Long before Abraham Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States, he said these words in an address to the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois: “All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the Earth (our own excepted) in their military chest, with a Bonaparte for a commander, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years.” Those were bold words, and spoke, even at that time, to the military might of the United States.
At no point in our history could anyone speaking on behalf of those of us living in the Caribbean make such a claim, especially not in the area of military prowess. There is at least one area, however, that we could take on the might of the world. That area is in the sport of cricket.
Not in this era, of course. The West Indies team is not even close to being the best team in any of the game’s three formats. But what if it were possible to gather the greatest players in history and have the best of the West Indies go up against the combined best from every other cricketing nation in a series of Tests in the Caribbean? Would the Caribbean stars have any realistic chance of winning?
This is all speculative, for sure, but I would wager that they would.
The next step then is team selection. And since I am the lone selector, the following, in batting order, is my all-time team to take on the rest of the world: George Headley (captain), Vivian Richards, Rohan Kanhai, Brian Lara, Everton Weekes, Garfield Sobers, Clyde Walcott (wicketkeeper), Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Michael Holding, and Lance Gibbs.
I know I’ll have to explain a few of these selections. The ones likely to raise the most questions, I believe, are the choice of openers. Most West Indian fans would expect that it would have been Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes walking out to face the new ball; others would plump for a spot for Conrad Hunte or Chris Gayle.
The main issue I foresee with those chosen is that they weren’t normally used as openers during their careers. But both batted mainly at three. This means they’d have to face the brand-new ball whenever a wicket fell very early.
Richards opened in the last two Tests of the West Indies’ unfortunate 1975-76 tour of Australia when they were battered by the high pace and hostility of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee. His scores were 30, 101, 50, and 98. He was a renowned player of fast bowling, and all of the quickies of his day, at some time or other, felt the force of his majestic blade.
The fragility of the West Indies’ batting during his time meant Headley not only carried the batting on his slender shoulders, but he was basically forced to open the inning as well. “I would be putting on my pads,” he complained, “and sometimes before I was finished I would hear that the first wicket had gone.” Headley was second only to the incomparable Don Bradman in his day, and scored runs against the best the world had to offer.
The main point, however, is that Richards and Headley were significantly better players than Greenidge, Haynes, Hunte, Gayle, and any other opening batter that turned out for the West Indies, and are therefore more likely to score more runs.
Headley is also captain. I would have liked Frank Worrell, but we’d lose some batting clout. Furthermore, Headley reportedly did a good job leading the Jamaica team on the few occasions that he did, and was regarded as an extremely good strategist by the likes of CLR James and Jeff Stollmeyer, with whom he often discussed the game. If there was any fairness at the time, he’d have captained the West Indies for much of his career. Instead, he had to play under men who were not his equal as tactician or player.
Some may quibble over Kanhai at three. But the Guyanese was a technically brilliant and highly exciting player, who was unstoppable on his day. In his book on the 1963 tour of England, journalist J S Barker referred to Kanhai, in the middle for his first knock of the series, as “the unpredictable virtuoso of batsmanship, twiddling his bat and regarding the field placing with more amusement than interest”.
That description could also apply to the next batsman in the line-up, Brian Lara, and nobody in their right mind would question his selection. Weekes deserves his spot at five. And Sobers, simply the best all-round cricketer the world has seen, takes his place at six.
Now, some might think it strange that Clyde Walcott is chosen as wicketkeeper ahead of Jeffrey Dujon or Jackie Hendricks. But the big Barbadian, who struck the ball like thunder and averaged 56.68, was a quite capable keeper. In 1950 in England, he kept to the wiles of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine and effected a number of stumpings off them. He gets in over the other contenders because of his brutal and consistent batting, but he was also more than adequate behind the stumps.
Now for the bowlers.
With so many great fast bowlers to choose from, this is a difficult task. We all know the names — from Manny Martindale to the great four-pronged attacks there are probably more than 10 pacers who could reasonably be chosen as part of a formidable attack. We need three. For purposes of balance, Lance Gibbs is selected as the spinner, ably supported, if required, by Sobers, who is also capable of lively left-arm pace, as we all know.
Malcolm Marshall has to be chosen first. He was simply the best pace bowler to come from the Caribbean and one of the very best who ever breathed. He thought about fast bowling deeply, practised it diligently, and executed it expertly. His skills were otherworldly, to the point where he could often nominate exactly how he’ll get particular batsmen out. A fair batter as well, he comes in at eight.
At nine is Curtly Ambrose and Michael Holding is at 10. As I hinted before, their names could have been exchanged with a number of other fast men without the attack losing much, if any, potency. Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Ian Bishop, Courtney Walsh, and Sylvester Clarke would all have been competent replacements. The two chosen, however, were probably the most disruptive when at their best.
And so, with Gibbs at 11 we have our team to do battle with the rest of the world.
I can’t say they’d win every game. If there was much turn, for instance, then Shane Warne or Muttiah Muralitharan or Bill O’Reilly or Jim Laker or some combination of them could wreak havoc. But the best of the West Indies is so well equipped that I’d back them to take on all comers, even with all the resources of the rest of the cricket world.
Garfield Robinson is a Jamaican living in the US who writes on cricket for a few Indian and English publications. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.