As the Derbyshire tour bus passed the Gordon Greenidge Community School on our way to the North Stars Cricket Ground this morning, it offered a reminder of Barbados’ relevance and historic position in the history of cricket.
Barbados has a population of just over a quarter of a million and covers an area of only 166 square miles and it is inconceivable that any other location in the world has ever produced such a remarkable talent pool in any sport.
In fact, imagine a place in England with a similar population – Derby, for example – that covered an area little more than a sixth of the size of Derbyshire; and then imagine this mythical location having produced Ian Botham, Fred Trueman, John Snow, Bob Willis, Geoff Boycott, Graham Gooch, James Anderson, Brian Statham, Frank Tyson, Dennis Compton, Sydney Barnes, David Gower, Jack Hobbs, Tom Graveney, Peter May and WG Grace. As unbelievable as that sounds, some of the most illustrious names in West Indies’ – and world – cricket - Keith Boyce, Sylvester Clarke, Wayne Daniel, Joel Garner, Gordon Greenidge, Charlie Griffith, Wes Hall, Desmond Haynes, Vanburn Holder, Conrad Hunt, Malcolm Marshall, Seymour Nurse, Garry Sobers, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes and Frank Worrell were all born on the island of Barbados.
My first experience of a Bajan cricketer was at Ilkeston in 1974 when Garry Sobers, batting for Nottinghamshire, destroyed a more than useful Derbyshire bowling attack which included Hendrick, Ward and Venkat in scoring 130, and in the process secured the Walter Lawrence Trophy for the fastest hundred of the season. It was clear to me – even at a young age – why Sobers was routinely one of those few considered for the title of ‘Greatest Cricketer of All Time’.
In the 1980’s, West Indian fast bowling - plus a handy batting side – ensured they dominated world cricket as every other Test side wilted in the face of consistently fast, hostile and accurate fast bowling. It is unlikely that any Test side has ever selected faster 4-man pace attacks than those who took the field for the Windies between the mid-1970s and the 1990s.
Frighteningly, for any inter-island opposition, at one stage Barbados were able to field a pace attack which included Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Sylvester Clarke and Wayne Daniel.
Marshall was peerless – even in an age when Holding, Roberts and others were in the West Indies side, he was still regarded as the finest paceman of his generation. Daniel was always fast and hostile but was limited to a brief Test career by the quality of his rivals, and his service with Middlesex marks him out as one of the outstanding overseas cricketers ever to play the County game. Joel Garner, standing over 6 feet 8 inches tall, was amazingly accurate as well as effective, as his Test bowling average of just 22 suggests. Sylvester Clarke’s first class career record is outstanding – 942 wickets at just over 19 apiece – but statistics only tell part of the story; he was described by David Gower as the fastest bowler he had ever faced and his menacing angle of attack – wide of the crease, chest on, seemingly aiming at the batsman – wrought havoc with batsmen all around the world. I recall Allan Warner hooking Clarke for 6 into the street at The Oval – and being almost killed by the following delivery.
Greenidge and Desmond Haynes were an imposing pair of opening batsmen, generally giving both Barbados and West Indies excellent starts. Greenidge often seemed to bat better when he was injured – there are numerous stories of him scoring hundreds batting on virtually one leg. Greenidge also played for many seasons at Hampshire and it was a surprise that the south coast county didn’t enjoy more success especially when he played there in tandem with Marshall.
The ‘3 W’s’ – Walcott, Weeks and Worrell – left a cricketing legacy as much to do with how they conducted themselves as for how well they performed. Nonetheless, their collective performances put them on a different level altogether when compared to the other teams: the West Indies middle order averaged 47.99 between 1948 and 1958, while the next-best was Australia at 39.15. The difference between the two teams, in percentage terms, was almost 23, which is remarkable considering some of the other names who were around during that period. Australia had Neil Harvey and Lindsay Hassett; Denis Compton, Peter May and Tom Graveney were all playing for England; while Vijay Hazare and Polly Umrigar scored a fair number of runs for India. Yet collectively they paled before the combined brilliance of Weekes, Walcott and Worrell.
Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith were one of the most famous opening pairs of fast bowlers – dangerous and fast – the latter-named being a regular visitor to the North Stars ground where Derbyshire are based for the current tour.
It’s highly unlikely that Barbados, or any other similar-sized place, will ever again produce such a formidable group of outstanding cricketers. The locals here explain that despite a preponderance of local teams and huge general interest in cricket, youngsters want to spend more time with their computer games or watching English Premier League football. Fidel Edwards, Tino Best and Dwayne Smith are all useful Barbados-born cricketers but pale against their predecessors – time will tell whether or not the conveyor belt of the latter half of the 20th century will resume any time soon.
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