CRICKET: West Indies-England Test series misses chance to honour the great Learie Constantine

West Indies-England Tests will now be known as the Richards-Botham series, but it would have been an opportunity to pay tribute to a man whose biggest influence came off the field – Learie Constantine

Learie Constantine was a West Indies international in the 1930s, and went on to become a barrister and member of the House of Lords.

Learie Constantine was a West Indies international in the 1930s. He went on to become a barrister and member of the House of Lords. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

at Old Trafford. Published onFri 24 Jul 2020 – The Guardian        

So I wrote that they ought to scrap the Wisden Trophy and cast a new one in Constantine’s honour.

A few days later, Mike Atherton picked up on this idea in the Times. He thought the Wisden Trophy could do with a new name too, one that better reflected the series’ rich history. Constantine would be a good choice, or, if not that, then how about Botham-Richards Trophy? The England and Wales Cricket Board and Cricket West Indies agreed. So from now on England v West Indies will be the Richards-Botham series. Which is how, just under a month later, an idea that was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement has ended up, instead, with Botham marking the occasion by giving an interview in the Daily Mail in which he explains that he believes “all lives matter”.

This just a couple of weeks after Michael Holding’s brilliant speech during the first Test in which he said: “When people reply to me saying ‘all lives matter’ or ‘white lives matter’ , please, we black people know white lives matter – I don’t think you know black lives matter. So don’t shout back at us about: ‘All lives matter.’ The evidence is clearly there that white lives matter. We want black lives to matter now.” It’s why the players from both sides are wearing a Black Lives Matter logo on their shirts, and why, before the start of every Test, they, and the umpires, have taken the knee together.

Botham obviously wasn’t persuaded.

Well, the game contains multitudes. It doesn’t belong to the one side or the other, whichever one you’re on. The way Botham explained it in the Mail was “I don’t care if a guy comes from Mars and he’s blue. It’s the person you meet and bond with.” That’s his creed, and there are plenty worse. And Richards, grudgingly, it seemed, agreed with him.

Ian Botham and Viv Richards after the third Test match in Barbados back in 1981.

Ian Botham and Viv Richards after the third Test match in Barbados back in 1981. Photograph: Getty Images

By picking Botham and Richards the ECB and Cricket West Indies have, at least, done something to reflect the way the game brings different people together. It’s not just a celebration of two of the game’s great players, and of one of its greatest friendships. A friendship Botham felt so strongly about that he cited it as one of his reasons not to take up a lucrative offer to go on a rebel tour to apartheid South Africa, a friendship which would, in the end, cause him to walk out on Somerset in protest at the way Richards and his other West Indian teammate, Joel Garner, had been treated by the club.

They were rivals too, of course, though that side of their relationship, unlike everything else about it, was pretty one-sided. They played 20 Tests against each other, Richards’ West Indies won 13 of them, Botham’s England just one. So perhaps the trophy could show Richards hooking him for six.

There is a blue plaque on the wall of his house in Nelson, where he lived for nine years while he was playing in the Lancashire leagues. And there is a bust of him in the National Portrait gallery. But there isn’t a statue of him anywhere, not at Lord’s, and not at the House of Lords. Well, when better to put a new one up than now, in a year when we’re tearing old ones down?

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