West Indies cricket, 50 years ago
Fifty years ago, January 27, 1966, West Indies cricket came of age, fully of age.
It was the first day of a regional competition, a competition that provided regular, though limited, competition of four matches per team on an annual basis, and a competition that undoubtedly lifted West Indies cricket into the company of cricket in England, Australia, South Africa, and India.
Half a century ago, the Shell Shield was founded, and it signalled the start of the rise of West Indies cricket to the top.
The West Indies started playing Test cricket in 1928, they made their presence felt for the first time in 1950 by beating England in England, in 1966, they had their first official and regular tournament, and by the 1980s, the West Indies were the undisputed champions of the world.
Today, they are nowhere to be found, not anywhere near the top. In fact, near to the bottom of the ladder.
Fifty years ago, following the illustrious careers of players like Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Sonny Ramadhin, and Alfred Valentine, the Shell Shield arrived in time to complement those of great players like Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Seymour Nurse, Basil Butcher, Conrad Hunte, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Lance Gibbs, Jackie Hendriks, and Deryck Murray.
And it stayed around to herald the coming of champions such as Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharran, Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Bernard Julien, Keith Boyce, Richie Richardson, Malcolm Marshall, and Jeffrey Dujon, to name a few.
The regional competition started as the Shell Shield, it lasted until 1987 before it changed several times to include the Red Stripe Cup, the President's Cup, the Busta Cup, and the Carib Beer Series to the present Professional Cricket League of the West Indies.
It started with Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and the Combined Islands before teams from faraway places like England and Kenya were invited to participate.
The regional competition, which was won by Barbados on 12 occasions in its time as the Shell Shield, was rated by many as the best first-class cricket competition in the world because of the quality of its players and the level of its competition, especially in its early years.
The first regional match, known as the Shell Shield, was played between the Combined Islands and Jamaica on January 27, 28, 29, and 31 at the Antigua Recreation Ground in St Johns, Antigua, and it was a draw.
It was a match in which opening batsman Teddy Griffith, playing for Jamaica, made 150 runs, the first century in the competition, opening batsman Easton McMorris scored 134 in the second innings, the first of three successive centuries, including 127 not out, out of 236 all out against Trinidad and Tobago, and 190 versus Lance Gibbs and Edwin Mohammed of Guyana.
Over the years, there have been huge scores, such as the Leeward Islands 718 for seven against Kenya in Antigua in 2004, Guyana's 641 for five declared versus Barbados in 1967, and the Leeward Islands 613 for five declared against Trinidad and Tobago at the ARG n 1984, and low scores, such as Guyana's 41 versus Jamaica at Sabina Park in 1986, the Combined Islands 53 against Barbados at Warner Park in 1974, and 54 by the Windward Islands at Arnos Vale in 1968.
The Shell Shield, the Red Stripe Cup, or the President's Cup, whatever it was called, it served West Indies well, despite its many changes in scoring, which led to the result of the match between the Combined Islands and Trinidad and Tobago in 1975, according to the rules of the completion, ending as a draw instead of a tie, and robbed the Combined Islands of the title.
There is also its latest change to a franchise system, with, for example, Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, now known as the Jamaica Scorpions, the Barbados Pride, and the Trinidad and Tobago Red Force.
The late Allan Rae, a former president of the West Indies Board, said on the 21st birthday of the regional competition, "One only has to compare the performances of the West Indies team before Shell's involvement with the performances since that involvement to appreciate the force for good that the Shell Shield has been on our cricket."