How the West Indies revolutionized cricket

Back in the day’s of my childhood, air travel was not the norm and cricketers used to travel to other countries by ship. Sri Lanka was fortunate in that it was a convenient port of call for ships that were traversing the Indian Ocean so those carrying the English, Australian, and West Indies teams would stop for a day in Colombo on their way to and from Australia. Unlike the other cricket playing nations, the West Indies team was not made up of players from a single nation but from a confederation of 15 English-speaking countries in the Caribbean.

While the ship was docked, the visiting teams would play one-day exhibition games against the best of the locals. Sri Lankans were crazy about cricket but in those days we were nowhere close to being on a par with these teams and the games were not really a contest but a show put on by the visitors with the local team playing bit parts.

kanhaiThe West Indians were the most popular touring team. The tourists knew that Sri Lankans came to see great players like Frank Worrell, Gary Sobers, Wesley Hall, and Rohan Kanhai and they delighted in giving the sell-out crowds something fun to see, such as the diminutive Kanhai demonstrating his trademark hook shot for six which ended with him flat on his back. I have not seen any other player do that. Unfortunately I could not find a video of him doing it but here is a still photo of how that shot would end.

The West Indians were showmen and played the game with a zest and exuberance and flamboyance. Before their rise, cricket matches were somewhat staid affairs. But they brought life to the game both on the field (in terms of cricketers who were unafraid of being unorthodox and imaginative) and off the field, with spectators dancing in the stands and singing calypsos even in the hallowed Lord’s cricket grounds in London, shocking those who were more used to its normal Downton Abbeyish sense of decorum. One of the most popular songs was the calypso Cricket, lovely cricket that heralded the achievement of the spin duo Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine in helping West Indies destroy England at Lords in 1950, giving them their first ever win in England.

I think one has to credit the West Indians for the surprising and increasing worldwide popularity of the game today. They went on from strength to strength, peaking in the two decades from the mid-60s to the mid-80s where they dominated the game with great batting and fiery fast bowling. They are currently in a slump but one hopes they will rise again.

They undoubtedly were inspiring for young cricketers in the Asian sub-continent. I never imagined that I would see in my own lifetime Sri Lanka being on a par with the mighty West Indies.


  1. says

    1980 WI tour of England was the first test series I remember, but my love of cricket was sparked by the 1984 “black wash” tour. Some very pompous old farts in the England cricket establishment were made to look very sheepish.

  2. Brian E says

    Growing up I remember Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, et. al. destroying the Aussies at home and with such flair and nonchalance. Later came Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Richie Richardson, Brian Lara etc to repeat the dose. I too hope they rise again.

  3. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    Why do you think so many countries are fascinated with team sports brought to their shores—American baseball in Japan and Latin America; European Football in Africa and Asia; and Cricket in Pakistan, Sir Lanka and the Caribean—by invading powers?

    Does Sri Lanka have an indigenous team sport? Are Team Sports a product of the West?

    Do all you can to make today a better day,


  4. Mano Singham says


    Sri Lanka has indigenous team sports that used to be played in the villages using rudimentary equipment. I suspect that team sports are universal and timeless and not the products of the west, though those are the ones that dominate now.

    In Sri Lanka, cricket (and rugby and to a lesser extent soccer) became popular because the schools established by the missionaries adopted the practices of English schools. Since these schools were attended by the children of the local elites, these games were the ones that became popular.

  5. jockmcdock says

    jeff and mano

    I wonder if (at least in the case of the English) it was because they had standardised rules. Rugby was played with the same rules no matter where it was played. The same with football/soccer. etc etc I believe not so long ago, schools such as Rugby and Eton all played various ball games but they couldn’t really play against each other because the rules at one school differed significantly from those at another school and neither school wanted to play the “other” game. So, the schools got together and tried to come up with some rules that everyone could agree on. Even this wasn’t a complete success as some schools wanted to essentially eliminate the use of the hands (soccer) while others wanted to continue the use of the hands (which is why Rugby is called Rugby)

    The rules of cricket have changed over the years, but they have been fairly consistent at any particular time. There have been some relatgively minor differences between countries e.g. 8 ball overs in Australia, 6 balls in the rest of the world. And, of course, the Oz vs NZ underarm incident mentioned on another thread. But standardised rules meant Sri Lanka could play India (for example).

    This is my theory. I’d like to hear from our American friends as to whether this was possibly a factor in the spread of baseball.

  6. jockmcdock says

    Brian E

    those WI teams were absolutely phenomenal. The bowling was terrifying and after we were bowled out, we had to try to get batsmen like Lloyd and Richards out.

    I still think Malcolm Marshall’s run-up and delivery was the best I’ve ever seen.

  7. Mano Singham says


    I have heard so much about Malcolm Marshal. My great regret is that his playing days coincided with my ‘dark days of cricket’, when I was in the US and there was no internet so I missed watching the game. I have seen clips of Marshall on YouTube and I agree that he had a beautiful run-up and delivery.

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