The West Indies cricket team is a multi-national sporting conglomerate, made up of top players from the English speaking Caribbean islands, or former British dependencies, referred to as the British West Indies. Historically, when still under British rule, teams would be selected from the islands to play the visiting English sides. The regular playing cricket team that emerged was originally called The Windies. Granted official international test match status in 1928 when they joined the Imperial Cricket Council, the Windies met England at Lords that same year in June.
The West Indies have boasted some great and truly inspirational players throughout their history, though it was not until the 1960s that they really began to flourish as a team. In this time period, the Windies also shifted from a white-dominated to black-dominated team. Emerging as unofficial world champions in 1970, they managed to retain this title and a golden period through to the 1980s.
The West Indies were famed for their four-pronged fast bowler attack, backed up by extravagant yet solid batting. During the height of their golden period, the Windies won 11 consecutive Test victories, including two notable 5-0 demolitions of England. In recent times, sadly, West Indian cricket has been in decline, largely owing to economic problems within the West Indian countries and therefore a lack of investment in cricket as a serious, professional, national sport.
The West Indies, from very early on in their playing history, have always produced great players, with the skill and charm to woo the viewing public. One of the first great players was the incredible Learie Constantine who, as well as being an accomplished cricketer, was also a broadcast journalist, lawyer ‘’and’’ politician! As a cricketer, he was a fine all rounder, with a fast right arm bowl and solid right-handed batting technique. Constantine was instrumental in the West Indies first test match win against England in 1930 and also played a crucial role in securing the 1934-5 series for the Windies.
In the 1930s came George Headley, who is widely regarded to be the greatest batsman of all time who finished his career with a test match average of 60.83, the fourth highest in history. When playing his first Test at the age of 18, he scored 78 in the first innings and 211 in the second, and stunned the visiting English and the cricket world as a whole. In the 1929-30 home series against England he scored 703 runs in eight Test innings, leaving him with an average of 87.80 and also racking up four centuries in the process. Headley was the first batsman to score four test centuries before the age of 21.
One of the most internationally famous West Indian cricketers of all time is Garry Sobers, or by his full name, Sir Garfield St Auburn Sobers. A hugely prestigious and successful player for the West Indies during the 1950s and 60s, he was perhaps the greatest all rounder the world has ever seen. Sobers was a great bowler, bowling left-arm orthodox spin, left-arm unorthodox spin, and also left-arm fast-medium. As a batsman Sobers managed a career average of 57.78 and he was also a fantastic fielder who usually fielded close to the wicket.
Sobers made his Test match debut in 1953, at the tender age of 17. In 1958, only five years later, Sobers made history by scoring 365 runs in 614 minutes in a single innings, a record that stood for 36 years, until fellow West Indian Brian Lara came along. It was his first Test century and this is a record that stands to this day. Another iconic moment came in 1968, when Sobers became the first batsman to hit six sixes off one over of six consecutive balls in first-class cricket. He was batting as captain for Nottinghamshire against Glamorgan, and Malcolm Nash was the bowler.
The muscular West Indian figure Desmond Haynes dominated cricket in the 1980s alongside fellow players Viv Richards and Malcolm Marshall. Haynes was one of the greatest and most powerful batsmen the West Indies has ever produced. In his first appearance on the international scene, he hit 148 runs against Australia in a one-day meet in Antigua. For many years Haynes formed one half of a formidable partnership with Gordon Greenidge that was the key to much of the West Indies Test success during the 1980s. In 116 Test matches, he racked up 7487 runs, leaving him with a Test career average of 42.29. Haynes’ highest Test innings was against England in 1984 when he hit 184 off 395 balls. Typical to many West Indian players, Desmond Haynes always came out to the wicket grinning ear to ear and was a carefree, happy-go-lucky character.
The same era also boasted the great Viv Richards, who can be described as an international celebrity in batting terms, and, arguably, the greatest batsman to emerge from the West Indian nations. Often referred to as the “Master Blaster”, Richards was a formidably powerful right handed batsman and a steady captain for the West Indies between 1981-91. Richards made his Test match debut in 1974 against India and in the second Test in this series, he scored an unbeaten 192.
In total, he made 8,540 runs in 121 Test matches during his career, therefore averaging of 50.23. Richards also scored 5 centuries in World Series Cricket between 1977-79. Richards captained the West Indies during a truly golden period of their cricket, winning 27 of 50 matches as a Test captain, and losing only 8. He also holds the title as the scorer of the fastest-ever Test century - just 56 balls against England on the 1986 tour. His highest innings of 291 is sixth on the list of the West Indies' highest individual scores.
Towards the end of the 1980s and well into the 1990s, the West Indies exploded into life, largely owing to the influx of several truly great players and West Indian personalities. The most remarkable of this era would have to be the world beating fast bowler partnership of Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh; Ambrose measuring in at 6 foot 7” and Walsh at 6 foot 6”. Both bowlers were capable of extracting bounce from almost any pitch that would terrorize even the greatest batsman around. The partnership was statistically devastating, taking 421 wickets in the 49 test matches they played together. Ambrose’s best performance was capturing 8 for 45 against England in Barbados in 1990. In Test cricket, he gained 98 caps for the West Indies, bowling 1001 maiden overs, which amounts to approximately every 2 in 7, and taking 405 wickets (the fifth bowler in history to surpass the 400 wicket mark) with a career average at 20.99. This is only bettered by fellow West Indians Malcolm Marshall (20.94) and Garner (20.97). Another record that Ambrose claims is the best economy rate of any of the nine bowlers who have taken 400 or more Test wickets, at 2.31 per over.
Courtney Walsh can also boast similar statistics. In 1995, he took 62 Test wickets at an average of 21.75 runs per wicket. Then in 2000 he went on to better this performance, taking 66 Test wickets at an average of 18.69, including 34 wickets in the series against England, averaging a stunning 12.82 runs per wicket.
Arguably the greatest cricketer to have ever come out of the West Indies is Trinidad and Tobago's Brian Lara. He has topped the world rankings on several occasions and still holds some of the most important world records to have ever been set: the highest individual innings both in international (400 not out for the West Indies against England) and first class cricket (501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham in 1995) and the all-time leading run scorer. Lara reached the momentous 501 total in 474 minutes off only 427 balls, hitting 308 in boundaries (10 sixes and 62 fours). With a career average of 52.88 and 11953 runs scored in test cricket, Lara could be the greatest batsman to have ever lived.
Famous Test Series
Great West Indian test series performances have included their tie against Pakistan in Kingston 1957 in which they racked up 790 for 3 before declaring and going on to win the series. In this same series, Garry Sobers reached his total of 365 not out.
Other great Test batting performances have included; 302 by Lawrence Rowe against England at Bridgetown in 1973-74, 751 for 5 declared against England in St John's in 2003-04, in which Brian Lara made his 400 not out record breaker; 747 all out against South Africa in St John's in 2004-05, a draw in which Chris Gayle scored 317.
One Day Cricket
In one day cricket the West Indies have been World Cup Champions on two occasions - 1975 and 1979 - and runners-up In 1983. In the ICC Championships (formerly known as the ICC Knockout) they have been triumphant on one occasion, in 2004 and twice runners up, in 1998 and 2006.