Sir Garry, King Viv and 40 years of lording it at Lord's

Forty-one years after covering his first tour of England by the West Indies, Tony Cozier reflects on the great names and games from a wonderfully complicated rivalry

My colleagues in the media centre at Lord's last Saturday presented me with a bottle of fine champagne. It was my 64th birthday and the gesture, like the bubbly, was much appreciated, but I tend to recoil at adjectives like doyen and veteran to which my name now seems to be readily affixed.

My colleagues in the media centre at Lord's last Saturday presented me with a bottle of fine champagne. It was my 64th birthday and the gesture, like the bubbly, was much appreciated, but I tend to recoil at adjectives like doyen and veteran to which my name now seems to be readily affixed.

They have an ominously terminal ring about them and contradict the evidence that those fortunate enough to write and talk about cricket as a profession tend to live to ripe old age.

This is the 12th West Indies tour of England that I have covered. My first was back in 1963 when, as sports editor of the Barbados Daily News, I persuaded the editor that we needed to have someone on the spot. It may have helped that he was my father.

I slept mainly on the couches of West Indian student friends, and at modest YMCAs and bed and breakfasts, and travelled much of the time on a rail system that, at the time, seemed to work just fine.

That first tour was a revelation for a fledgling reporter from a speck in the Caribbean Sea the size of the Isle of Wight - which seemed just about the only place in the British Isles that the West Indies didn't play that summer. There were 34 different venues, for Tests and three-day matches against the counties (twice against Yorkshire and Surrey), on all points of the compass.

By way of contrast, the West Indies tourists this year will play a third that number of games, and a mere three first-class matches outside the Tests - and yet contemporary players complain about too much cricket and too much travelling.

Other changes in the interim have been marked, perhaps inevitable. Not all have been for the better. They have affected the way the game is played, structured and financed, have included better grounds, enhanced technology (that supposedly, but not necessarily, makes our job easier), the altered attitudes, of players and of public, and, not least, the markedly diminished support the West Indies team get from their kith and kin in this country.

However, a couple of things have remained constant. One is the confusion caused when it is discovered that my Barbadian accent emanates from a white mouth. The likelihood of a white West Indian, even one with Caribbean roots dating back to the 18th century, seemingly remains as improbable as a black Eskimo.

When the Saturday of the Lord's Test was rained off in 1976 - itself an improbability in that drought summer - I took the opportunity to meet a few old friends resident in England, all black, in the bar below the Mound Stand.

As usually happens with West Indians, the assembly grew and the noise level and the cricketing arguments intensified as the Mount Gay rum flowed. It was all good natured, nostalgic stuff. But when a pair of policemen, seeking to clear the premises, for play had long since been abandoned, passed by and saw a solitary white man backed up against the bar by a bunch of black men, they shoved their way through and asked, with some concern: "You all right, sir?"

To combined relief and laughter, I thickened the Bajan accent and replied, "I've never been better, officer".

The other constant has been the realistic expectation of West Indian success (I missed England's 2-0 triumph over a changing team in 1969). That, I fear, has been gradually eroded of late.

There have never been stronger teams, from any country, than the West Indies in the Sixties and Eighties. The first was led, successively, by Frank Worrell and Garry Sobers - "the greatest cricketer on earth or Mars", as the calypsonian aptly described him. The latter teams were captained by Clive Lloyd and then Viv Richards.

The teams of both eras possessed incomparable batting and fast bowling. If Lance Gibbs' off-spin gave the former better balance, such a commodity was rendered obsolete in a side that possessed a fleet of great fast bowlers.

In the Eighties, when the West Indies dominated international cricket even more comprehensively than Australia do now, the question was not so much whether they would win but how quickly.

Even four years ago, when England won for the first time in 31 years, by a margin of 3-1, the West Indies started with an innings victory at Edgbaston within three days.

What followed was as humiliating as it has ever been for the West Indies anywhere - all out for 54 at Lord's, blown away for 61 at Headingley and despatched in two days.

The record since is enough to send me into Lord's on Thursday morning, for the first Test of this series, apprehensive about the outcome.

Not since the Thirties, in their early years in Test cricket, have the West Indies fielded a team as inexperienced as this one. The great George Headley so repeatedly had to carry them on his shoulders then that he was called "Atlas". Now they are equally dependent on the rare batting talent of one man, their captain, Brian Lara.

Away from home, they have only managed to prevail over Zimbabwe and Bangladesh in the past seven years and, three months ago, capitulated to England in front of their unforgiving public in the Caribbean for the first time since 1968.

Only Lara's momentous, unbeaten 400 that regained him his Test record in the final Test saved the even greater indignity of a whitewash.

The whitewash had been a West Indies speciality, for their irresistible teams, first under Lloyd, then under Richards, dished out successive 5-0 beatings to England in 1984 and 1986.

In the circumstances, the word seemed racially inappropriate and it was changed in 1984 to "blackwash" on placards on the western side of The Oval in London, thick with jubilant West Indians confident of the fifth victory in the series.

It was support that was once taken for granted. The mass emigration in the Fifties brought thousands upon thousands from the Caribbean. The West Indies team's conquests over the colonial masters lifted their self-esteem at a time when they were battling to come to terms with making out in a strange and largely unwelcoming environment and when the lands of their birth were, one by one, advancing into independence.

After the West Indies first won a Test in England in 1950, appropriately at Lord's, the hallowed turf was invaded by hundreds of West Indians, led by calypsonians Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner hailing the feat in impromptu song.

After Conrad Hunte stroked the runs that settled the decisive final Test at The Oval in 1963, I vividly recall West Indians, most of whom lived in close proximity in Brixton and Streatham and filled the northern and western stands, streaming across the ground towards the pavilion in celebration.

Nor did the encouragement emanate from the stands alone. Peas and rice, pillau, yam pie and other proper Caribbean fare found its way to wherever the team were lodged. Some even occasionally found its way into the press box for the few of us reporting for West Indian papers.

Wes Hall, the fearsome fast bowler of the Sixties, is convinced that it kept him and his equally menacing partner, Charlie Griffith, going through the many overs demanded of them. It was a joie de vivre that fashioned a reputation.

Reporting on the 1963 series, Wisden noted that the West Indies' "players and supporters enriched the game with their exuberant cricket on the field and their infectious enthusiasm and incessant banter in the background".

The commercial value of such popularity was immediately recognised by those who ran English cricket. What had been an eight-year cycle for West Indies tours was quickly amended to four and they were back again by 1966.

The "infectious enthusiasm and incessant banter" of their countrymen was repeated every year the West Indies were in England, for a Test series and for the early World Cup tournaments.

The 1975 and 1979 finals, both of which the West Indies won, turned Lord's into a Caribbean carnival that was a microcosm of that which followed in Notting Hill two months later. It was great fun but, human nature being what it is, the tolerant attitude to West Indies cricket and its supporters changed in direct relation to its mastery.

By 1984, when they were at the height of their powers, the former England captain Tony Lewis wrote in the Sunday Telegraph of "the inevitable drudgery of the summer ahead when the West Indies will perform their tediously glum professionalism, fast bowler after fast bowler, and England will defend themselves". Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine estimated that 200 bouncers would be bowled in a full day's play "when the great and glorious West Indies fast bowling machine is wheeled into place".

As it was, the crowds still flocked to see them, Lord's had gate receipts of over a million pounds for the first time and they won all five Tests so readily that a regulated minimum number of overs was unnecessary.

Still, within a couple of years, bouncers had beenn legally restricted to two an over and a day's Test play had been given a minimum of 90 overs.

By the early Eighties, the increasing absence of black faces in the stands had become increasingly noticeable. Thirty years ago, Lord's would have been a mass of noisy, joyful West Indians for last Saturday's NatWest Series final against New Zealand. Now the few West Indians the television cameras could find were Dwight Yorke and a few of his mates.

There are several reasons. The most plausible are the increased prices of admission that have become way out of range of any middle-income earner, whatever his origin, and that, more than half a century on from the first influx of West Indian immigrants, second and third generations have little affinity to the land of their forefathers and, in any case, have interests in sports with wider mass appeal.

It is ironic that the roles should now be reversed. In England's recent Tests in Barbados and Antigua, as much as three-quarters of the bodies that filled the seats were pink, cricket holidaymakers with tickets bought from locals only too willing to sell at the favourable exchange rate.

Perhaps, by the time I'm chalking up my 20th tour of England well into my eighties, the cricket grounds of England will have become cosmopolitan again and the West Indies players and supporters will be back "enriching the game with their exuberant cricket on the field and their infectious enthusiasm and incessant banter in the background".

Of course they will. Isn't that what Twenty20 cricket is all about?

And the best match was? Tony Cozier's pick over 40 years

Lord's 1963

After four enthralling days, play was delayed by rain until 2.20pm on the last day with England on 116 for 3, requiring another 118 to level the series. The West Indies fast bowler Wes Hall, a key to the outcome, had overslept but the captain, Frank Worrell, noticing his absence from breakfast, kept two boiled eggs and handed them to Hall on the coach, telling him he would have to bowl until the match was over.

The late start allowed him to replenish, and the big Barbadian bowled for the three-and-a-quarter hours. By the time he came on to bowl the last over of the match, Hall had bowled 24 successive overs broken only by tea.

When it came, England needed eight to win, eight wickets were down and any one of the four results was possible. The batsmen David Allen and Derek Shackleton were together and Colin Cowdrey was presumed unable to bat as his left hand was in plaster as a result of a Hall thunderbolt that cracked his wrist the day before.

Hall had been there before. He had delivered the final over in Brisbane two and a half years earlier that resulted in Test cricket's first tie. Now Allen and Shackleton took singles off the second and third balls but, trying to steal another, Shackleton was run out by Worrell off the fourth.

To a standing ovation from the stunned crowd, Cowdrey emerged from the pavilion and made his way to the middle.

Allen would have strike for the remaining two balls, off which six were needed. If, by chance, he did have to face, Cowdrey had decided that he would bat left-handed. But it didn't come to that and one of Lord's most remarkable matches ended in a draw as Allen played out the last two deliveries.

Mostly on top how West Indies have fared in England since 1963

1963

First Test WI won by 10 wickets

Second Test Match drawn

Third Test Eng won by 217 runs

Fourth Test WI won by 221 runs

Fifth Test WI won by eight wickets

West Indies win series 3-1

1966

First Test WI won by innings and 40 runs

Second Test Match drawn

Third Test West Indies won by 139 runs

Fourth Test WI won by innings and 55 runs

Fifth Test England won by an innings and 34 runs

West Indies won series 3-1

1969

First Test England won by 10 wickets

Second Test Match drawn

Third Test England won by 30 runs

England won series 2-0

1973

First Test West Indies won by 158 runs

Second Test Match drawn

Third Test WI won by innings and 226 runs

West Indies won series 2-0

1976

First Test Match drawn

Second Test Match drawn

Third Test West Indies won by 425 runs

Fourth Test West Indies won by 55 runs

Fifth Test West Indies won by 231 runs

West Indies won series 3-0

1980

First Test WI won by two wickets

Second Test Match drawn

Third Test Match drawn

Fourth Test Match drawn

Fifth Test Match drawn

West Indies won series 1-0

1984

First Test WI won by innings and 180 runs

Second Test WI won by nine wickets

Third Test WI won by nine wickets

Fourth Test West Indies won by innings and 64 runs

Fifth Test West Indies won by 172 runs

West Indies won series 5-0

1988

First Test Match drawn

Second Test WI won by 134 runs

Third Test WI won by 134 runs

Fourth Test WI won by 10 wickets

Fifth Test WI won by eight wickets

West Indies won series 4-0

1991

First Test England won by 115 runs

Second Test Match drawn

Third Test WI won by nine wickets

Fourth Test WI won by seven wickets

Fifth Test England won by five wickets

Series is drawn 2-2

1995

First Test WI won by nine wickets

Second Test England won by 72 runs

Third Test England won by six wickets

Fourth Test England won by six wickets

Fifth Test Match drawn

Sixth Test Match drawn

Series is drawn 2-2

2000

First Test West Indies won by an innings and 93 runs

Second Test Eng won by two wickets

Third Test Match drawn

Fourth Test Eng won by an innings and 39 runs

Fifth Test England won by 158 runs

England won series 3-1

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