Troubador A War to the Knife

Released: 28/06/2019

ISBN: 9781789017496

eISBN: 9781838599775

Format: Paperback/eBook

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A War to the Knife


The book tells the story of two test match series: England vs West Indies in 1933 and West Indies vs England in 1935. The England team was one of the best to ever play the game.  Their side including: Herbert Sutcliffe, Wally Hammond Harold Larwood and captained by Douglas Jardine had just battered Australia by 4:1 in the infamous bodyline series.

Australians though regarded the bodyline series as a travesty: what was supposed to be a gentle game for gentlemen had been turned into a struggle for dominance characterised by violence, intimidation and injury.

The West Indian team, made up of from the populations of Britain’s scattered possessions in the Caribbean and divided by race as well as island loyalties, seemingly, had little chance against Jardine’s juggernaut.  But cricket in the West Indies was more than just a game, the cricket field was a place where the island’s black population could meet their white compatriots as equals in competition, competitions they often won.  West Indian cricket was an exciting new thing, suffused with athletic excellence, passion, the desire for dignity and financial security. Could men like: Learie Constantine, Manny Martindale and George Headley take West Indian cricket out into the world and beat the best the British had to offer?

While the 1932-33 Ashes series will forever be known as the Bodyline series, it is often forgotten that fast leg-theory bowling existed before the famous tour, and continued afterwards. With this background, and in the context of a somewhat ambivalent relationship between the races in the British colonies in the West Indies, new author Richard Bentley (I have not come across his writing before) examines the 1933 West Indies tour of England and the 1934-35 MCC tour of the West Indies.
The 1933 tour of England was the British public’s first opportunity to witness Bodyline bowling since the Ashes tour, and although Constantine and Martindale on English pitches were not quite the same proposition as Larwood and Voce on Australian ones, it did give an insight into what had been going on at Adelaide. English opinion was divided – some felt it was an exciting development while others felt that cricket would become very dull if Bodyline bowling were to be the primary mode of attack. Richard Bentley examines each Test match and its play not only in the context of the cricket of the times but also against the backdrop of social and racial relations of the period.

Having briefly sketched the intervening period including the 1934 Ashes series, Bentley then proceeds to give an account of the 1935 series in the West Indies. This featured one of the most extraordinary Tests in history, when Jack Grant declared at to set England 73 to win in the final innings – and his gamble nearly paid off. Closely following this was the Test at Port-of-Spain, which West Indies won in the last over to square the series. Using sources such as Ken Farnes’s Tours and Tests and Bob Wyatt’s Three Straight Sticks, the author gives a vivid account of the final Test at, which was won under the stand-in captaincy of Learie Constantine, in the absence through injury of Jack Grant. England were also under a stand-in captain, Bob Wyatt having been hospitalised by a ball from Martindale. While race relations may have been poor at times, and West Indian cricketers sometimes faced attitudes that would now be considered beyond the pale, it is pleasing to note that Wyatt wrote to Martindale after the incident, assuring him that he apportioned no blame to him for his injury.

The book is independently published and at times the lack of an editor shows; the spelling, grammar and punctuation can be erratic (I hope Ian Peebles would have been amused at the misspelling of his name), and my personal preference is for ‘Test’ match and ‘the Ashes’ to be capitalised. But it is well organised and unlike some authors in this position Richard Bentley does not get too bogged down in digressions. His excursions – studies of Jardine, Martindale, Constantine, Herman Griffith – are always to the point and add to rather than distracting from the narrative.

by Richard Lawrence

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