I’ll be sharing three myths with you these next three weeks. This first is really in reply to a letter to our Sports Editor from a mutual friend - which he asked not to be published. It was good of him I thought: so many of us write uncaringly. He pointed out that George Headley was the first black man to have captained the West Indies at cricket, but he had missed my point. Indeed, were you to check the composition of the West Indies side which opposed England in Barbados in 1948, you would see that Mas’ George was captain.
To validate the “proportional representation policy” in the second Test it was Gomez, and in the third and fourth Goddard. Were you to check in more detail, you would also see that that first Test match was the only game in which George Headley played. The reason of course was his protest. The point I was making last week, however, was that Headley should have been appointed captain since in the 30’s. If not Headley, certainly Constantine.
I could relate two or three stories to show this, but one will suffice. In 1939, on our tour of England, we played Yorkshire at Harrogate. The Yorkshire skipper was Brian Sellers. Ours was Rolph Grant. Grant won the toss, but didn’t know what to do so he asked Sellers to give him a few moments to consult with his senior professionals because it was the first time he had come across such a pitch. You see, rain had been falling continuously the previous day, and the pitch was saturated and heavy. Hedley Verity, one of the greatest left-arm bowlers of all time - and particularly on a wet pitch, was in the Yorkshire side. Our senior professionals were Constantine, Headley and Martindale.
They were unanimous. We must bat first. So Grant went to Sellers to announce his decision. But the Yorkshire captain, in the meantime had taken due steps to help the West Indies skipper make up his mind. Sellers told his opening batsmen, Mitchell and Barber to pad up, and to accidentally leave the door of their dressing room open.
The result was that before Grant could indicate to Sellers his decision to bat, he ran back excitedly to his professionals, to tell them that it was obvious that the Yorkshire captain would have sent West Indies in to bat if he had won the toss. The three professionals, Headley more than his colleagues, told Grant that this was a mere boys prank, and that the skipper himself should rebuke his Yorkshire counterpart with a smile and a, “You mean you expected us to send you in?”
As it turned out, the match was drawn, but the West Indies were on top when rain stopped play. Scores:
West Indies 234 and 116-6
Yorkshire 114 all out
What’s a myth? As opposed, I mean to verifiable history. I would say it’s something traditional but fabulous in content - a half-truth that has been embellished so painstakingly over the years that is now held to be the gospel truth. I have never read Martindale, but have Headley and Constantine. Both were hurt to the quick by having Rolph Grant as their captain. We’ll continue next week.