INTERVIEW: CRICKET: Sonny Ramadhin: ‘In 1950 we had the three W’s – England had Len Hutton’

Last survivor of West Indies’ first Test win in England 70 years ago recalls a heady day at Lord’s, a tough childhood in Trinidad and his love of English pitches

Sonny Ramadhin’s spin accounted for 11 England wickets in West Indies’ historic Test victory at Lord’s in 1950.
 Sonny Ramadhin’s spin accounted for 11 England wickets in West Indies’ historic Test victory at Lord’s in 1950. The tourists won by 326 runs. Photograph: Chris Bethell/the Guardian

As England’s last wicket fell at Lord’s in June 1950, a handful of West Indies fans spilled over the boundary rope, keen to celebrate their first Test victory at the home of their cricket-inventing colonisers.

At his home in Delph on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, Sonny Ramadhin, the last living player from that history-making West Indies side, remembers the scenes. “Quite a few of the West Indians came on to the ground and we had to run to the dressing room,” the 91-year-old says.     

“John Goddard got out a crate of his own rum, Goddard’s Gold Braid, and all the guys were drinking. I didn’t drink in those days. My favourite drink was ginger beer. I met up with a friend who was studying in London and we went out for a meal instead. I was shy, I’ve always been shy.”

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MUSIC VIDEO: VICTORY TEST MATCH – CALYPSO – By Lord Beginner

Ramadhin was 21 and playing in his second Test. On his debut at Old Trafford, he had taken four wickets and Valentine 11 in what turned out to be England’s only win of a four-match series the home side lost 3-1. At Lord’s, Ramadhin dazzled, taking 11 wickets over the two innings.

“After Old Trafford I didn’t think I’d be picked for Lords and of course every youngster wants to play at the home of cricket. But somehow they left me in the side and I got five and six.

“They had a national holiday back home and invented a dance for us but we didn’t have time to party,” he says in an accent half Trinidadian, half Lancastrian. “We’d finish a match, travel by train at night to the next county and play again.”

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 Sonny Ramadhin (left) and Alf Valentine tormented England in the summer of 1950. Photograph: Jimmy Sime/Getty ImagesSonny Ramadhin (left) and Alf Valentine tormented England in the summer of 1950.

“The first time I really had a drink was when we went to India on a ship and Frank Worrell said to me: ‘Sooner or later you’ll have to drink so better start now.’”

Worrell, the first black captain of West Indies, became a close friend after they both settled in England but died aged 42 in 1967. After the death of the batsman Everton Weekes at 95 last week, Ramadhin is the last man standing from the sides who met in 1950.

“We had the three W’s, Worrell, Weekes, Walcott. Their hardest man to bowl at was Len Hutton. He was very hard to get out. Fantastic player. He never picked me but he played me off the wicket.”

During that colonial era in the British West Indies, racial hierarchies persisted. The captain was always white. On this tour, Goddard and other white players such as Jeffrey Stollmeyer were high up the batting order but Ramadhin remembers a unity. “We went out and played as a team.”

Sonny Ramadhin thought he would be dropped for the second Test against England at Lord’s in 1950.
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 Sonny Ramadhin thought he would be dropped for the second Test against England at Lord’s in 1950. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

He broke a significant colour bar himself, becoming the first man of Indian origin to play for West Indies. “I felt very proud, because Indians didn’t have much chance in those days. It was only white or black players, but I opened the doors. After me there were a lot of good ones who made it. You know, Indian people we use our fingers to eat. A friend told me: ‘When you go to dinner, watch what the others are doing with their knife and fork and do the same.’”

Ramadhin’s parents, descendants of indentured labourer grandparents brought from India to Trinidad’s plantations, worked the sugarcane fields of the Picton estate but died suddenly when he was two, leaving him to be brought up by his uncle and grandmother. At school he was fearful of regular corporal punishment. He skipped school to avoid the beatings, swimming and catching crabs instead, and returned to education only when the teacher who tormented him had left. 

It was in this rural setting that his natural talent blossomed. “Cricket was in our blood. Everyone played cricket, nothing else. We played in the middle of the road with rubber balls.

“When I was 13 I worked on the Palmiste estate and the overseer would send me at about three o’clock to prepare the cricket pitch. At about four o’clock, the secretary would come and put a penny on the wicket to bowl at him and we used to be there hours and hours bowling. He didn’t give out for lbw or caught, we had to hit the wicket [to win the penny]. I think that’s where I got my ability to bowl straight at the stumps.”

After playing inter-departmental cricket he was called up to trials for Trinidad in 1948 at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain. A year later, after impressing in a game against Jamaica, he was selected for West Indies. After several tours he settled and married in England, playing for Lancashire and minor league sides before the pressures of playing while running a pub with a wife and two children took its toll.

His wife, June, and daughter, Sharon, have both died in recent years but his son, Craig, still lives nearby and he regularly sees his grandson, the former Lancashire cricketer Kyle Hogg.

“I loved bowling on English wickets,” he says. “I was brought up on matting. Pitches were hard in the West Indies, not like here. In England, if you get a little dampness the ball turns square.”

Arthritis has forced him to abandon his second love, golf, but he remains sharp of mind and looking forward to the England-West Indies Test series.

“England probably have the advantage. If the ball starts swinging, I’m not sure West Indies can cope with that. Jason Holder seems to be the right captain but they haven’t got a genuine spin bowler.” And as West Indies’ second-highest wicket-taking spinner of all time, that is a statement he is well qualified to make.

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Comments

  • Yonette Felicity Thomas  On July 8, 2020 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you for this! I heard my parents talking about this and now I get to reminis about it all. I love Guyaneseonline. Keep up the excellent reporting!!

  • Francis Farrier  On July 8, 2020 at 6:39 pm

    As a young boy, I enjoyed listening to this calypso about those two West Indian Test Cricket heroes, “Ramadhin and Valentine”. Thanks for featuring it here.

  • Chris  On July 12, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    West Indies played and beat England by 4 wickets in front of an empty stadium in the first of three Tests. But it looked really strange without fans.

    The second Test begins on Thursday in Manchester. Blackwood batted intelligently to steer West Indies home but unfortunately fell just 5 runs shy of a century. The bowlers did well, particularly Gabriel and Holder.

    Maybe it’s the beginning of a comeback to prominence,

    Chris

  • wally n  On July 12, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    I remember as a kid someone saying Ramadhin used unbuttoned long slevees to hid the spin action….never a big cricket fan, like not love….of course this was before RACISM stepped in????????

    • Chris  On July 12, 2020 at 3:39 pm

      Brother, you need to brush up on history. There was always racism in cricket. In the centuries before West Indies were admitted into the elite white man’s club and Test cricket on the Islands, a black man was only allowed to watch from the sidelines. On occasions when the ball was struck high and far outside the boundary, the players would ask the black spectators to retrieve the ball and throw it in.

      When they saw how powerful and accurate the black man’s arm was, they were impressed. Then one day a team was short a couple of players and decided to ask the black spectators to come over and put on whites. It was the foot in the door.

      But they were not allowed any prominent roles. They were only allowed to field and bat at #s 10 & 11. And when they needed runs and the game was on the line, the black fill-ins held their end and made runs in a stylish manner. The white elites could not believe their eyes.

      As time went by, the black substitutes were promoted in the batting order and their team started to win. The black players become stars.

      The same thing played out when West Indies were allowed to play Tests starting in 1928. Only whites were allowed to captain. All that changed in the 1960/61 tour of Australia when Frank Worrell was named captain. He turned out to be a great captain. But, sadly, his life was cut short by cancer at 42.

      So my friend, there was always racism.

      Chris

  • wally n  On July 12, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    HI YOU….. At that time I me me me was totally unaware… you genius … knew all of that i did not that’s all lets leave it there OK

    • Chris  On July 12, 2020 at 5:54 pm

      Good win. But when I look at the roster there is not a single Guyanese on the team from a once proud cricketing nation.

      Chris

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