Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Story of historic firsts of West Indian cricket

Published:Sunday | July 26, 2020 | 12:16 AMJohn Stevenson - Contributor
1973 and Me: The England vs West Indies Test Series and a Memorable Childhood Year
1973 and Me: The England vs West Indies Test Series and a Memorable Childhood Year

As the rescheduled 2020 West Indies Test tour of England proceeds in extraordinary circumstances, we should not forget 1973, a year of firsts for the regional team.

It was the team’s maiden Test victory against England after losing in Test matches played between 1968 and 1973. It was a year that saw the West Indies captained for the first time by Rohan Kanhai, an Indian-Guyanese right-handed batsman. The year also heralded the Test debut of Ron Headley, son of the legendary batsman, George Headley.

Colin Babb’s 1973 and Me: The England vs West Indies Test Series and a Memorable Childhood Year (Hansib, May 2020) is a successful attempt at seamlessly combining memoir, British and Caribbean socio-political context, music and football (Babb has been a lifelong supporter of Leeds United Football Club) into an entertaining package.

WELCOMING THE VISITORS

For Babb, born in England to Guyanese and Barbadian parents, the sight of friends and relatives huddled around the family’s brand-new colour television – purchased specially to watch the 1973 Test Series – provided an eye-opening initiation into the power of sport to draw a community of Caribbean islanders tightly together.

With the rise of Far-right, fascist and racist groups such as the National Front in the 1970s (reacting to increasing numbers of highly visible Caribbean and Asian immigrants to England) and escalated levels of racial abuse, the Caribbean community rallied around the West Indies cricket team, welcoming the visitors in strong numbers by attending the Tests and one-day games with customary carnivalesque abandon.

He devotes captivating chapters to each of the three Tests in the Series: the First Test at The Oval (London) from July 26 to July 31; The Second Test at Edgbaston (Birmingham) from August 9 to August 14; and the Third and final Test (at Lord’s London) from August 23 to 27.

In 1973 and Me, Babb speaks to a number of West Indian cricketing greats including Lance Gibbs, Vanburn Holder, Alvin Kallicharan, and Deryck Murray about the Test series in question. He also engages with the broader developments of that year, musing intelligently on Britain’s entry into the erstwhile European Common Market; the movement towards greater Caribbean economic unity with the founding of CARICOM; the ITV Network’s popular show ‘Love Thy Neighbour’; and toad-in-the-hole, one of his English friend’s favourite meals.

Not to be missed are the penetrating Q&As with Harold ‘Dickie’ Bird, Colin Grant on Bob Marley & the Wailers in 1973, and an insightful appreciation of Inshan Ali by Deryck Murray.

Babb’s witty turns of phrase endear and enchant, describing life in and around his first-floor housing association home in Streatham, including neighbourhood playmates and characters such as ‘Fusspot’and the ‘Show-Off Boys’.

Some readers, however, may be disappointed at the absence of any photographs of the author within the book.

These images could have offered a greater substantive frame of reference for his not insubstantial addition to the annals of cricketing exploits of the West Indies team.

Babb has worked for the BBC as a radio producer, website producer, broadcast journalist, and as a photographer in the Caribbean for education book publishers. He has been a guest on television in Guyana and radio in Barbados and Grenada. He has made appearances as a guest with the BBC Test Match Special Radio cricket commentary team.

In 2015, Babb published They Gave the Crowd Plenty Fun: West Indies Cricket and its Relationship with the British-Resident Caribbean Diaspora (Hansib).