Gordon Greenidge at the United Services Ground, Portsmouth, after making a brilliant Sunday League hundred back in the 1970s; memory fades, but he may well have been the only black man at Burnaby Road that afternoon. When Hampshire played games in Southampton then they had a (one) black supporter, regarded as a socially important person by some, thanks largely to the chair of CAMRA at the time who dispensed communism during afternoons at cricket.
The era of WI dominance that ran until the mid-90s is largely remembered now by World Cup Finals and brutal Test encounters; Fire in Babylon, WI cricketers doing wins a help to WI folks in England. But not to neglect the impact on domestic cricket and on the attitudes of those who follow(ed) it.
County Appearances of the 1975, 2019 World Cup Winners
|West Indies 1975||England 2019|
|Roy Fredericks (Gla 71-3)||90||Jason Roy (Surrey 08-)||271|
|Gordon Greenidge (Hants 70-87)||549||Jonny Bairstow (Yorks 09-)||200|
|Alvin Kallicharran (Warwks 71-90)||574||Joe Root (Yorks 09-)||108|
|Rohan Kanhai (Warwks 68-77)||315||Eoin Morgan (Middx 05-)||267|
|Clive Lloyd (Lancs 68-86)||492||Ben Stokes (Dur 09-)||175|
|Viv Richards (Som 74-86, Gla 90-3)||519||Jos Buttler (Som 09-13, Lancs 14-)||215|
|Keith Boyce (Essex 66-77)||360||Chris Woakes (Warwks 06-)||230|
|Bernard Julien (Kent 70-77)||163||Liam Plunkett (Dur 03-12, Yorks 13-18, Surrey 19-)||345|
|Deryck Murray (Notts 66-9, Warwks 72-5)||252||Jofra Archer (Sussex 16-)||77|
|Vanburn Holder (Worcs 68-80)||345||Abdul Rashid (Yorks 06-)||350|
|Andy Roberts (Hants 74-8, Leics 81-4)||208||Mark Wood (Dur 11-)||73|
Data sourced from Cricket Archive.
Seven of the 1975 WIs played for what were then non-TMG counties, at a point in the history of cricket when List A games were reviving it WIs were doing a lot of the reviving. Exciting cricketers, liked by crowds at matches that were played at many local outgrounds, those at Portsmouth above for instance, saw a game between Hants and Yorks and also a pre-run of sorts to the 1979 WC Final.
The relaxing of the rules on overseas players gave more WI experience of English conditions, a lot of it by today’s standards, even allowing for the fact that the England players’ numbers are from careers-in-progress. At a time when first-class cricket in the Caribbean, the Shell Shield, involved a total of 10 matches a season, the experience a help in establishing their dominance in Tests against England, if not elsewhere; so an exchange of sorts at work as well. Much the same point could be made about limited-overs cricket: the Gillette Cup in the WI started in 1975/6.
WSC, rebel tours altered the financial incentives but it is very striking how loyal the 1975 team were to their counties. Most of the players who went on to play for the WI in the years between 76-95 also played county cricket, including all of the quartets of fast bowlers, of whom no-one with a longer span than Courtney Walsh and no-one with more appearances than Malcolm Marshall.
In 1975 black people in the eyeline of this one spectator were some of the game’s greats, in 2019, at the Oval, they were gate staff. The game has the support it does in England because of WI cricket past, no question, so what then to make of the sentiment that something is missing now? In Cricket:The Game of Life Scyld Berry comments that ‘We should not wonder at West Indian cricket becoming so moderate, but at it once having been so magnificent’.
It’s an understandable point view to take, particularly given its setting in an historical context. As to the involvement of black folks in cricket in England now, playing football was a comment heard more than once last year; it is, after all, where the money and the glory is, the game a lingua franca. But it leaves an awkward question for cricket, as to whether its relative decline among those with a Caribbean heritage is, socially, a problem, or just a sign of progress?