord’s, was a poor return for such a gifted batsman.

Challenor retired following his return from the 1928 tour and then worked as a school teacher until shortly before his death in 1947 at the age of 59. He was one of four brothers who played First Class cricket. All were batsmen, as was generally the case with white West Indians in their time, and while his three brothers were all capable performers none touched the heights that George did. The great CLR James said simply Challenor symbolised batting, in every hovel and palace in the Caribbean.

  1. FRANK MARTIN

Frank Martin began his First Class career at the relatively advanced age of 32 and was a valuable member of the early West Indian Test sides. He was Jamaican, and a left-handed top order batsman who frequently opened. While his overall Test average of just over 28 is not a remarkable one his consistency was, and in 18 Test innings Martin failed only once to get into double figures. At Lord’s he scored 44 and 12, top scoring in the first innings. Despite already being 34 on debut his best days lay in the future. The only Test match in which he played against England which was not lost was the drawn fourth Test of the 1929/30 series when, without his obdurate contributions in both innings, England might not have run out of time and that drawn series may have been lost.

The highlight of Martin’s career came in Australia in 1930/31. West Indies lost 4-1 but Martin played a leading role in the consolation win at the SCG. In the first innings he, opening, top scored with an unbeaten 123 which was by far his highest Test innings. He added another 20 in the second innings to set up the West Indies’ second declaration which led to their victory by 30 runs. In addition to his batting Martin was also a tidy slow left arm orthodox bowler who bowled more than 220 overs in Test matches. He wasn’t particularly penetrative, and he took only 8 wickets altogether at almost 80 apiece. That said he did manage to take 4 wickets for 111 in the 45 overs that he bowled in that victory in Australia and his victims were an impressive lot; Bill Woodfull, Bill Ponsford, Don Bradman and Stan McCabe.

Martin toured England again in 1933 but, due to an ankle injury, did not figure in the Test matches and he did not reappear in First Class cricket after returning from that tour. He continued to live in Jamaica where he died in 1967 at the age of 73.

  1. MARIUS FERNANDES

Fernandes was an effective right handed batsman with a strong defence who enjoyed a successful tour of England in 1923. He was selected then at 25 having played just one previous First Class match in which he scored only 25 runs. The feeling was that he owed his selection to the decision being made to select three men from British Guiana rather than on merit but, despite missing a number of games following an attack of malaria, he scored more than 500 runs at an average of almost 35. He returned in 1928 and batted at number three in the inaugural Test but he scored only eight runs in his two innings and was not selected for either of the other two Test matches on the tour.

There was to be one further Test match for ‘Maurice’ Fernandes that being the third Test of the 1929/30 series. In that series it was the practice in the Caribbean for the captain to be appointed from the territory in which the match was being played and, as the then captain of British Guiana, the position fell to Fernandes. His batting was a little better on his home ground. He scored 22 and 19 but it hardly mattered in what proved to be a crushing victory for the home side by 289 runs, and therefore Fernandes takes his place in history as the captain of the first ever victorious West Indian team. He retired from first class cricket in 1932 and he remained in British Guiana until he died in 1981, aged 84.

  1. KARL NUNES+*

Karl Nunes, who came from a wealthy Jamaican family, was educated in England at Dulwich College and was a technically correct opening batsman who could on occasions hit forcefully and score quickly. By 1928 he was captain and had also assumed wicket keeping duties although with those added responsibilities he dropped to the lower middle order. He kept wicket tidily enough at Lord’s but a stubborn 37 in the first innings of was his only contribution of any note with the bat in the series.

After the 1928 tour Nunes played only one more Test match, albeit rather more successfully, that being the fourth and final Test of the MCC tour of 1929/30. This was a game in which England made 849 in their first innings in a match that was due to be played to a finish. West Indies were set an improbable 836 for victory, and were 408 for 5 when the game had to be declared a draw due to the touring side’s travel arrangements. Nunes, captain for this Test only as it was in his native Jamaica, was free of wicket keeping duties and therefore restored to his position as opener where he scored 66 and 92 to end his Test career with an average of 30.

Nunes had all but guaranteed his selection for the 1928 tour with innings of 200 not out and 108 in successive games for Jamaica against a strong touring side raised by Lionel Tennyson and his last two First Class matches were in 1931/32 for Jamaica against the same opposition. In the second of those games Nunes became one of the fortunate few whose final First Class innings was a century. He went on to become a respected administrator and was President of the West Indies Board of Control from 1945 until 1952. In 1951 he was awarded the CBE for public service, in the main in his capacity as Chairman of the Agricultural Loan Board. He died in London, in 1958, at the age of 64.

  1. WILTON ST HILL

Wilton St Hill was born in Trinidad in 1893. He was a tall slim man with great strength in his forearms which made him a very fine back foot player who scored most of his runs with cuts and glances. He scored a fine century for Trinidad against a touring MCC side in 1926/27 and at that stage Lord Harris considered him to be the best batsman in the Caribbean.

In the circumstances it was hardly surprising that St Hill was selected for the West Indian touring party of 1928 where, unfortunately, he was extremely disappointing. In the First Class matches on the tour he made barely 260 runs in total at an average of less than 11. At Lord’s he scored 4 and 9. He did better in the second Test but not so much that he kept his place for the third and there was to be just one further Test match for Wilton St Hill. He played in Trinidad in the 1929/30 series when he twice got into the 30s, but it was not enough to keep his place following a heavy defeat and Test cricket saw no more of him after that. After leaving the First class game that year St Hill, effectively, disappeared and the closest cricket history comes to recording his date of death is ‘circa’ 1957.

St Hill’s brother, Edwin, also played Test cricket for West Indies and indeed played both of his two Tests in the 1929/30 series, although the brothers did not play together. Another brother, Cyl, played one first class match for Trinidad in which all three brothers appeared together – to add to the family’s air of mystery neither Cyl’s date of birth or date of death are recorded.

  1. CLIFFORD ROACH

In the early years of West Indian Test cricket Clifford Roach was the man, after George Headley, best equipped to score heavily. He lacked consistency, twice being dismissed for a pair, but he will always have the honour of being the first West Indian batsman to score a century and later a double century, both innings being played in the 1929/30 series against England.

A powerful right-handed opening batsman Roach could defend when the need demanded but, like so many of his successors, was happiest attacking the bowling and he could play shots all around the wicket. He also enjoyed a reputation as a brilliant fielder, particularly in the covers.

Roach scored over 1,200 runs on each of his England tours in 1928 and 1933 although in truth he never quite came to terms with the soft England wickets and rarely showed his best form. A measure of his character was that despite that in the six Test matches that he played on English soil, five of which were lost by an innings, he managed four half centuries. There was no success in the Lord’s match of 1928 though. He was run out without scoring in the first innings and scored 16 in the second.

Roach also toured Australia in 1930/31 and played in all five tests but he struggled against the Australian bowlers managing only one half century in the entire series. One more disappointing match in the first Test of the 1934/35 series against England was his last. He had played in each of the West Indies first 16 Tests and ended up with 952 runs at the creditable average of just over 30.

In later life Roach did not enjoy the best of health. He suffered from diabetes and in due course had to have both legs amputated, but that did not prevent him being, for some time prior to his death at the age of 84 in 1988, the last surviving member of the West Indies side from the inaugural test.

  1. LEARIE CONSTANTINE

Crusoe’ Robertson-Glasgow wrote of the man who later became Baron Constantine of Maraval in Trinidad and Nelson in the County Palatine of Lancaster; Surely no man ever gave or received more joy by the mere playing of cricket. Constantine was an all-rounder in the fullest sense of the word; a powerful and aggressive batsman, a bowler of fiery pace and above all a thrilling fielder. In later life he made his mark in broadcasting, writing, politics and the law.

By 1928 the 26 year old Constantine was already a known quantity after enjoying a successful visit to England five years earlier, but he made himself the most talked about cricketer in England when he put on a remarkable one man show at Lord’s to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Middlesex. He comfortably did the double for the season as a whole but disappointed in the Tests. He did have figures of 4-82 in the Lord’s Test, but took just one more wicket in the rest of the series. He did improve on his 13 and 0 at Lord’s, but there were no pyrotechnics from his bat in the remaining two Tests.

Constantine did do better at Test level in years to come, but never really did justice to his talents. He was an absolute legend in the Lancashire League however, and if the IPL had been around in his day he would have been the biggest draw it had. Limited overs cricket was unknown in Constantine’s time though and he died in London at the age of 68, just a few months after the first ever ODI had been played.

  1. JOE SMALL

Joe Small was a tall and rangy all-round cricketer who came from Trinidad. He had a reputation as a dashing right handed batsman who was particularly strong on the off side. In addition he was a useful medium pace off spinner, and an agile slip fielder.

Small did well in 1923 and despite already being 35 when the tour began it was no surprise when he returned in 1928. On this occasion he was reasonably successful again although he would have been disappointed with his return in the Tests, but at least at Lord’s he had the distinction, in the second innings, of being the first West Indian batsman to score a half century when he played what The Times described as a very fluent innings of 52. He had also taken the wickets of Percy Chapman and Vallance Jupp in the England innings to make it a satisfactory personal performance. Joe Small died in 1958 at the age of 75.

  1. CYRIL BROWNE

Cyril ‘Snuffy’ Browne was 38 and probably past his best by the time he got to England in 1928 but at Lord’s in his side’s second innings the medium pace leg spinner and hard hitting lower order batsman scored a rapid 44 from number nine that earned considerable praise from the press. The Times went as far as to say that Browne’s on driven six into the mound stand from the bowling of Vallance Jupp was worth the cost of admission of itself.

In the second Test Browne contributed a useful 23 to the West Indies disappointing first innings total and dismissed Jack Hobbs and Ernest Tyldesley to take his first wickets in Test cricket, but he was still not considered to have done enough to keep his place for the third and final Test. His two Tests in 1929/30 produced similarly mixed results.

Although he was born in Barbados lawyer Browne, who had studied in England and played for Surrey Club and Ground, eventually moved to British Guiana where he was a Magistrate for some years. He had the distinction of becoming the first black West Indian cricketer to be made an Honorary Life Member of the MCC. He died, at the age of 73, in 1964 having outlived by some 23 years his older brother, Allan, who had been a fine batsman before West Indies acquired Test status. The two brothers had played together for Barbados and representative sides on a number of occasions.

  1. GEORGE FRANCIS

George Francis had not played even a single First Class match when, aged 25 and employed as a groundsman, the captain of the 1923 touring party, Harold Austin, decided to take a punt on him. There was nothing fancy about Francis. He bowled at the stumps and did not move the ball very much either in the air or off the pitch, but he was very quick.

The gamble came off and Francis came back in 1928 and was an automatic selection for the Lord’s Test. He took the wickets of Herbert Sutcliffe and England centurion Ernest Tyldesley but overall the England batting was too strong. Francis had few pretensions as a batsman, but did make his highest Test score in West Indies first innings, an unbeaten 19.

Overall Francis turned out for his country on ten occasions and his 23 wickets at 33.17 is not a bad return, but he never took a five-fer and was past his best when he returned to England in 1933. He drew a blank in the first Test of that series and was dropped, the selectors preferring to choose Herman Griffith to partner Constantine and Manny Martindale as they gave England a dose of Bodyline later in the series. Sadly Francis was destined to die young, at just 44 in 1942.

  1. HERMAN GRIFFITH

Rising 35 when he appeared at Lord’s Herman Griffith was first change after Constantine and Francis had taken the new ball. He was right arm fast medium rather than truly quick, but he was a willing workhorse who kept a good line and swung the ball away from the right hander. Griffith bowled more overs than any other West Indian bowlers in the Test, 29, in which he claimed the wickets of Douglas Jardine and Maurice Tate for 78 runs.

Later in the series, amidst another innings defeat, Griffith was the first West Indian to take a Test five-fer when he took 6-103 (including a spell of 5-21). He had another good haul against England in 1929/30 and in bowling Bradman for a duck in the second innings made a big contribution to the win in Sydney.

Griffith came back to England in 1933 although that proved to be one tour too many. That said he did not play his final First Class match until 1941 by which time he was well past 47 – quite a feat for a pace bowler. He was 86 when he died in Bridgetown in 1980.
For the second Test the tourists travelled north to Old Trafford. They shuffled their pack but it made little difference. Small and Fernandes were left out and two more of the party made their Test debuts:-

TEDDY HOAD

A tall white Bajan, ‘Teddy’ Hoad was a right handed batsman with a sound defence. It took him a considerable time to get used to English conditions and he failed in the second Test, but he did end up at the head of the tour averages with more than 760 runs at 36 runs per innings including three centuries.

Hoad had the distinction of captaining the West Indies in their first home Test, against England in 1929/30, but all in all his four Test matches, there were two more in 1933, provided disappointing returns. Hoad came from a cricketing family, two brothers and a son also played for Barbados. He died, at the grand old age of 90, in Barbados in 1986.

TOMMY SCOTT

Oscar ‘Tommy’ Scott was a Jamaican all rounder who scored useful runs in the late order and was also a decent leg spinner. In 1928 he did not find English conditions to his liking and his overall tour performances were modest with both bat and ball, although he ended up second in the Test batting averages with the relatively modest tally of 74 runs and a highest score of 35. In Australia in 1930/31 Scott played in all five Tests. He accomplished little with the bat but his bowling proved useful as he took 11 wickets in the series, including a memorable spell of four wickets for no runs in nine deliveries in the first Test in Adelaide. He had a Test five-fer too, in the final Test of the 1929/30 series in the Caribbean when, in England’s mammoth 849 in their first innings, he had the remarkable figures of 5 for 266 in 80 overs. Scott died in Jamaica in 1961 at the age of 67.
There were three more changes for the third Test at the Oval. Small replaced Browne and two more debutants came in for Hoad and St Hill. The new men were:- 

BARTO BARTLETT

Something of a child prodigy Edward “Barto” Bartlett made his debut for Barbados when only 17 years of age. He was a very small man but quick on his feet with powerful wrists and when set, which was all too rarely, he scored runs quickly and with great style. The 22 years old Bartlett’s reputation was such that, despite a modest record, he was chosen for the 1928 tour. Sadly he had little luck. Halfway through the trip he appeared to be showing his best form after a century against Nottinghamshire which The Times described as the innings of a man who knows he is on top of the bowling, and is out to get the last ounce of enjoyment out of the situation. But then he broke a finger and although he subsequently got his Test debut the prospect of facing Harold Larwood at full tilt less than a month after sustaining that injury no doubt contributed to an unsuccessful debut.

In Australia Bartlett made one contribution of note, 84 in the first innings of the first Test but unfortunately for him in the second Test he broke a finger again and although he returned for the final two Tests he achieved nothing of note. Bartlett continued to play occasionally for Barbados up until the outbreak of World War II but never again recorded so much as a half century, and in 42 matches never once turned his arm over.

Bartlett has the unusual distinction of having his obituary notice published twice in Wisden. The first occasion was in the 1933 Edition. It has never become apparent why the good book chose to describe him as having “died about February 1932” but the editor happily published a correction the following year after receiving a letter from Bartlett confirming that he was very much alive and fit. The second obituary recorded his actual death in 1976 at the age of 70.

VIBART WIGHT

Vibart Wight was a right handed batsman from British Guiana who was vice-captain of the 1928 side. He had a respectable record at home but never got going in England and made only 343 runs in the entire tour. That did not augur well for his Test debut at the Oval but in the event his contribution of 35 runs for once out was no disgrace.

At home Wight appeared once more in a Test match against England in 1929/30 when he scored a further 32 runs in the context of the match where West Indies won by 289 runs. He came from something of a cricketing dynasty in British Guiana. A cousin, Leslie Wight, played Test cricket after the war and a brother, three cousins and as many as four great nephews all played First Class cricket. The best known was Peter Wight who came to England and played county cricket for Somerset for many years before becoming a First Class umpire. Vibart Wight died in 1969, aged 67.

 

Two weeks before the Lord’s Test The Cricketer had been rather more enthusiastic than it was afterwards, suggesting that within five to ten years the West Indians might prove a match for England. In fact history was to prove the initial assessment to be correct. It was just under seven years before the West Indians took a series against England for the first time, as Bob Wyatt’s 1934/35 tourist were beaten 2-1.

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