While the first International ‘test’ match was played in 1844 between Canada and the USA and Australia faced England in the first official test match in 1877, it took the West Indies 51 years after the birth of Test cricket to be accredited Test status.
Although the inaugural first-class match in the West Indies was played in 1865 between Barbados and British Guiana (Demerara) at the Garrison Savannah and the first cricket tour to the West Indies was made in 1888 by an American side, it was not until the end of the 19th century that a regular inter-territorial was being played between British Guiana, Barbados, Trinidad and Jamaica.
Because of the distance from Jamaica and the other territories, they were not actively involved in regional cricket until 1896.
West Indies teams toured England in 1900 and 1906 after a West Indies X1 had opposed a English XI at the Kensington Oval in Barbados in 1902.
A series involving West Indies and MCC was played in the West Indies in 1912/13 before the First World War put cricket on hold until 1923 when West Indies again toured England.
Maurice Fernandes, who seven years later led West Indies to their first test victory on home soil (Bourda in British Guiana), made his West Indies debut.
The West Indies first played as a team in 1890 against a visiting English team, while the West Indies Cricket Board joined the Imperial Cricket Council – now International Cricket Council (ICC) in 1926.
Nunes became the first of 37 West Indies Test captains (to November 2019) when his team toured England in 1928. They lost all three of their matches as the Caribbean side was admitted to test cricket 63 years after the first 1st class match was played in the West Indies.
West Indies won their first test in 1930 at Bourda in British Guyana, beating England by 289 runs in the third test of that series.
Guyanese Maurice Fernandes became the first captain to win a test match but even though he had participated the year before in the inaugural test series, this was to be his only test as skipper and his two-test career was soon over.
In those days a captain was appointed from each country the game was played in during a home series and four captains were used in the first home series in 1930, including Trinidadian Nelson Betancourt who made his debut at 42 years, 242 days and still holds the record as the oldest West Indian (fifth oldest player overall) to make his test debut.
Barbadian Derek Sealy made his debut at 17 years, 122 days in the first test of that series and is still the youngest West Indian to play test cricket.
That 1930 series saw the first test hundred by a West Indian being scored when Trinidadian Clifford Roach hit 122 in the first test in Barbados. He also became the first West Indian to score a double century with his 209 at Bourda in the third test.
In those days, test matches were not restricted to any specific number of days and the fourth test of the 1930 series in Jamaica ended in a draw after it was agreed to halt the game after nine days. This is the second longest test match ever played. South Africa and England had a 10-day draw in 1939.
Sandham scored 325 and Ames 149 as England were bowled out for 839 on the third day. West Indies fell for 286 on the fourth day and England declared on 272-9 on the sixth day with Sandham making 50. West Indies were 408-5 when the match was called off with Headley making a brilliant 223. In all 1,620 runs were scored and 34 wickets fell.
Lord Constantine was among the 1st Windies cricketers to fight for racial equality.
Lord Learie Constantine was born in September 1892 in Trinidad and was the grandson of a slave.
His father, a foreman on a cocoa plantation, represented Trinidad in cricket and toured England in 1900 when the West Indies first visited that country to play cricket. Constantine toured England in 1923 with the West Indies before they were granted test status and made his test debut five years later.
A powerful cricketer, he had extra long arms and while he was a very good batsman and fast bowler, his ability in the field was simply outstanding.
CLR James, the great West Indies cricket writer, wrote of Constantine “He is probably the only all-rounder in cricket who could win his place in a test side by fielding alone.”
He was the first West Indian to play professional cricket in the English Leagues and his feats in the Lancashire leagues between 1929 and 1937 are still unmatched.
It might be surprising that he was sometimes not released by his English club to play for the West Indies resulting in him missing test matches.
When he did play he rarely transformed his league cricket performance to the higher level and from 18 tests averaged only 19.24 with a highest score of 90 and took 58 wickets with two five wicket-hauls.
However, his contribution to West Indies cricket was much more than his statistics showed.
After playing his last series in 1939 at age 37 just before the war broke out, he got into politics where he made a significant contribution on behalf of black people.
He had always revolted against the difference between his status as a cricketer and his status as a black man. When he was on the field he was regarded with high esteem and even looked up to by the many white players who dominated the game in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but once the game ended and he left the venue, he was considered just another black man without much status.
If the future players really understood the history of West Indies cricket then the 16 West Indians who agreed to play in South Africa in 1983 as ‘Honorary Whites’ for big money, would have not been so willing to participate in a system which discriminated against their own kind.
Constantine studied Law and in 1954 was called to the Bar before becoming a Member of Trinidad’s first Parliament when that country gained independence in 1962. He was knighted in 1962 and later worked as a cricket writer and commentator. He was made High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago in London from 1962-1964 and served as a governor of the BBC. He died in July 1971 in London and will be remembered as a great man who toiled on and off the cricket field for the respect and social equality that present day West Indian cricketers enjoy and take for granted. (Sean Devers)
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