Last Wednesday’s passing of Sir Everton Weekes — five years short of a century — has elevated Sonny Ramadhin to an even more unique status on two fronts.
At 91 years of age, he is now the oldest living West Indies cricketer and also carries the mantle as the last survivor of the ground-breaking 1950 squad which achieved the Caribbean side’s first-ever Test and series victories in England.
I am grateful to Vaneisa Baksh and Dr Rudi Webster for putting into context the immense contribution of Sir Everton to the game in these pages over the past couple of days. It is liberating not to have to struggle for words and non-existent experiences to acknowledge the departure of one of the game’s greatest batsmen.
His numbers — 4,455 runs from 48 Tests at an average of 58.61 with 15 hundreds and 19 fifties — are bettered only, in terms of average, by the original West Indian batting legend, George Headley (60.83 from 22 Tests) and place into unflattering relief the records of the contemporary West Indies side now in the final stages of preparation for the “bio-secure” three-Test series in England starting on Wednesday morning in Southampton.
Consider for a moment that the historic squad, for which Ramadhin is the last living connection, featured a top five with final Test averages that mark them as arguably one of the most formidable batting combinations in the history of the game.
First there were Allan Rae (46.18) and Jeff Stollmeyer (42.33) to face the new ball, followed by those famous three Ws: Frank Worrell (49.48), Weekes and Clyde Walcott (56.68). Sir Frank’s average only dropped below 50 because of a comparatively poor final campaign in 1963 when his struggles with the bat had no impact on his calm, inspirational leadership as the West Indies swept past their English hosts 3-1 in a five-Test series where the triumvirate of opener Conrad Hunte, middle-order dasher Rohan Kanhai and all-rounder supreme Garfield Sobers were hailed as the natural successors to the three Ws.
When you put all of that up against the reality of a Jason Holder-led side which has the relatively untried Shamarh Brooks (34.80) as the player with the highest batting average, it seems not only galaxies away from the teams of the 1950’s and 1960’s but also tempers any expectation of the West Indies successfully defending the Wisden Trophy and winning a Test series in England for the first time in 32 years.
Quite a few things must happen for this team to do what none have managed since Viv Richards’ men came back from England in 1988 with a 4-0 drubbing off their opponents.
Obviously the batsmen will have to play above their ordinary numbers to put the sort of runs on the board that will give the bowlers something to defend.
Despite his historic twin hundreds in the unforgettable triumph at Headingley on the last Test tour in 2017, Shai Hope averages less than 28 as a Test batsman. He will probably have to double that output over the three Tests if the West Indies are to have a chance.
Much is being made in England about a West Indian fast bowling resurgence, no doubt influenced by the manner of the tourists’ demolition at the hands of Kemar Roach and company in the first two Tests of the three-match series last year in the Caribbean. Roddy Estwick got more than a little carried away when the bowling coach suggested that the pacers now available to the West Indies are in the grand tradition of the steamrolling quartets who played key roles in the 15 years of Test series invincibility from 1980 to 1995.
There is pace and quality there though and it is more than likely that they will have to work doubly hard to compensate for the shortcomings of a mediocre batting line-up.
Back in 1950, the expectations were reversed as the batsmen were already building formidable reputations while the bowling options — no fast bowlers of any repute and two uncapped, unknown spinners — suggested long English summer days of West Indian fielders chasing leather.
As it transpired Ramadhin and fellow debutant Alf Valentine, the Jamaican left-arm orthodox spinner, mesmerised the English to the tune of a combined 59 of the 77 wickets which fell to bowlers in the four Tests, rallying their team from an opening match loss to comprehensive victories in the remaining matches to take the series 3-1, becoming instant legends.
Valentine, the first West Indian to 100 Test wickets (Ramadhin was second to the landmark – two spinners: ironic isn’t it?), died in 2004. And now that Sir Everton has left us, the little Trini who has long since made his home in England is the lone torchbearer of an unforgettable passage in West Indies cricket history.