It was a reputation even accepted for a time by West Indians themselves, summed up in verse by one of the Caribbean's popular poets, Edward Kamau Brathwaite: 'But I say it once and I say it again, when things going good you can't hold we but let murder start and, old man, you can't find a man to hold up de side.'
There was an obvious racial element in the generalisation that doubted the temperament of all black sportsmen, conveniently overlooking the fact that the leadership and several players in early West Indies teams were white. It lingers still in spite of the undeniable record of the last 20 years or so which suggests that, if there are teams prone to buckle under pressure, West Indies are no longer among them.
None has shown more mettle than that under Richie Richardson. Its character was unmistakably established in his first Test as captain, against South Africa in Barbados in April 1992.
Shunned by the public because of the omission of a local player - Anderson Cummins - from the XI, with Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Jeffrey Dujon and Malcolm Marshall recently and simultaneously retired, and outplayed for four days, the West Indies started the last day facing certain defeat. Needing 201 South Africa were 122 for 2; they made only 148, eight wickets falling by lunch for 26.
The players held hands and lapped the Kensington Oval in emotional celebration. Richardson says the experience filled them with the confidence that no cause is hopeless - and they have turned round several since then.
It was the kind of spirit they needed yesterday morning when they resumed a mere 67 to the good with five wickets down. The one specialist batsman left to hold the lower order together was a frail 19-year-old in his second Test, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, but he had already shown in his brief, some say premature, introduction to Test cricket a maturity far beyond his years. Everton Weekes said on the radio during his 62 in Georgetown last week that, in everything he did, he looked as if he was in his 50th, not his first Test.
Graeme Hick's easy miss at slip allowed Chanderpaul to settle He never seemed to notice it nor Hick's later mistake, simply treating every ball on merit and lasting three and a quarter hours. The fight-back revolved around his boyish figure and he was at the wicket for all but two of the 123 runs the West Indies added. If they win, as now seems certain after England's astonishing collapse, they will owe much to this teenager.