Editorial | Why do we celebrate Ramadhin | Remark
Ricky Skerritt, the chairman of Cricket West Indies (CWI), the governing body, and Wavell Hinds, the head of the players’ union, are right to hail Sonny Ramadhin’s contribution to West Indies cricket as a pioneer and calling him “a true legend of the game”.
However, no tribute seems to have considered Ramadhin beyond his achievements on the pitch. It misses part of its context and partly underlines the long, seemingly directionless, sometimes convulsive drift of West Indies cricket, despite the curative efforts of a series of recent administrators. Above all, they miss the soul and the history of cricket.
There is no doubt that Ramadhin’s performance in bounds insists on praise. In 43 Tests for West Indies he won 158 wickets at 29 runs apiece. His economy was 1.97. It would have been excellent at any time.
But there is a fuller context to Ramadhin’s performance. When he went with the West Indian team to England in 1950, Ramadhin was a shy 20-year-old, the first player of Indian origin to play for the regional team. It has since become one long, continuous line.
Ramadhin, who died in England this week, aged 92, was first and foremost an off-break bowler. But in England that summer he gained a reputation as a mysterious spinner. He collapsed and broke his leg. The drummers couldn’t choose him.
From this distance, it is not unreasonable to assume that Ramadhin bowled what decades later came to be called doosra, which Sri Lankan off-spinner Muttiah Muralitharan was credited with developing – a delivery that spins on the leg, but played with off-pause action. .
In all four Tests of the 1950 series, Ramadhin teamed up with another young bowler, Jamaican Orthodox spinner Alf Valentine, who was 19, to spin the rings around the English. Their combined run in the series was 59 wickets – Valentine, 33, and Ramadhin, 26. This accounted for 76.6% of England’s wickets that fell to bowlers in the series. They could have had even more, but for the confused batsman’s English tactic of padding the deliveries. The technique was particularly evident in the final test and contributed to the change in the leg before the wicket (LBW) rule to penalize deliberate padding.
In that Test, Valentine’s match was 10 for 69. Ramadhin came back with four for 101. But writing about the match decades later, England’s all-rounder Trevor Bailey said: “Although Valentine took 10 wickets in the match, for me it was the silent Ramadhin that got us.
England’s defeat, by 326 points, confirmed the West Indies’ victory in the series and inspired Lord Beginner’s calypso, Victory test matchwhich is widely known as “These Two Boyfriends of Mine” – part of the chorus referencing Ramadhin and Valentine.
SPIRIT OF THE REGION
For many people, West Indies cricket means more than cricket. It evokes the spirits of the region’s history and the aspirations of the people. Remember the iconic photographs of West Indian crowds, led by Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner, running onto the Lords pitch after West Indies beat England by 326 in the second Test. The crowd was, quite literally, the Windrush generation, the first group of people from the Caribbean who sailed to England in 1948 on the Empire Windrush to be part of Britain’s post-war reconstruction effort and to seek a better life in the ‘mother country’.
Lords, in cricketing tradition, was sacred territory. Beating England on this pitch and seeing West Indians dancing on the pitch to calypso was liberating – kind of coming of age. Subjects came to the Empire and prevailed.
In the Lords Test, Ramadhin pocketed five for 66 and six for 86. He was the last of the West Indian team in 1950. The West Indians who sang and danced at Lords were not just celebrating cricket, but asserting themselves and declaring their aspirations. Sobers, Kanhai, Lloyds, Richards, Roberts, Holding, Garner and others from the great team of the 1970s and 1980s were heirs to the mantle of Ramadhin and Valentine.
More than seven decades after Windrush and Lords and the Oval, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants who celebrated with “those two little buddies of mine” and the rest of the 1950s squad are still battling against their outsider status. And in the Caribbean, West Indian cricket has gone astray – too ignorant of itself, of its history. Our play embodies this ignorance. It is without obligation, but of itself.
Yes, Ramadhin was “one of the great pioneers”, according to Skerritt. He has a legacy that this newspaper, like Wavell Hinds, salutes. But Ramadhin’s legacy is more than doosra, or his version of it, or that he mystified drummers. He inspired hope. Win or lose, his cricket was responsible. Instinctively, to paraphrase James, he knew more than cricket.
We hire Sonny Ramadhin in West Indies cricket.