Man, Windies cricket just ain’t the same

Ben Pobjie Columnist

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    My first memory of the West Indies was Geoff Lawson’s jaw being shattered by Patrick Patterson. It seemed an appropriate image to sum up the experience of my generation of Australians in relation to the Windies.

    I was quickly fascinated by an exotic array of giganti fast bowlers and extravagantly brilliant batsmen, men with bizarre names like Courtney and Curtly and Vivian, and a team that had been invincible for years.

    They were so good, so ruthless, yet so laid back.

    When Carl Hooper bowled, he almost fell asleep halfway through his delivery stride. Not that he bowled very often – spin was only really used as a laugh by the Windies back then.

    They’d bring on Hooper or Richards or Roger Harper for a trundle to give everyone a quick giggle, then resume their sincere attempts to decapitate the opposition batsmen.

    They were so disdainful of spin that Allan Border took 11 wickets in a Test match against them simply because the idea of a little man bowling slow to them seemed so preposterous they got out due to shock more than anything.

    Four years later, the new boy Shane Warne stunned everyone in Melbourne, and Tim May with bat and ball almost pulled off a miracle in Adelaide.

    However, the miracle disappeared in one Courtney Walsh bouncer, and in the next Test, normal service was resumed. Curtly Ambrose bowling a spell of sheer terror in Perth to shred Australia like rice paper.

    That was the last hurrah of the invincible Windies really. Not long after that, they were dethroned. But what a hurrah it was.

    Ah, Ambrose was a bowler, wasn’t he?

    Enormous, loose limbs flailing, loping to the crease like an insouciant giraffe, somehow coiling and releasing those giant elastic bands to hurl bolts of pure malice at the batsman with suffocating accuracy.

    He was relentless, and on a dodgy pitch, dangerous. If there was a crack, he’d hit it, again and again, and he’d likely do the same to your head.

    Some said Mark Waugh was cowardly when he hit a hundred mainly by backing away and flipping Curtly over the slips. In fact, it was the gutsiest tactic he could have avoided. Every time he did it, it just made Ambrose more determine to kill him.

    When Dean Jones complained about Curtly’s wristbands, it went beyond gutsy and into suicidal.

    Ambrose’s predecessor as the Lord of Windies Quicks was Malcolm Marshall, a man half Ambrose’s size but possessed of even more skill, and a hostility that belied his small frame.

    Before and after Ambrose was Courtney Walsh, a bit player in great teams, and a colossus in mediocre ones, who looked like he was made of bamboo, but somehow kept going, and going, and going, until he’d knocked over more batsmen than any of his former teammates.

    And, of course, there was cool Ian Bishop and mad Patrick Patterson, and before them, lethal Michael Holding and brutal Joel Garner. They just kept rolling off that assembly line.

    Meanwhile, when the West Indies took strike, opposition bowlers were being cowed and terrified almost as much as the batsmen by an array of whirling axemen that brutalised attacks around the world.

    Viv Richards, with that supreme gum-chewing arrogance, making it clear that he considered a bowler merely a not-particularly-troublesome species of insect. The savage double-barrelled shotgun at the top of the order, Greenidge and Haynes. \\

    The freewheeling Richie Richardson.

    Big cat Lloyd.

    At the tail-end of the dominant era, the rising prince Lara.

    Pounding team after team into bloody submission with big smiles on their faces.

    That’s how the Windies appeared to me, and somehow, they always will. That era of rubber-armed fast men and blazing willowsmiths is frozen in the mind, even though it was just one segment of the West Indies story.

    They entered Test cricket in the 1930s, and up till the late 50s were always captained by white men, an absurd thought to those, like me, reared on the 80s terrors.

    At the start, the heroes were the Black Bradman, George Headley, and the erratic but electrifying all-rounder Learie Constantine.

    After the war, West Indian cricket was defined by the three Ws, batting giants Walcott, Weekes, and Worrell, and spin magicians Ramadhin and Valentine.

    In the 60s, the team rose to the top of the world with Sobers, Gibbs, Hall and Kanhai, before something of a decline in the 70s was followed by Lloyd’s world-crushing revival with the four-pronged pace battery strategy.

    West Indian cricket has been all sorts of things.

    And now, we see a struggling, but improving team, battling against the rising Australians, led by a big-hearted, determined, yet limited captain in Darren Sammy, batting held together by an ageing champion and bowling led by a promising pair, one fast firebrand and one tricky offie.

    It’s very different from the old days.

    Nobody was determined yet limited in the 1980s teams.

    Some were lazy, some were mercurial, but all were ridiculously talented and walked the earth like gods, deigning to grace we mortals with a glimpse of their divine abilities.

    But such freakish happenstance of collective brilliance couldn’t last forever.

    And there are reasons to delight in the current team. We still can enjoy the presence of men called Kraigg and Kemar and Carlton. We can enjoy a pack of underdogs grinding and heel-nipping their way to a better future.

    We can enjoy the particular flavour that the rise of a generation of talented players of Indian descent has brought to the Caribbean. And we can rejoice in the Windies’ rediscovery of the virtues of spin.

    But most of all, we can breathe a sigh of relief that, though they may lose this series, there seems to be some fight back in the Windies.

    For no matter how things change, everyone knows that when the West Indies are putting up a fight, the cricket world is an infinitely more interesting place.

    Ben Pobjie
    Ben Pobjie

    Ben Pobjie is a writer & comedian writing on The Age, New Matilda and The Roar, whose promising rugby career was tragically cut short the day he stopped playing rugby and had a pizza instead. The most he has ever cried was the day Balmain lost the 1989 grand final. Today he enjoys watching Wallabies, Swans, baggy greens, and Storms.

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    The Crowd Says (24)

    • April 27th 2012 @ 6:23am
      sheek said | April 27th 2012 @ 6:23am | ! Report

      Another fun read, Ben.

      Just a small point here – the Windies first-ever tests were played in 1928 against England in England.

      • April 27th 2012 @ 10:14am
        Ben Pobjie said | April 27th 2012 @ 10:14am | ! Report

        An excellent point sheek – you’re right of course.

    • April 27th 2012 @ 6:40am
      Johnno said | April 27th 2012 @ 6:40am | ! Report

      Since 1995 I would say the west Indies have produced only 1 World class fast bowler Kemar Roach, so far ahead off the rest it is not funny. Like Shane Bond and the rest of the kiwi pace attack excluding chris cairns.

      -So 1 top fast bowler in 15 years

      -Some good batsman Gayle, Sarwan,chanderpual, Jimmy Adams, marlin samuels(who could of been anything more natural talent than Brian Lara),

      -And now Kieren Pollard who surely should of played in this test series, the biggest hitter of all time hit further than warner or gilchrist or symonds or Viv, or lance cairns or simon o’donnell, or Afridi, or Craig mcdermott,,or joel garner.

      -but many average plodders, darren ganga, sherwin campbell, and that aussie turned windies batter

      -But no top bowlers and no tall world class bowlers, merv dillion was not world class but he was tall

      -Maybe it is the pitches or maybe just more kids play basketball and soccer.

      -Or no money for cricket in the modern age which is expensive on the technical side when you get to the elite junior levels in the modern world

    • April 27th 2012 @ 6:49am
      ManInBlack said | April 27th 2012 @ 6:49am | ! Report

      Those of us who grew up in the WSC age and there after – it was hard enough to imagine Valentine and Ramadhin. They’re much more like that now.

      Reading Boycott’s book on the 1981 tour he lamented England was arriving there looking for a fit paceman to bowl in the warm ups while the Windies were choosing which of the worlds fastest bowlers to leave out.

    • April 27th 2012 @ 8:11am
      Jason said | April 27th 2012 @ 8:11am | ! Report

      I know big black men all look alike but wasn’t it Curtly Ambrose that smashed Geoff Lawson’s jaw?

      • April 27th 2012 @ 9:16am
        Disco said | April 27th 2012 @ 9:16am | ! Report

        No, it was Courtney Walsh actually.

        • April 27th 2012 @ 10:15am
          Ben Pobjie said | April 27th 2012 @ 10:15am | ! Report

          Now I don’t know what to think! I may have misremembered though – I remember Patterson was utterly murderous that series.

          • April 27th 2012 @ 10:19am
            Jason said | April 27th 2012 @ 10:19am | ! Report

            This might help…

            • April 27th 2012 @ 5:07pm
              MrKistic said | April 27th 2012 @ 5:07pm | ! Report

              Surely the cricket wasn’t on the ABC at this point in time??

              • April 27th 2012 @ 5:26pm
                Brendon said | April 27th 2012 @ 5:26pm | ! Report

                Yer, the ABC used to broadcast tests in the 80’s. I vaguely remember as a kid. Wasn’t there a time delay or something so they were a couple mins behind or something?

            • April 28th 2012 @ 12:42pm
              Disco said | April 28th 2012 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

              Ah-ha.

            • April 28th 2012 @ 3:40pm
              Evan Askew said | April 28th 2012 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

              You know I lament the fact that batsman wear helmets all the time instead of a cap in the modern game but I guess this show why you should wear a helmet, with a face guard. Funy thing is that this was one of the few tests where Lawson didn’t wear a face guard. Oh the irony. I do believe he also went out once without a box to face the West Indies so perhaps old Henry had a bit of a sado masochistic side.

          • April 27th 2012 @ 10:54am
            Col said | April 27th 2012 @ 10:54am | ! Report

            Ambrose broke Lawson’s jaw at the WACA.

    • April 27th 2012 @ 9:09am
      sheek said | April 27th 2012 @ 9:09am | ! Report

      Ben,

      I was born & raised in PNG, which is relevant to this story I’m about to tell.

      On holiday in Australia in the summer of 1967/68 (age 11), I watched cricket with my dad who explained to me the leading Aussie & indian cricketers. But the grainy black & white images & apparently ‘slow” play didn’t grab my attention for long.

      Back in PNG, I followed the Aussies through England on their Ashes tour, but again, it didn’t really grab me.

      It was only when my father brought home a copy of the ABC tour guide of the West Indies tour of Australia in 1968/69, that my imagination was finally riveted.

      I grew up with blacks all around me, & fancy them being able to play cricket! And well!! But it was more than that – these guys came from a similar environment that I grew up in – palm trees, beaches, coral reefs, humidity, natural paradise.

      I devoured the contents of the book, & the Windies became instant heroes of mine.

      The 1968/69 Windies team was aging & declining, but on paper they looked so awesome. Dad had told me stories of the previous series in Australia in 1960/61 & the tied test.

      I remember the Windies team of 1968/69, now seared in my memory. Even the names, while mostly Anglo-Saxon, were unique.

      Garfield (Gary) St.Aubrun Sobers, 32 (c) – champion all-rounder

      Lancelot (Lance) Richard Gibbs, 34 (vc) – magnificent long limbed off-spinner

      Rohan Babulal Kanhai, 33 – mercurial batsman

      Michael (Joey) Conrad Carew, 31 – gutsy opener

      Stephen (Steve) George Camacho, 23 – stylish opener & ‘baby’ of the team

      Roy Clinton Fredericks, 26 – whirlwind opener

      Basil Fitzherbert Butcher, 34 – the batting anchor of the team

      Seymour McDonald Nurse, 34 – brutal batsman

      Clive Hubert Lloyd, 24 – brilliant bat & brilliant cover-field & cousin to Gibbs

      Charles (Charlie) Alan Davis, 24 – promising batsman

      David John Anthony Holford, 28 – useful leg-spinning all-rounder & cousin to Sobers

      Jackie Lee Hendricks, 34 – 1st choice wicket-keeper

      Thaddeus Michael (Mick) Findlay, 25 – back-up wicket-keeper

      Wesley Winfield Hall, 31 – champion fast bowler

      Charles (Charlie) Christopher Griffith, 30 – Hall’s fast bowling buddy

      Lester Anthony King, 29 – backup fast bowler

      Richard (Richie) Martin Edwards, 28 – backup fast-bowler (& a white guy)

      Don’t you just love some of those names…..

      • April 27th 2012 @ 10:17am
        Ben Pobjie said | April 27th 2012 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        Names to conjure with…although few will ever match the majesty of Eldine Ashworth Elderfield Baptiste.

    • April 27th 2012 @ 9:19am
      Fivehole said | April 27th 2012 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      I loved watching in the 80s the players mentioned in the article, as well as the likes of Gus Logie, Larry Gomes, Jeff Dujon. I remember going to maccas and getting a poster of the team. Cricket is not the same with a weak Windies side.

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