England 2-0 West Indies

West Indies in England, 1969

Norman Preston

From the point of view of the destination of the rubber and the number of victories achieved during their three month tour of the United Kingdom, the West Indies cricketers must have been disappointed, but there were extenuating circumstances. The acknowledged World Champions of a few years ago had certainly declined, but it was not a landslide. Some people said that this was the end of an era, but I am inclined to say that it was the beginning of a new era. Such old favourites as S. M. Nurse, R. B. Kanhai, C. C. Hunte, W. W. Hall and C. C. Griffith were missing. As many as eleven of the sixteen players were strangers as Test men to the English scene; only G. S Sobers, L.R Gibbs, B. F. Butcher, M. C. Carew and J. L. Hendriks remained of the side which came three years earlier.

The West Indies had just completed an arduous tour of Australia and by the time they had gone through their fixtures in England they had engaged in a period of sixteen Tests in eighteen months; eight against England, five against Australia, and three against New Zealand, winning only two and losing seven. Whereas West Indies in 1963 and 1966 won six of ten Tests against England they finished last summer not having won any of their previous nine engagements against England and having lost four.

After the lean time in the Antipodes, the West Indies side was reshaped with the introduction of many talented young players for the tour under review. The summary of results which follows this survey tells its own tale, but not the conditions that prevailed. For some years cricket in England has been a sorry business in the month of May. The weather behaved no better in 1969 - though a heat-wave followed - and consequently West Indies arrived at Manchester for the first of the three Tests extremely short of match practice and with their newcomers, therefore, at a serious disadvantage.

They had as their leader the glamorous and dynamic Gary Sobers. With his all-round ability in batting and bowling and his reliable close-to-the-bat fielding Sobers had constantly played the part not of one man, but two or even three. On the previous tour he won the toss in all five Tests. If he had been lucky again at Manchester West Indies might have got away to a flying start in the Tests. As it was, England won the toss, but worse than that, Sobers was absolutely stale. Eighteen months of continuous cricket round the world, including one summer leading Nottinghamshire in the County Championship, had ruined his appetite for the game. Previously, in 73 Tests he had never really failed, but in the three Tests of 1969 he scored only 150 runs, average 30, compared with 722 runs in five Tests in 1966, average 103.14, and there was similar depreciation in his bowling.

On the whole tour Sobers made only 432 runs in 15 innings against 1,349 runs in 25 visits to the crease in 1966. His efforts over the years had now begun to tell. When fit, he could bowl in his fastest style for a long stretch, as he did in the England second innings at Headingly, or turn to his orthodox left-arm slows, but owing to a piece of chipped bone in his shoulder he could no longer baffle batsmen with his mixture of googlies and chinamen.

Yet his personality was always going to be a force to be reckoned with. He batted well in both innings at Lord's, but in the first he was run out by his partner. At times, Sobers seemed to lose concentration. The most vital instance occured in the West Indies second innings at Headingly when thanks to Butcher the way to victory had been established. Sobers had only to complete the task, but before getting a proper sight of the ball, he stood, leaden-footed, head in the air, as he aimed to drive and Knight bowled him comprehensively. That was the end as far as West Indies were concerned. The last six wickets mustered only 53 runs and England scrambled home by 30 runs.

That West Indies went down in the Tests could be pin-pointed to those two factors, the spin of the coin at Old Trafford, and Sobers' duck at Headingly. Hence, West Indies should not be other than optimistic about the future because they have already begun to rebuild with some measure of success. Some of them learned a good deal while in Australia. In Camacho and Fredericks, West Indies solved the opening batting problem which had confronted them for some time. Fredericks was a perky left-hander adept with the hook and cut and Camacho based his approach on sound lines.

Lloyd simply confirmed the reputation he had won in Tests in the Caribbean and in Australia. His main weakeness and one which England exploited, was his speculative stroke against the bouncer; once he can rid himself of the temptation to fall for the bait, he could become a really great batsmen - he is already a magnificent fielder in the Colin Bland class. Davis had the distinction of hitting the solitary hundred for West Indies in the three Tests. That was at Lord's. He was one of the failures in Australia; now having proved himself he should continue to go forward.

Apart from Sobers, Butcher was alone among the hard core batsmen with established reputations. He made most runs for them in the Tests and headed the general batting with an average of 61.50. Tribute is paid to him in The Five Cricketers of the Year.

In bowling the West Indies owed much to Shepherd with his steady medium-fast pace which he had developed with Kent. Unfortunately he was overworked when Sobers broke down in the Lord's Test and later he himself was able to take little part in the Headingly Test owing to a severe strain at the base of the spine. The trouble persisted when he returned to his county. If Shepherd had been used in reasonable spells his value to the touring team as a key bowler of the English seam pattern must have been greater.

West Indies looked to Holder, already acquainted with English conditions through his association with Worcestershire, and Shillingford, to replace Hall and Griffith as the pace men. Holder had his lively moments and he was keen to succeed. Shillingford took most wickets, but a torn muscle kept him idle for a month. Apart from Sobers the side was deficient in slow bowling. They could have done with Ramadhin and Valentine of twenty years ago. Gibbs, the vice-captain, did little more than command respect with his off-spin. His six Test wickets cost 52.83 runs apiece and he took no more than 19 wickets on the whole tour.

Hendriks came as the number one wicket-keeper, but he had an unsatisfactory first Test and was replaced by Findlay, who acquitted himself well behind the stumps and also showed some promise with the bat. While much of the ground fielding was smart and attractive, this team fell below the standard usually associated with West Indies sides in the field. Dropped catches let them down in Australia and the epidemic continued in England. Thanks to the large crowds which attended the second Test, the West Indies received £22,000 as their share of that match, and this went a long way towards covering their expenses of £40,000. They returned home with a profit but felt as if it should have been more if they had been granted some of the television fees, which so far no touring team has received.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Duke of Norfolk's XI v West Indians at Arundel, Apr 26, 1969

Tour Match: DH Robins' XI v West Indians at Eastbourne, Apr 30-May 2, 1969

Tour Match: Worcestershire v West Indians at Worcester, May 3-5, 1969

Tour Match: Lancashire v West Indians at Manchester, May 7-9, 1969

1st Test: England v West Indies at Manchester, Jun 12-17, 1969
Report | Scorecard

2nd Test: England v West Indies at Lord's, Jun 26-Jul 1, 1969
Report | Scorecard

Ireland v West Indians at Sion Mills, Jul 2, 1969

Ireland v West Indians at Belfast, Jul 3-4, 1969

3rd Test: England v West Indies at Leeds, Jul 10-15, 1969
Report | Scorecard

© John Wisden & Co