England v Windies History

England v West Indies Test History

If you're a cricket fan, you'll know that it can often seem, especially to those less interested, that it's simply a game about statistics (a claim often also made about baseball). Runs, wickets, averages, even Duckworth-Lewis-Stern...

And yet, in reality, it's about those moments, those players, that stick in the memory. The adventurousness of Rohan Kanhai for example, the batsman hooking so hard he ended up falling over. As a very young man, he played league cricket for Ashington in Northumberland. So much did they love the kid, there's still a pub in the centre of that former mining town named after him!

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Momentous moments in the beginning

Lord's, June 23rd 1928, saw the West Indies team step out on English soil for their first match as a test-playing nation, although more accurately, a group of nations bonded together (sometimes fractiously) to play test cricket. Not unexpectedly, England won by an innings, and scored similar victories in the other two tests of the rubber.

Move forward eighteenth months, and across the Atlantic, to Bourda in Guyana, surely one of the world's most atmospheric cricket grounds. The West Indies, having drawn the first test and lost the second, piled up a first-innings 471 for their first victory, substantially, by 289 runs. The final test, and the series, was drawn. 1934/5 saw their initial series victory, again in the Caribbean, by a margin of 2-1.

After the Second World War, the West Indies team were welcome visitors to England in 1950 and shocked the hosts by winning 3-1. After England had emerged victorious at Old Trafford, the visitors racked up three decisive victories in a row. This could surely be defined as the moment they truly arrived on the world cricket stage.

A cast of legends

From the period of the Thirties through into the Sixties, many names, on both sides, would still stir the heart of many an old cricket fan to this day. Each would have their favourites. It might be Sir Learie Constantine, taker of their first test wicket, and by showing entertaining aggression as captain, many believe him to be the individual who set the template for so many, so memorably, to follow.

Sir Gary Sobers, for so many Nottinghamshire folk, a revered son of their own, brought multi-skilled flamboyance and often chance-taking captaincy to his team. He could destroy any opposition with his bat, a variety of pace or spin bowling styles, and he just seemed to catch anything.

On the other side, you might find the mild-mannered (not) Fred Trueman. His five-wicket haul at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad in 1960 starting with Kanhai, Sobers and Frank Worrell. Those who faced them still can't forget the fierce pace of the duo of Sir Wesley Winfield Hall and Sir Charles Christopher Griffiths! A decade earlier, spin twins Alf Valentine and Sonny Ramadhin, played a major part in the series victory, by taking 59 wickets between them.

A time of dominance - and its ending

When Clive Lloyd took a West Indies team, badly beaten in Australia, and turned it into the most powerful pace bowling test team ever seen - backed up by some glorious batsmanship - a long period of dominance ensued. After Tony Greig's ill-advised desire to 'make them grovel' England seemed particular targets. This was highlighted with those crushing back-to-back home and away 5-0 thrashings in the mid-1980s. Indeed, England failed to win a test series between the two from 1969 to the year 2000.

In that year, if you can remember Dominic Cork and Darren Gough edging and scything England to a 2-wicket victory, in fading light, on a Saturday at a Lord's that truly discovered its voice, with even the kitchen staff hanging onto the sides of the stands to watch, then you witnessed the tide turning. This levelled a series England went on to win 3-1. England have gone on to win seven and draw one of the nine series since then.

What lies ahead?

The lost and drawn series, part of the previous statistic, were both in the West Indies, meaning England haven't won a series in the Caribbean for fifteen years. The upcoming trio of tests will be held in tourist-friendly Barbados, Antigua and St Lucia. This means no place for traditional venues such as Trinidad, Jamaica and Guyana, which would astonish those from past generations.

After their superb performances in Sri Lanka, England should start favourites; but it will probably be a much tougher test than some people might imagine.

Some final snapshots

At the start of this piece, moments were mentioned - those memory-etchings you carry with you. A few, from more recent times, to end with. Brian Charles Lara's cut to 400 and a world record at The Rec in Antigua in 2004. Steve Harmison's astonishing 7-12 at Sabina Park in the same series.

Your personal memory might be of the thundering power of Gordon Greenidge, the silent running of Michael Holding, the pure skill of Malcolm Marshall, or Alec Stewart's pair of glorious centuries at Bridgetown in Barbados. Or any other of so many possibilities.

Whether lucky enough to be travelling there, as thousands will, or watching from the chilled UK from late-January onwards, there is still a tingle as England take on what we now should officially call The Windies.

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