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England’s greatest-ever touring XI in the Caribbean

by Calum Trenaman 7 minute read

Calum Trenaman picks England’s greatest-ever touring XI in the West Indies.

England and West Indies first met on the cricket field in 1928, in the latter’s first-ever Test series, which ended in a 3-0 loss, while the inaugural Wisden Trophy was won by England in 1963. When the trophy was first contested in the Caribbean in 1968, Ray Illingworth’s England team triumphed, but it would be the last time England would get their hands on the Wisden Trophy for 31 years.

The seventies and eighties were a golden age of West Indian cricket, with a devastating speed battery including Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner, combined with the powerful batting talents of Sir Viv Richards and one of the most successful captains of all-time in Clive Lloyd.

When these stars faded, others emerged in the shape of Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Brian Lara, who entered the world stage in England’s tour of the West Indies in 1994. Two months later, Lara would break the first-class batting record by scoring an undefeated 501 for Warwickshire.

West Indies captain Brian Lara holds the Wisden Trophy, Antigua, March 24, 1998

Fast-forward another then years and Lara would score a Test world-record 400 not out against England in Antigua, but the new millennium brought fresh hope for England, who began to dominate until West Indies regained the trophy in 2009 with a 1-0 home win. The last time these two sides met in the Caribbean, in 2015, produced a 1-1 draw, with Jimmy Anderson claiming the Player of the Series award for his 17 scalps.

Below we have selected our greatest England XI based on performances in the West Indies – and it’s a tasty line-up, even if some players were on the receiving end of a pasting.

1. Len Hutton

A fighter even at the most difficult of times against the West Indies. His finest hour came in 1954 when, aged 37, he led England’s recovery from 2-0 to draw the series 2-2 with scores of 169 and 205 in the third and fifth Tests respectively, spending over 16 hours at the crease during those innings combined.

2. Geoffrey Boycott

England batsman Geoff Boycott looks on during the tour to the West Indies in 1981

Showed the grit and determination that many English batsmen lacked against fearsome West Indies bowling attacks in the 1970s and early 80s. Boycott batted for over 13 hours in Trinidad in 1974, scoring 99 and 112 off a combined 725 balls to help England pull off a remarkable win – a match where Tony Greig stole the headlines with his 13-156.

3. Dennis Amiss

Despite only playing five Test matches in the West Indies, Amiss made 663 runs at an average of 82.87. His career was defined by two great innings against the fearsome West Indies fast-bowling attack of the 1970s. One of them – his 262* to save the 1974 Kingston Test – prevented England from going 2-0 down in the series. They went on to draw the series 1-1.

4. Colin Cowdrey

Guyanan PM Forbes Burnham presents Colin Cowdrey with a set of stamps, April 1, 1968. Ken Barrington also pictured

While Fred Trueman described him as “a terrific talent who never fulfilled his potential”, Cowdrey’s average when he played in the West Indies is better than in any other country. He recorded four centuries, two in the 1960 tour and two in the 1968 tour. He dug in for 59 and 82 in the final Test of the latter, which helped England avoid defeat, thus securing a 1-0 series victory.

5. Ken Barrington

Barrington’s bravery was the stuff of legend against the bombardment of the 1960s West Indies bowling attack, who singled him out as their favourite victim of short-pitched bowling. He was hit repeatedly during the 1960 series, and in the fourth Test had to retire hurt after a blow to the elbow. However, he returned to the field of play soon after to help his team, despite being severely restricted. His 420 runs were invaluable in helping England win the series 1-0.

6. Tony Greig

England captain Tony Greig controversially said he wanted to make the West Indian players ‘grovel’

Statistically speaking, the best all-rounder for the job. Although Greig only played one series in the Caribbean, in 1974, the impact he had was immense. He made two centuries with the bat, along with career-best figures in the final Test where he amassed 8-86 in the first innings and 13-156 in the match. His off-cutters proved fruitful as he won the game for England to level the series at 1-1.

7. Jack Russell (wk)

Perhaps not a popular choice considering his relatively low Test batting average, but on pitches where bowlers routinely force the edge, Russell is the pick. He has more than double the dismissals behind the stumps than any other England keeper in the West Indies, with 37, including 36 catches, so the chances are he’d gobble up anything the opposition batters offered him off the bowling of the tail below.

8. Steve Harmison

Steve Harmison celebrates after dismissing Chris Gayle during the third Test in Barbados, 2004

No England bowler has a better bowling average in the West Indies. After suffering a crisis of confidence in the winter of 2003, Harmison came back the following year better than ever. His 7-12 at Kingston in 2004 to bowl the West Indies out for 47 is one of the great spells by an English bowler in the Caribbean.

9. Brian Statham

England’s turnaround of the 1954 series to fight back and draw 2-2 relied on Statham’s remarkable early spell of three wickets for 10 runs in the third Test. He was often overshadowed in his career by the faster  and more voluble Fred Trueman, but his invaluable 16 wickets in that series gets him the nod. He went on to be named one of Wisden’s 1954 cricketers of the year.

10. James Anderson

James Anderson successfully appeals for an lbw against Marlon Samuels, Bridgetown, May 2, 2015

England’s lack of regular tours of the Caribbean during Anderson’s career leaves his figures looking less flattering, but his 17 wickets in the 2015 series resulted in him claiming the Player of the Series award. His bowling average in the West Indies is lower than his career average of 26.98.

11. Angus Fraser

Fraser has 22 more wickets than any other England bowler in the West Indies, with 54. His two eight-fors are highlights in a much-maligned 1990s decade for the England team. His 8-75 in the final Test in Barbados helped restrict a talented Windies side to 304, breathing confidence into the rest of the team to go on and take their only win in a 3-1 series loss. The series was lost but Fraser kept fighting until the bitter end. This was his finest moment in an England shirt.

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