When Wiltshire beat the West Indies at Cricket!
Yes, you did read the title correctly. For all you keen cricket lovers who have been following the ups and downs of the England cricket team, Alistair Cook’s batting form, Jimmy Anderson’s swing bowling and the furore over Kevin Pietersen’s omission from the team; well here at last is some cheering news. Unfortunately we do have to travel back to … 1900.
Cricket in Wiltshire actually dates back to the mid eighteenth century. Now we like to think we are a pioneering lot in Wiltshire and one of the earliest matches involved 11 married women versus 11 single women at Upham near Aldbourne in 1768. Other early matches include the tradesmen of Marlborough playing their counterparts from Devizes in 1774 on Beckhampton Down and several matches near Stonehenge. Around 50 years later a Stonehenge Club had been formed and their ground was much admired (now we know what the stone circle was really used for!). For fans of ‘sledging’ (for the uninitiated that means trying to put your opponent off through pointed and sometimes humorous verbal interaction) in 1783 a Westbury cricket team were reprimanded for ‘conduct unworthy of true players’ in their match against Devizes.
A county team is first mentioned in 1798 when Wiltshire played and defeated Bath at Devizes. Apparently a return match was marred when Bath, seeking revenge at all costs, hired several ‘first-class’ players from other counties, including an England player. By 1874 a county team was playing the MCC at Lords and won by an innings and 69 runs and Wiltshire County Cricket Club was founded in 1881.
In 1900, between 12 – 14 July, Wiltshire took on a West Indian touring side, said to have been weakened by having to leave some of their best players a home (Ok I admit to my Caribbean ancestry, but it is a genuine excuse). The West Indies side, as expected at that time, was mainly white, but contained two black professionals, Float Woods (Trinidad) and Tommie Burton (British Guiana), and three black amateurs Leburn Constantine (Trinidad), Fitz Hinds (Barbados) and Charles Ollivierre (St Vincent). They were on a tour of England on the invitation of Lord Hawke and played 17 matches around the country.
The match versus Wiltshire took place at Swindon and early reports suggested the game was heading for a draw. However, as the final scorecard shows, the match became dramatically one-sided. Wiltshire was on top form scoring 313 in their first innings, with HS Small scoring 71, O G Radcliffe 68 and A M Miller 62. By the end of the day the West Indies had scored 83 runs, but had already lost 3 wickets. Disaster for the tourists struck on day 2 when they were bowled out 120, with only Leburn Constantine offering any resistance, hitting 43 runs in 20 minutes. Worse was to come on the third and final day when the West Indies were bowled out for a paltry 93. It was a great performance by Wiltshire and regarded as the worst West Indies performance of the tour.
Across the whole tour the West Indies played 17 matches, won 5, lost 8 and 4 were drawn. It was said that although the tour was considered a success several counties fielded their weaker sides and the enterprise lost money. Things might have been better had the West Indies crucially not lost the toss in 12 of the 17 matches. It is not clear what the public made of the matches. Certainly it was less common to have several black and white players playing in the same team and the press, typically of that period, produced some racist cartoons and their reports also contained some racist caricatures. But overall the tour appears to have gone down well with the general public and one of the Black Cricketers, Charles Ollivierre, signed for Derbyshire and played for them over several years. Future West Indies sides, of course, eventually discovered a more effective way to take on English cricket teams …. play four very fast bowlers. Now that is cricket!
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