Monday, 14 February 2011

Valentine's Day

For cricket lovers everywhere, Valentine's Day is not about heart emblazoned cards sent by anonymous admirers, groaning though FB's letter box will be this morning with these very articles.  Far less is it about candle lit dinners and hands across the table. 

a high square on action
Instead it is the day inaugurated in memory of Alf Valentine, legendary W Indian left arm spinner whose feats during the 1950 tour of England live on in the annals.  Valentine was 20 when he was a surprise choice for this tour having played only 2 first class matches - in which he had taken a sum total of 2 wickets.  But he bowled himself into the team for the first test by taking 13 for 67 in the 2 innings of the final warm up match against Lancashire.  This turned out to be his best ever first class return.  He took the first 8 wickets, 5 of them before lunch on the first day. He finished with 8 for 104 in the innings, and 11 for 204 in the match off 106 overs. He was the first bowler ever to take 8 wickets in his Test debut innings.  Although England won that match, W Indies won the next three to give them their first series victory in England.  In all, Valentine took 33 wickets in the series at an average of 20.42.  He had a very economical action and was renowned for long spells.  In that series he bowled 422.5 overs, conceding only 1.59 runs per over.  Wisden identified him as one of the cricketers of the year in 1951.

Toiling at the other for much of these matches was another spinner Sonny Ramadhin.  This was a break through series for W Indian cricket and was also of huge political significance in the context of the post war rearrangements of the British Empire.  FB will not be the first who has observed that this Caribbean leap forward was based on a spin attack - not the unrelenting pace battery that would lead the W Indies on to world domination over the following decades.

In 1954 Valentine became the first West Indian to reach 100 Test wickets, in only his 19th Test.  But then the magic began to leave him and he completely lost any confidence or impact in his final Tests in 1957.  He died in Florida in 2004 at the age of 74.   He had found a role fostering kids in trouble with the law.

In 2009 the Alfred Valentine Peace Park was inaugurated in his honour near his birthplace in Spanish Town Jamaica.  Click this link to see a photo montage of that event - accompanied by the celebrated Victory Calypso - Cricket Lovely Cricket - composed following W Indies 1950 triumph.  This song contains the celebrated oft quoted line -   'Those little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine.'

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