Valentine's name forever linked to Sonny Ramadhin
By Tony Cozier
May 14, 2004
HIS international career spanned a dozen years. He was the first West Indian bowler to 100 Test wickets and ended with 139 in 36 Tests.
But Alfred Louis Valentine, who died at his home in Daytona Beach, Florida, on Tuesday will be remembered, first, foremost and always, for his partnership with Sonny Ramadhin, immortalised in a calypso classic as "those two little pals of mine", for the fanciful circumstances of their original selection and for the role their contrasting and mesmersing spin played in the West Indies seminal triumph in the 1950 series in England.
While World War II brought the game to a halt in England between 1940 and 1946, inter-colonial matches continued in the Caribbean from which emerged a group of talented, young, high-scoring batsmen.
The Barbadian middle-order triumvirate, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott, whose coincidence of the first letters of their surnames inevitably created the sobriquet "the Three Ws", duly announced themselves in a 2-0 victory over England when the West Indies resumed Test cricket, at home in 1948, and in India the following year.
The openers, Jeffrey Stollmeyer and Alan Rae, brought stability to the top of the order, Gerry Gomez had matured from the teenager of the 1939 tour of England into a fine all-rounder.
The job for the selectors, in trial matches prior to the 1950 venture, was to find bowlers capable of capitalising on such batting strength. That they chose Valentine, left-arm, and Ramadhin, right, as the main spinners among their 16 was an exceptionally bold and, as it turned out, inspired decision, prompted, it is said, by vice-captain Stollmeyer and the captain, John Goddard.
Neither had played a first-class match at the time. Valentine was not yet 20. Ramadhin was a year older.
The former was a slim, awkward Jamaican with poor eyesight from the working-class Kingston suburb of Spanish Town, who had been coached by Joe Mercer, the Glamorgan player on assignment in the island.
The latter had been discovered in his village in the rural south Trinidad, making the ball do unusual things with an unusual action. He was given a job at the nearby Leaseholds oil refinery team specifically so he could benefit from the better facilities and the higher standard cricket offered by the club team.
Valentine's value was the sharp spin the long fingers of his left hand imparted on the ball from a quick, whirling arm action.
Some teammates were adamant they could hear the ball fizzing through the air on its way towards the batsman. It was allied to the immaculate control he perfected with practice under Mercer's tutelage.
While Ramadhin had 12 wickets for Trinidad in the two trial matches against Jamaica, Valentine managed only two against Trinidad on the matting pitches then used at the Queen's Park Oval.
When their names were announced in the team for England, there was understandable surprise, especially since Wilfred Fergusson, the seasoned leg-spinner who had 23 wickets in the four home Tests against England two years earlier, was omitted.
What followed was the stuff of fairy tales.
Even the most experienced English batsmen, with solid records and playing in their own conditions, were transformed into novices by the two young West Indians, both venturing outside the Caribbean for the first time.
By lunch on his first day in Test cricket, on a helpful pitch at Old Trafford, Valentine already had five wickets. When England's first innings was over, his figures were eight for 104, still the most by any West Indian on debut.
Yet the West Indies were heavily beaten, by 202 runs. It was, captain Goddard contended, an aberration.
He and his players were confident they were the better team. On the back of the powerful batting and the bowling of the spin twins, they proved it in the remaining three Tests with victories by 326 runs, 10 wickets and an innings and 56 runs.
On three previous tours of England, in 1928, 1933 and 1939, they had never won a Test, far less a series. Now, stated Wisden, "West Indies cricket firmly established itself."
Beyond cricket, it was a statement at a time when Britain's former colonies were pressing and preparing for their political independence that they were capable of holding their own in a significant field of endeavour. It was appropriate that the breakthrough should have been in the second Test at Lord's, then, as now, regarded as the game's Mecca.
Hundreds by Rae in the first innings and Walcott in the second laid the foundation for West Indies' totals of 326 and 425 for six declared, more than adequate for Ram and Val, as they had inevitably become known, to work with.
Their match figures are incomprehensible to the modern generation of West Indians to whom maidens are identified more as scantily clad girls in the party stands than scoreless overs.
Valentine had 116 overs, 75 maidens, 127 runs, seven wickets, Ramadhin 115-70-152-11. No one in the history of Test cricket has ever sent down as many maidens in a match as each did at Lord's.
Throughout, the West Indies were cheered on by hundreds of their countrymen at the Nursery end, recent arrivals in the first wave of post-war immigration from the Caribbean.
When the last England wicket fell, ironically to neither Ram nor Val but to Worrell, they streamed across the hallow turf, singing along with guitar-strumming calypsonians Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner to tunes spontaneously composed that were to become classics.
Beginner's "Cricket lovely cricket, at Lord's where I saw it", linked the two young heroes in song as "those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine."
Kitch sang: "Ramadhin, you deserve a title/Ramadhin, followed by a medal/And we can't leave behind/The invincible Jamaica Valentine".
By the end of the summer, Valentine had 33 wickets, a West Indies record that still stands for a series of four Tests, and 123 in the first-class matches. Ramadhin's count was 26 and 135. Worrell and Goddard were next best in the Tests with six wickets each.
If it were unrealistic to expect them to again achieve such heady heights, Valentine maintained his consistency until the wear and tear on body and finger joints increasingly took their toll.
He was the leading wicket-taker in the disappointing series in 1951-52 in Australia with 24, in spite of pitches made to order for Australia's strong fast attack of Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Bill Johnston who ensured a 4-1 home victory. His 28 wickets against India in 1953 in the Caribbean were again the most by a West Indian.
There was a hiatus when he was omitted from the tour of India in 1958-59 and the home series against England in 1960 but, 10 years after his England apogee, he was chosen for the unforgettable tour of Australia in 1960-61 when he played in all five Tests, including the game's first tied Test at Brisbane.
That ended with the realisation that a new team was emerging under Worrell, finally elevated to the captaincy.
The attack was spearheaded by the "pace like fire" of Wes Hall, soon to be joined by Charlie Griffith to revive the West Indies' fast-bowling legacy. They were supplemented by the multi-faceted bowling of Garry Sobers and the off-spin of Lance Gibbs, who became the first spinner to collect 300 Test wickets and whose long fingers, lanky physique, competitive approach and limited batting skill made him a right-arm version of Valentine.
Although he was in the 16 on the 1963 tour of England, Valentine was not chosen for any of the five Tests and, although he continued on for Jamaica until 1965, he did not represent the West Indies again.
Like so many West Indians of his time, he spent several seasons as professional in the leagues, in the Birmingham area. Once his playing days were over, he was contracted by the Jamaica government as coach until he joined the exodus of many of his countrymen to Florida, to Daytona Beach, where he spent the last 15 years with his wife, Jackie, actively involved in social work with young people.
His last reunion with the other "little pal of mine" was in 2000 in England, where Ramadhin has lived since 1953.
Val remained remarkably trim and fit until he underwent a back operation last month, after which he was stricken by a stroke that confined him to a wheelchair for the last few weeks of his life.
THE VALENTINE FILE
Full name: Alfred Louis Valentine
Born: Kingston, Jamaica, April 29, 1930.
Died Daytona Beach, Florida, May 11, 2004.
Teams: Jamaica, West Indies, Commonwealth XI.
First-class record: Debut, 1950, Jamaica v Trinidad, Queen's Park Oval. Last match, 1965, Jamaica v Australians.
125 matches, 470 runs, average 5.00, highest score 24 not out, Rest v West Indies XI, Kingston, 1963. 475 wickets, average 26.21, best bowling 8-26 v Lancashire, Manchester, 1950.
Test record: Debut, 1950, v England, Manchester. Last match, 1962, v India, Kingston.
36 Tests, 141 runs, average 4.70, highest score 14 v Australia, Melbourne, 1951-52.