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Alfie and the West Indies

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By: Earle Robinson



On Thursday, March 9, 2006, West Indies commences their third Test Match Series against New Zealand at Eden Park, Auckland. This match will mark the official beginning of their eight Test tour to that country. Previous tours were in 1952, 1956, 1969, 1980, 1987, 1995 and 1999. {{more}}

Overall, the series score-line reads three to two in favour of the tourists. Those losses occurred in 1980, which was very controversial, and in 1999. Clive Lloyd and Brian Lara were the captains to suffer the ignominy of defeat. Series won in 1952, 1956 and 1995 were effected by leaders John Goddard, Denis Atkinson and Courtney Walsh respectively, while (Sir) Garfield Sobers and (Sir) Vivian Richards lead their teams to 1-1 draws in 1969 and 1987.



WHITEWASHES



From January 1996 to February 2006, just over ten years, the teams have not performed well on tours. Only in Zimbabwe (twice) 2001 and 2003 and in Bangladesh 2002 they were able to win Test Series.

Leaving the “minnows” out of the equation, the last time they won a Test Series abroad was eleven years ago in New Zealand and the last time they won a Test Match against an established Test Team was in 2000 against England, the first Test at Edgartown.

Over that period, their overseas record against major oppositions is: played forty-six (46), won three (3), lost forty (40) and drew three (3). Of the thirteen (13) series, nine (9) ended in whitewashes in favour of the hosts. It is no surprise this nation ranks number eight (8) for the past two years and more. Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, they are the only two ahead of the LG ICC Test Championships table.

Fifteen years ago, my article “West Indies Cricket on the Threshold of a Crisis” did not go down well with many critics; nevertheless, the stark reality is in our faces now.

Richards, Gordon Greenridge, Jeffrey Dujon, and Malcolm Marshall and Desmond Haynes could not go on forever. Somehow the diehard supporters were deluding themselves that this would take place. Four of these players’ Test Careers ended in the summer of 1991, just six months after my writings.

As one writer puts it, “West Indies thought it had the formula bottled until lazy, overpaid cricketers replaced the marvelous ones who had set a standard that was taken for granted”. There was no provision for the future and Brian Lara has carried the can”.

In spite of Lara’s record-breaking performances the team continues to lose. Kindly understand, you can’t play a symphony alone, it takes an orchestra to play it. In other words, Lara is just one man, the West Indies need a team.

All of us knew the West Indies Cricket Board had lost touch with reality. Anyway, no matter the concerns, we will have to support the ‘team’. ‘Rally’ round the West Indies.



FIFTY YEARS AGO



It was mentioned earlier that the Test Series begins on March 9, 2006 at Eden Park, Auckland. Well, this date marks a milestone in Vincentian cricket history.

Recently, there was a debate about if there should be a black history month. To me, this is not necessary. Why designate a month? As the saying goes, “You have to know where you came from to know where you are going”. Once we document our history and reveal it to the youth, that will be sufficient guidance. History should be revealed all year round.

Back to that historic date, fifty years ago, March 9, 1956, the first Vincentian represented West Indies in a Test Match – Alphonso ‘Alphie’ Theodore Roberts, a right-handed middle order batsman was that player. At age 18 years 173 days old, Roberts appeared in his only Test Match. It was the fourth and final Test of the Series. Could you guess the day and the venue when he made his debut? It was a Thursday and the venue was Eden Park, Auckland. The same holds 50 years later, for the start of this series.

Going into the final match with an unassailable 3-0 margin, Roberts was given an opportunity by the selectors to showcase his promise. Batting first, New Zealand made 255 all-out; in reply, West Indies got 145. Roberts was joint second top-scorer with skipper Davis Atkinson managing 28 runs each. Opener Hammond Furlonge scored 64. Only these three were able to reach double figures. With a lead of 110, New Zealand posted 157-9 declared in their second innings, setting West Indies a victory target of 268.

In their second turn at the crease, West Indies were skitted out for 77. At that time their lowest Test total, beating the 78 they recorded at Sydney, Australia in 1952. This time around, Roberts failed to score. New Zealand won the match by 190 runs. It was their first ever Test Match victory spanning 26 years of Test cricket. West Indies again! For Roberts it was the beginning and end of his Test Career. Yes, one of those ‘One Test Wonders’.



PIONEER



Back in the West Indies, Roberts played two more first-class matches before he retired. His last was the Windwards inaugural first-class match against Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), now England, in Grenada in 1959. His contributions were one and zero.

Eldon ‘Knuckle’ Bramble, Owen ‘Manning’ Jackson, Garnet Brisbane, Garnet Niles and captain Frank O. Mason were the other Vincentians in that historic match. Jackson top-scored in each innings, making 24 out of 89 in the first innings and 25 out of 69 in the second. Leg-spinner Thomas Greenhough (6 for 32) in the first innings and Freddie Trueman (5 for 22) in the second innings were the tormentors.

In addition to Roberts, there have been five other Vincentians to represent West Indies at Test level, namely: Michael Findlay (1969-1973), Winston Davis (1983-1988), Ian Allen (1991), Cameron Cuffy (1994-2002) and Nixon McLean (1998-2001).

Cricketwise ‘Alfie’ Roberts may be considered a pioneer. His personal innings came to an end when he died at age fifty-eight (58), on July 24, 1966 in Montreal, Canada. No doubt, he has left an indelible mark in our Vincentian cricket history.

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