All Time XIs – The West Indies

Today in a break from some of my more esoteric ‘all time’ XIs we take a look at the West Indies. Also features, politics, nature and a couple of family blogs, plus a mention for the fulltossblog.

INTRODUCTION

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of ‘All Time XI‘ themed posts. It being a Monday (yes, even in the somewhat strange circumstances in which I am currently living I am managing to keep track of what day of the week it is!) I am looking at an international outfit, in this case the West Indies, before reverting to more esoteric matters for the rest of the week. As usual with an international set up I will start with a team from my cricket lifetime and move on from that to an all-time version.

THE WEST INDIES WITHIN MY LIFE TIME

For this purpose I am considering only players I actually witnessed.

  1. Gordon Greenidge – right handed opening batter, for Hampshire as well as his home island of Barbados and the West Indies. He scored two contrasting double centuries in the 1984 series, 223 not out in ten hours at Old Trafford, and 214 not out in about half of that time to win the Lord’s test for his side. I saw him score a ton in the MCC Bicentennial match, when he hit one square cut with such ferocity that the ball actually went through an advertising board. He was one half of a legendary opening partnership with…
  2. Desmond Haynes – right handed opening batter, also Barbadian, and played county cricket for Middlesex for many years as well as international cricket for the West Indies. Where Greenidge was an attacker by instinct but capable at need of defending for long periods, Haynes was by inclination an anchor man, who could when circumstances demanded it absolutely annihilate bowling attacks, as shown by his magnificent ODI record.
  3. Brian Lara – left handed batter. The Trinidadian holds the record test and first class scores, one of only two ever to have the double distinction (Bradman did so for a couple of years, between Headingley in 1930 where he made 334 to go with his 452 not out for NSW v Queensland and Christchurch 1933 where Hammond scored 336 not out) – 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham in 1994 and 400 not out v England at Antigua in 2004. Ten years earlier he had hit 375 v England on the same ground, the only player to hold the world test record twice (Hayden intervening with 380 v Zimbabwe at Perth). A small caveat over these feats of tall scoring by Lara is that none came in winning cause – all three matches were drawn. Just for the record, the full progression of test record high scores is: Bannerman 165 in the first test innings of all in 1877, Murdoch 211 at The Oval in 1884, Foster 287 at Sydney in 1903, Sandham 325 at Kingston in 1930, Bradman 334 at Headingley in 1930, Hammond 336 not out at Christchurch in 1933, Hutton 364 at The Oval in 1938, Sobers 365 not out at Kingston in 1957, Lara 375 at Antigua in 1994, Hayden 380 at Perth, Lara 400 not out at Antigua in 2004.
  4. Viv Richards – right handed bat, occasional off spinner. The ‘Master Blaster’. Among his many credits are a 56 ball hundred v England at Antigua in 1986, and an innings in 1990 against the same opposition when he twice mishit Devon Malcolm for sixes. He came into bat in a manner equivalent to a prima donna taking centre stage in an opera – all eyes immediately focussed on him, while everyone else, especially opposition bowlers, seemed simply to have the task of feeding him lines.
  5. Shivnarine Chanderpaul – left handed bat, occasional leg spinner. He announced himself by scoring a double century in an under-19 match, and unlike his English equivalent who went straight back to his county second XI after doing so, he was fast tracked in the West Indies full team, and immediately began scoring runs (he would tally over 12,000 in test cricket).
  6. Carl Hooper – right hand bat, semi-regular off spinner. This man simply exuded elegance and class – the main criticism that he attracted being that he did not often enough go on for the really big score.
  7. +Jeff Dujon – Wicket keeper, right handed middle order bat – quite simply the best keeper the West Indies have had in my lifetime, and an average of over 30, including four test tons. He tended to get his runs when the team really needed them, not by thrashing already demoralized bowlers.
  8. Malcolm Marshall – right arm fast bowler, useful lower right handed lower order bat. By my reckoning the greatest fast bowler of the West Indies’ golden age of fast bowling – and 376 test wickets at 20.94 is substantial backing for that claim. He was pretty much the ultimate pro, as he demonstrated during his years as Hampshire’s overseas star, and developed bucketloads of  craft and guile to go with the pace he always possessed.
  9. Michael Holding – right arm fast bowler, aggressive right handed lower order bat. ‘Whispering Death’ as he was known because of his silent run up was another magnificent fast bowler, one of the stars of the attack during both the ‘blackwashes’ the West Indies inflicted on England in the 1980s.
  10. Curtly Ambrose – right arm fast bowler (later in his career slowed to fast medium, if not medium fast). Twice he won test matches by destroying the England batting, once with 8-45 in an innings at Bridgetown, and he was only prevented from the being the match winner at Headingley in 1991 by the batting of Graham Gooch (154 not out in a total of 252 all out on a pig of a pitch, second highest score 27 jointly by Ramprakash and Pringle) and a display of ineptitude by his own colleagues in the face of England’s much less threatening bowling ‘attack’. Against the Aussies in Perth he once produced a spell of 7-1 which unsurprisingly settled the outcome of that match. I saw him in action last year for Lashings World XI, when he bowled two overs off a reduced run up, and the opposition simply could not lay a bat on him.
  11. *Courtney Walsh – right arm fast bowler (slowed late in his very long career to fast medium if not medium fast). The first bowler of any description to capture 500 test wickets. Although I do not usually think that fast bowlers make the best captains, he did the job well, suffering mainly from the fact that a once great side was becoming ordinary around him. His last bow, in England in the year 2000, showed up the problems in sharp relief (under the captaincy of Jimmy Adams), with the batting folding on a regular basis, and the bowling other than that of the then 38 year old Walsh being little to write home about – Trescothick made his test debut in that series, showed great character to survive the new ball but was still on 0 not out when Walsh was relieved, and got off the mark from the first ball bowled by Walsh’s replacement, going on to a fine 66.

This team has six quality batters, five of them definitely meriting the label ‘great’, a top drawer glove man who knew how to bat and four of the finest fast bowlers you would ever meet. There is little in way of spin for reasons I will go into in the next section of this post, with Hooper’s off breaks the nearest thing to a front line spin option.

EXPLANATIONS, HONOURABLE MENTIONS AND A SPECIAL FEATURE

I will start with a few honourable mentions: Chris Gayle, ‘Universe Boss’, scored two test triple centuries, and I saw him make a classic 167 not out at Adelaide in 2009, but I felt that the value of the Greenidge/Haynes combo was too great to include him. Richie Richardson was a fine batter, at one time rated no1 test batter in the world, but I could only have got him in by sacrificing Hooper at no 6. Clive Lloyd was a fine batter and captain, but I never actually witnessed him in action, so could not select him. Ramnaresh Sarwan was also a fine batter who I regretted not being able to fit in. Denesh Ramdin probably believes he was a candidate for the keeper’s slot, but in truth, a double ton against England on a feather bed of a pitch in Barbados notwithstanding, he was not in Dujon’s class in either department.

SPECIAL FEATURE: BALANCE, ALL ROUNDERS, BOWLERS AND THE WEST INDIES GOLDEN AGE

As mentioned in my overview of it the team lack either an all-rounder or a genuine spinner. The reason for this is that in my lifetime the West Indies men have only produced four cricketers who could be dubbed all rounders, Eldine Baptiste, Hamesh Anthony, Franklyn Stephenson and Ottis Gibson, and none were really good enough with the bat to drop a front liner for, nor with so many genuine fast bowlers to pick from could they force their way in that category. If I am mandated to select an all rounder then Stephenson comes in for Hooper, but under protest. Roger Harper, a middle order batter who bowled off spin and was a great fielder, was not quite good enough in either department to be considered. I only gave serious consideration to two specialist spinners, Suleiman Benn and Sunil Narine, but although Narine especially would have his advocates, neither have a test record that really commands respect, though Narine is an outstanding limited overs bowler.

Even had there been a spinner in the period concerned with a really fine test record, I had a particular reason for picking four specialist pace bowlers (albeit Marshall and Holding were both capable of scoring useful runs) – the four pronged pace battery propelled the West Indies to the top of the cricket world under Clive Lloyd and kept them there under Viv Richards. At Trinidad in the 1975-6 series against India Clive Lloyd, in anticipation of a turner was given a team containing three front line spinners, Inshan Ali, Albert Padmore and Raphick Jumadeen, to match the three India would play, Bedi, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan. For three of the four innings, things went to plan, and India were set 406 to win. India knocked those runs off, a test record at the time, for the loss of just four wickets, the three West Indies spinners leaking 220 of the runs. Lloyd decided there and then that he wanted his best available bowling attack irrespective of conditions, and secured an all pace quartet (initially Andy Roberts, Wayne Daniel, Bernard Julien and Vanburn Holder) for the future. The West Indies did not look back from that point. One series was lost to New Zealand in 1980, but otherwise the West Indies ruled supreme until the rise of the Aussies in the 1990s. Other pace stars who featured for greater or lesser periods in this period were Colin Croft, Joel Garner, Sylvester Clarke, Milton Small and Tony Gray. Later, even after their domination had faded the West Indies produced a few other notably quick bowlers – Ian Bishop who was blighted by injuries, Kemar Roach (who I saw bowling at over 150kph at Adelaide, not a ground beloved of many bowlers) and most recently Shannon Gabriel. It is now time to move on to…

WEST INDIES ALL TIME

Of the players I named in the XI from my life, Lara, Richards, Marshall, Holding and Ambrose make the all-time XI. They are joined by the following:

  • George Headley – right handed bat, nicknamed ‘Atlas’ because he carried the team on his shoulders, like the titan of Greek mythology carried The Earth on his shoulders. He averaged 60.83 in test cricket, converting 10 of his 15 fifty plus scores into centuries. He usually batted three, but the West Indies in his day so often lost an early wicket that he was effectively opening anyhow, which is how I use him in this team.
  • *Frank Worrell – right handed bat, left arm fast medium and occasional left arm spin. He sometimes opened, which is the task I have given him in this team, and CLR James’ ghost would haunt me for eternity if I dared named anyone else as captain of an all-time West Indies XI. He was the first black player to be West Indies captain, breaking a particularly vile shibboleth that black fellows needed to be led by someone with white skin, and he led the West Indies to the top of the cricket world, becoming the first to succeed in banishing inter-island rivalries from the dressing room.
  • Everton Weekes – right handed bat, averaged 58 in test cricket, including a run of five successive centuries (ended by a run out 90). He also represented his home island of Barbados at Contract Bridge, a game that I enjoy playing.
  • Garry Sobers – left handed bat, left arm fast, left arm swing or seam and left arm finger and wrist spinner, brilliant fielder. Quite simply the most complete cricketer the world has ever seen, averaging 57.78 with the bat and taking 235 test wickets. If Ellyse Perry (still only 29 years old, though she has been around a long time) takes up spin bowling to add to her other cricketing accomplishments she may match him in that regard. Sobers was actually first selected as a left arm spinner, developed his batting after that, and then as a Lancashire League pro developed the ability to deploy pace, seam and swing because pros there are expected to be able to contribute heavily with both bat and ball no matter what, and the heavy skies and green surfaces that are both such regular features of north western England tend to lend themselves more to pace, swing and seam than to spin.
  • +Clyde Walcott – right hand bat, wicket keeper. He was a recognized wicket keeper, as well averaging 56 in test cricket, and the only way I could have got him in as other than a keeper would have been by dropping King Viv.
  • Lance Gibbs – off spinner, taker of 309 test wickets (world record at the time). While there was a reason why the West Indies team from my lifetime should feature an all-pace battery, for this combo I revert to a more balanced attack.

Thus my all-time XI in batting order reads: Headley, *Worrell, Lara, Weekes, Richards, Sobers, +Walcott, Marshall, Holding, Ambrose, Gibbs. This combination has a splendid looking opening pair, a stellar 3,4 and 5 with Lara a left hander for extra balance, the most complete cricketer of all time at six, a batter/keeper at 7, three fast bowlers and an off spinner. The bowling, with the three specialist quick bowlers backed up by Gibbs’ off spin, Sobers’ variety of left arm options, Worrell and possibly Richards as seventh bowler, looks awesome (the only base not covered is right arm leg spin).

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

George Challenor and Percy Tarilton, the pioneers of ‘Caribbean style batting’ never got to show what they could do at test level. Allan Rae and Jeff Stollmeyer were a highly successful opening combo, but had I opted to pick an opening partnership Greenidge and Haynes would have got the nod. Conrad Hunte was a great opener who never benefitted from having a truly established partner. I have the word of CLR James that Rohan Kanhai was an absolute genius with a bat in his hands, but just who could I drop to make way for him?

Among the great fast bowlers not getting the nod were: George John who flourished before his country played test cricket, Herman Griffith (also a tough captain – he was once captaining a youngster of whom big predictions were being made and when it came to time for the youngster to bowl he requested a suggestion of field placements beginning with the word ‘deep’, and when he prefaced his fourth successive position with that word Griffith snapped, and called up another bowler, saying “No, you obviously intend to bowl foolishness” – a refusal to accept low standards of which I wholeheartedly approve), Learie Constantine, Manny Martindale, Roy Gilchrist, Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. Spinners to miss out included Ellis Achong (from whom the term ‘chinaman’ for the left arm wrist spinner’s equivalent of a googly derives – his parents came to Trinidad as indentured labourers, and were indeed Chinese, and the story is that when Walter Robins fell LBW to him, misreading the spin, he said en route back to the pavilion “fancy being done by a chinaman” and so the term was born), and my little pals Ram and Val (Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine, who took the first eight wickets to fall in the first test innings in which he bowled). Had I been able to accommodate a specialist wicket keeper Deryck Murray would have got the nod, but with only 11 spaces to fill there was just no way to do so.

I am well aware that at least one of the regular readers of this series of posts knows a very great deal about West Indian cricket, and I hope that ‘africanherbsman’ as he identifies himself feels that I have done something approaching justice to the cricketers of his islands, for whose achievements I have great admiration.

LINKS AND PHOTOGRAPHS

Well, our virtual Caribbean cruise is at an end, but I have a few links to share before applying my usual sign off…

Finally, it is time for my usual sign off…

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West Indies
The teams in tabulated form with abridged comments.

Author: Thomas

I am branch secretary of NAS West Norfolk and #actuallyautistic (diagnosed 10 years ago at the comparatively advanced age of 31). I am a keen photographer, so that most of my own posts contain photos. I am a keen cricket fan and often write about that subject. I also focus a lot on politics and on nature.

6 thoughts on “All Time XIs – The West Indies”

  1. Thanks for the mention 🙂
    Lovely bird pictures. It the same birds we have here in Sweden.
    Now off to some of the links you have in your post. Thanks for a good post.

  2. You are very welcome to the mention – and yes the birds are out in force, although circumstances limit me to what can be observed through my front window or my back garden.

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