All-time West Indies XI: 1. Gordon Greenidge, 2. George Headley, 3. Sir Viv Richards, 4. Brian Lara, 5. Everton Weekes, 6. Sir Gary Sobers, 7. Sir Clyde Walcott, 8. Malcolm Marshall, 9. Curtly Ambrose, 10. Joel Garner, 11. Michael Holding, 12th man – Sonny Ramadhin
By David Green
‘Fire in Babylon’, the film about the great West Indies cricket side of the 1970′s and 80′s, is the talk of the cricketing world. The film captures the rich heritage of the supremely-talented cricketers from the Caribbean Islands.
To coincide with the release of the film, here is our all-time West Indies XI:
1. Gordon Greenidge (108 Tests, 19 hundreds, average 44.72) – A vivid memory of our childhood was Greenidge’s brutal unbeaten 214 at Lord’s in 1984, which made mincemeat of a victory target of 344. Immensely powerful and destructive, Greenidge was the template for the modern breed of attacking openers like Virender Sehwag and Tillakratne Dilshan. Greenidge formed two of the greatest opening partnerships of all time with Desmond Haynes (for the West Indies) and Barry Richards (for Hampshire).
2. George Headley (22 Tests, 10 hundreds, average 60.83) – One of the greatest players in the history of cricket, of the game. In 22 Tests, Headley hit ten centuries, including eight against England. His Test match average is one of the best in history, and the tag of the “Black Bradman” was certainly justified. Indeed, Headley’s admirers responded by calling Bradman the ‘White Headley’, and the fact that is a compliment to The Don shows just how good the pioneering Headley was.
3. Sir Viv Richards (Captain, 121 Tests, 24 hundreds, average 50.23) – The most devastating batsman in the history of the game, Sir Viv was absolutely unstoppable on his day. His style was a mixture of swagger and intimidation, and bowlers visibly cowered when faced with an on-song “King Viv”. It is fitting that he has the fastest-ever Test century – from just 56 balls against England in Antigua during the 1986 tour. With Sir Frank Worrell and Clive Lloyd not making the cut, Sir Viv is captain of our all-conquering Caribbean XI.
4. Brian Lara – Holds the record for the highest Test and first-class scores of 400 not out and 501 not out respectively. When he started his career, the West Indian era of dominance was on the wane. By the time he finished it, his side was in the doldrums. As a result Lara spent most of his time trying to keep his side afloat, which makes his record all the more remarkable. Perhaps his best achievement was in 1999 at home to Australia, when he single-handedly won the second and third Tests with scores of 213 and 153 not out. He scored a century too in the fourth Test, but couldn’t prevent Australia squaring the series.
5. Everton Weekes (48 Tests, 15 hundreds, average 58.61) – One of the immortal ‘three Ws’, Walcott believed that Weekes was the best all-round batsman of the three. An attacking batsman with a vast array of strokes, Weekes made an electric start to his Test career reaching 1,000 runs in only his 12th innings; one fewer than Sir Don Bradman. During this run he also scored five centuries in consecutive innings against England and India – still a Test record.
6. Sir Gary Sobers (93 Tests, 26 hundreds, average 57.78, 235 wickets at 34.03) – Cricket’s greatest all-rounder. With the bat, Sir Gary mixed elegance with power and for a long time held the record for the highest Test score until he was usurped by Lara. Perhaps his best innings though came for the Rest of the World against Australia in 1972 when Sobers played an innings of 254 described by Sir Don as “probably the greatest exhibition of batting ever seen in Australia”. Batting wasn’t his only talent; he could bowl left-arm fast-medium as well as both orthodox and leg-spin.
7. Sir Clyde Walcott (44 Tests, 15 hundreds, average 56.68, 53 catches, 11 stumpings) – Ok, Walcott wasn’t as good a ‘keeper as Jeff Dujon and even relinquished the gloves following back trouble (not that he had to bend over too much keeping to this attack). But how can you leave out someone this good? Walcott played an instrumental role in the first West Indian victory on English soil at Lord’s in 1950 scoring 168 not out. Along with Weekes, he was arguably the best batsman in the world during the mid-1950s, reaching his peak with an incredible five hundreds and 827 runs during Australia’s first Test series in the Caribbean. This team bats deep!
8. Malcolm Marshall (81 Tests, 376 wickets at 20.94) – If picking the batsmen was hard, whittling down a long line of brilliant West Indies fast bowlers is even harder. Including Marshall though wasn’t difficult as he was arguably the best of the lot. Fearsomely fast and with the ability to swing the ball both ways, Marshall was often unplayable and England in particular were frequent victims. His strike rate of 46.22 was as phenomenal as his premature death at the age of 41 was tragic.
9. Curtly Ambrose (98 Tests, 405 wickets at 20.99) – The most menacing bowler of his generation and given his dislike for speaking to the media, was like a silent if giant assassin. Once took seven wickets for one run in the most devastating of spells against Australia, but as England fans we remember him blasting out Mike Atherton’s side for just 46 in Port-of-Spain more.
10. Joel Garner (58 Tests, 259 wickets at 20.97) – Can anyone imagining having to face Ambrose and Garner on the same bouncy wicket? ‘Big Bird’ was a legend and unleashed one of the most devastating yorkers the game has ever seen from his monstrous 6’8″ frame.
11. Michael Holding (60 Tests, 249 wickets at 23.68) – It could have been Andy Roberts, Wes Hall, Courtney Walsh or even the pioneer Learie Constantine, but we settle for “Whispering Death” as our final quick. Could well be the fastest bowler in history and he certainly had the longest run-up. His run-up and delivery were poetry in motion for all who watched except for the terrified batsman at the other end. Now an erudite and forthright commentator, Holding is perhaps best remembered for his monumental 14 for 149 at The Oval in 1976.
12th man – Sonny Ramadhin (43 Tests, 158 wickets at 28.98) – Wins a toss-up with Lance Gibbs, although we never saw either of them bowl live in the flesh. Ramadhin could spin the ball both ways and bowl off and leg-breaks and it is this versatility that tipped the scales in his favour. Was the hero when West Indies won their first Test at Lord’s with 11 for 152 in 1950.
(David Green is the brain behind the irreverent The Reverse Sweep blog and also writes for a number of cricket publications and sites such as World Cricket Watch. You can follow him on Twitter also @TheReverseSweep. David was a decent schoolboy and club cricketer (and scored his maiden 100 the same week that Sachin Tendulkar scored his first Test ton) but not good enough to fulfil his childhood dream of emulating Douglas Jardine by winning the Ashes in Australia and annoying the locals into the bargain. He now lives with his wife and two young children in the South of France and will one day write the definitive biography of Hedley Verity)