Celebrating 75 years of West Indies cricket
Across the Board from the West Indies Cricket Board
Stabroek News
June 22, 2003

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This year, the West Indies Cricket Board celebrates 75 years of West Indies entry into Test cricket. The anniversary celebrations were launched on June 7 at Kensington Oval with a parade and brief ceremony and continue with presentations to family representatives of the First WI Test Squad in St Lucia and Jamaica during the Test series against Sri Lanka.

A number of other activities are planned to mark this important milestone including launch of a commemorative book, "A Nation Imagined" by Prof. Hilary Beckles, a photographic exhibition, newspaper supplements and historical quizzes.

Today, ACROSS THE BOARD presents the second in a series of articles on the early history of West Indies Test cricket. Today's article is by Vaneisa Baksh a cricket writer.

The West Indies team that toured England in 1928, was the first to ever represent the West Indies at Test cricket. It was a pioneering trip, although it was not the first undertaken by a West Indian team. It was actually the fourth visit; the first had been in 1900, the second in 1906, and the third in 1923.

On this, the 75th anniversary of that first Test, we play our 398th Test match in St. Lucia, which is hosting a Test match for the first time at the Beausejour Stadium. It is fitting that we should be marking the moment at a new Test venue, which reflects the vision to take Test cricket into every one of our West Indian islands.

We have played a great deal of cricket since that first tour, moreso in recent years. By the end of the Sri Lanka series, we would have played 399 Test matches in 75 years, with the number rapidly increasing from 52 in the first 25, to 137 in the following 25, and a whopping 208 in the last 25 years alone. That is an incredible amount of cricket, and it is something to look at as we try to enhance our performance.

The effect of such intense cricket, especially as the last few decades have also included numerous One-Day Internationals, has its own impact on player performance.

Certainly it was deemed to be a factor in the performance of that first Test team visiting England in 1928. As we look back at that visit, which lasted from mid-April to September, and in which the 17-member team played 42 matches, including the three three-day Tests - nearly a hundred days of cricket - it was clear that the intensity took its toll.

In his book, "Cricket and I," Learie Constantine, the star of that tour, wrote of how exhausting their schedule was and how he would go straight to his room after a day's play and have his dinner there just so he could get to bed as quickly as possible to be ready for the next day. He summed up the tour by saying that even though they had lost each of the Tests by an innings plus, he knew that the team was "far, far better" than they did.

"But if many failed, certain men stood out as absolutely first-class cricketers.

"There was the calm superiority of [Frank] Martin in county games and Tests, not a [George] Challenor by any means but a master of defensive play. [Herman] Griffith was not too far wrong in his estimation of Martin. Griffith bulks largely in my memories of that tour: short, powerful, exuding a sturdy confidence, bowling away, good length off-breaks, swing from leg, change of pace, good length, steadily at it and his eyes wide open to take whatever the batsmen had to offer him. [Clifford] Roach, batting better every week.[Edward] Hoad, forcing his way up from the depths to take his rightful place among the batsmen of the side," wrote Constantine, even as he remarked that "Challenor, [Joseph] Small and [Maurice] Fernandes were nothing like they had been in 1923."

Whereas Challenor was the man in 1923 who had elicited all of England's highest praises, it was Constantine's turn in 1928 to dazzle.

In his latest cricket book, "A Nation Imagined," which celebrates and analyses that 1928 tour, Professor Hilary Beckles writes of Constantine's prowess and his impact on the West Indian psyche.

"The West Indian imagination, however, featured Constantine as its hero in the confrontation with English batting. Considered the most improved player since 1923, Constantine was rated as the fastest in the quartet. At home he was the superstar of the emerging game. In 1923, the English crowds flocked to see him bat, bowl and patrol the cover area. He was already hailed as the greatest all-round cricketer the region had produced, and by the end of the tour he had cinched a claim to being the best in the world."

By September 1928, then, although there were no Test victories to bring home, it was clear that the forces gathering in the West Indies were soon going to make the rest of the world sit up and take notice.

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