THE WEST INDIANS EXPERIENCE A TYPICAL ENGLISH WELCOME

Author Colin Babb (right) was among the supporters at Beckenham
Eric McClymont (left) welcomed guests Breno and Nic Machado from Australia
A book-signing for the great left-hander

Submitted by Clayton Goodwin

The West Indian cricketers were introduced to typical English cricket conditions in their warm-up game against a County Select XI team of fledglings at the Kent County Ground at Beckenham. There was unsettled cloud, overcast skies and declining light on the first day, decent sunshine on the second, and the third was washed out by the weather. The tourists won’t get much different than any of that in their three-match Test series. Nevertheless, there was a friendly ambience and a good opportunity to talk, discuss and share food with friends without necessarily having to look in the direction of the pitch. It was as much as most spectators could do to remember the names of the – mostly unknown – players they were watching. However, there should be scope for some of them to put that record right before the month is out.

How different from the days of yore when giants of ready repute impressed themselves forcefully on the summer in the opening exchanges. I can remember well the thrill of the comparatively unknown Roger Harper, as a batsman, that is, hammered a double-century in a stand in which his partner, himself a century-maker, the incomparable Viv Richards occupied a more subsidiary role at Hove in 1988. In the same county, seven years later, Carl Hooper sprayed so many sixes into the adjoining car-park at the Arundel Castle ground that spectators feared for their vehicles. Well, there were sixes here plus the ever-present Jimmy Adams, as a link with the glorious past. The man is really respected, especially here in Kent, where he is admired as one of their own.

The West Indian batsmen had greater reason for satisfaction than the bowlers. When conditions were at their least easy Kavem Hodge led the run charge with 112 supported well by Alick Athanaze whose 74 in the 339 runs total preceded top-score of 66 not out in the abbreviated 196-5 dec second innings. Joshua da Silva, of whom much is expected with bat as well as gloves, contributed 51 not out. Impressive, but all the same, William Luxton 112 not out and Hamza Shaikh with 84, hardly names to frighten the fans, hit the Couty Select XI to 373-4 dec. Not that it mattered – this was a warm-up game as kept telling us.

Then it was back to the serious business of re-engaging with friends who had been seen since the last tour- or, rather, longer than that because the West Indians were last here when the pandemic kept crowds away. The “usual suspects” were out in force – Eric McClymont, super-fan who is an (unpaid) one-man industry to boost West Indian and Jamaican cricket, author Colin Babb, Pauline Clarke formerly of Westindies Cove (and Cockspur) repute, Mikey Bacchus, and Martin with his posse and pantry-supplies which seemed to materialise without undue effort. It was a particular pleasure to welcome Breno Machado, and his son Nicholas, of Jamaican family now resident in Brisbane (Australia) who were on a brief visit to England. It is a family, indeed, which descends through Ivan Barrow, the former West Indies wicketkeeper, who on a tour “Down Under” became the super-batsman Don Bradman’s first Test Match wicket.

The administrative staff, too often maligned, the attendants on the gate and at the car-park, and the Kent C.C. and Beckenham ground representatives generally ensured a happy atmosphere. Several hundred schoolchildren were let in on the second day, and it was encouraging to witness again the impromptu games played with bottles as bats and the balls just outside the boundary rope. It reminded those spectators of “a certain generation” of all their yesteryears. There should have been more attractions on the third day but Jupiter Pluvius, perhaps relenting of the harm he had caused outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the start of his disastrous election campaign (which ended the previous day), washed out the proceedings.

West Indian tours do not generate the excitement and publicity that they did in former years. There was a time, not all that long ago, that even a match arranged by the Barbados High Commission with a few stars players of the past and present would attract a capacity crowd here at Beckenham. It would also have persuaded more front-line journalists of the national and UK West Indian press, noticeable here by their absence, to put in an appearance. Even so the market for books about the great cricketers of more halcyon days shows no sign of abating. There are two new books about Frank Worrell, one of his contemporary Everton Weekes, and Brian Lara was to do a signing the next week …. Let us stop the talking and watch the cricket. It is well worth the effort.

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