In April 1933, just over a year after arriving in Britain, the young black Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James started work alongside Neville Cardus as a cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. According to Paul Buhle, James’s authorised biographer, this made James ‘the first West Indian, the first man of colour, to serve as cricket reporter for the Guardian,’ and indeed possibly the first black professional sports reporter in British history.
In Beyond a Boundary (1963), his classic semi-autobiographical cultural history of West Indian cricket, James recalled how Cardus’s ‘vivid darting style’ ensured ‘the Manchester Guardian held a unique position in the journalism of cricket’, which makes the appointment of a newly arrived black colonial subject like James to such a prestigious post even more remarkable. James recalled his time as a cricket reporter during the 1930s as ‘happy days’, noting that ‘if I were writing the usual type of cricket reminiscences I would have plenty to say’. For the Manchester Guardian, James covered all manner of games, but mainly was tasked with following Lancashire – a generally successful side in this period – around doing battle over the course of three days against other county sides. These included Glamorgan, about whom James would have doubtless heard much about from his compatriot and friend the great all-rounder Learie Constantine, with whom James had recently spent ten months staying with up in Nelson, North East Lancashire.
In late June 1934, James watched Glamorgan for the first time, as they lost to Lancashire up at Liverpool (the two sides having drawn earlier at Cardiff). It did not make for a particularly impressive start. Glamorgan having lost the toss on a wet pitch were put into bat and got off to a weak start. James noted ‘the enjoyment of a contest is destroyed when one side tumbles out for 62 and by three o’clock the other has done in front with the loss of only one wicket. As time went on the match became more and more mis-shapen’. ‘The Glamorgan batsmen got out to [Len] Hopwood in every variety of manner; played forward and were stumped, played the ball gently into short-leg’s hands, and hit it into long-on’s. Two were quietly bowled. Hopwood’s seven wickets cost but 13 runs’. Lancashire made 254 for four on the first day, and James noted ‘late in the afternoon, when the wicket was getting faster, a few balls from [Harold] Dickinson and [George] Reed emerged from the murky mediocrity of the Glamorgan bowling, but Glamorgan are in a bad way, as Lancashire are nearly two hundred runs ahead with half their wickets in hand’ (‘Hopwood’s Great Bowling Feat’, Manchester Guardian, 28 June 1934)
The next day, Glamorgan were once again put into bat and did slightly better this time around. ‘[Maurice] Turnbull played a curious innings of 35. His method in defence was not that of a Gentlemen of England player. The ball always seemed to catch him in the middle of his footwork, so that he had to stab at it. Often Hopwood’s leg-break slipped off the edge towards the slips; yet Turnbull used his feet confidently against Hopwood, getting to him not only to defend but to drive … when [Frank] Sibbles came on Turnbull drove him quite grandly to extra cover, and later, moving down the wicket, he drove Sibbles for two successive fours – the one behind, the other in front for a point. They were such strokes as only a real batsman makes, for Sibbles had most of his men on the leg side and Turnbull had to put the balls there … after Turnbull left Glamorgan did little, and the ninth wicket fell at 160’ (‘Lancashire rout Glamorgan’, Manchester Guardian, 29 June 1934).
The next season, James was able to watch both Glamorgan-Lancashire clashes, at Blackburn in early June 1935 and then – on his first visit to Wales – at Swansea in late July 1935. In the first encounter, held in very poor light, Lancashire batted first, facing impressive bowling from Reed, ‘a fastish left-hander’ and Jack Mercer who had ‘a vigour and purposefulness’. But it was a slow and laborious game, and James noted ‘at tea-time the score was 107 for two, and the little boys running on to the field for autographs gave a little life to the proceedings at last’. The first day ended 152 for four (‘Lancashire’s Quiet Batting’, Manchester Guardian, 6 June 1935).
The next day Glamorgan were in luck, as rain meant ‘the wicket was now a paradise for the bowlers’, as Lancashire batsmen fell fast, ‘dominated by the spinning and jumping ball’. Meanwhile James saw some ‘brilliant fieldsmen’ in display. After Lancashire managed to score 212 runs, Glamorgan came into bat briefly, before rain and then bad light stopped play, causing the match to end in a draw. Before the match ended, James reported that Turnbull had come in ‘exercising a captain’s privilege of facing the music’ and ‘his nine runs were made by courageous batting’ (‘Many delays at Blackburn’, Manchester Guardian, 7 June 1935).
In late July 1935, James travelled to Swansea to watch Glamorgan playing at home for the first time. Glamorgan were on form against a weakened Lancashire side, and in the first day Glamorgan fought their way from 62 for five to 249 ‘despite some brilliant fielding and fine catching’ meaning ‘the match is now open and will probably be fought to a bitter finish’. James described how Dai Davies ‘hit [Frank] Sibbles fairly hard and low to square-leg; Hopwood, expelled from the slips from frequent delinquencies, sprang sideways, bent low, and picked up a brilliant one-handed catch. The Glamorgan crowd gave the catch round after round of applause.’
Glamorgan’s batting rallied as ‘[Cyril] Smart and [George] Lavis put on 105 runs in 50 minutes by sound and composed batting and brilliant strokes all around the wicket’. ‘Smart is a hitter; he lifts the ball when he wants, but he always drives down the line and not across it’, while Lavis was ‘a bowler by profession, a batsman by nature’ made 95 before being caught having ‘hit thirteen fours in just over two hours’. ‘Assuredly more will be heard of Lavis; his play in defence and the range and timing of his strokes were too much sound to be merely a flash in the pan’. Overall, ‘Glamorgan made 249, and deserved every one’, while Lancashire ended the day on 116 for three (‘Lancashire’s Splendid Fielding’, Manchester Guardian, 25 July 1935).
The next day while ‘Glamorgan fielded brilliantly’, Lancashire managed to take their total to 265 thanks in large part to Frank Watson scoring 94 before being run out, so a 17 run lead overall. Once again Glamorgan were thankful for Smart’s batting which racked up the runs, the day ending with him on 65 not out and ‘is in such form and so much master of the bowling’ hitting a number of sixes (‘Lancashire Tormented by Smart’, Manchester Guardian, 26 July 1935). On the final day of the Glamorgan-Lancashire match at Swansea, Smart continued his batting in style on the final day, making 79, ‘a wonderful piece of batting’:
[Smart’s] drive is unique, along the ground, lifted over the infieldsmen, or lifted over the boundary at will, and his bat is always swinging down the line of the ball. The wristwork of his backplay is equal both to sudden twists and rises from the pitch and to a forcing stroke to the ring past cover. As he has shown us in this match, he can play either game, fast or slow, as it suits him, and with his good slow bowling and fine fielding he is good enough for any side.
Glamorgan had forced Lancashire to now need 178 to win, and despite getting Watson out early were foiled by an impressive partnership of Cyril Washbrook and Buddy Oldfield who put on the 97 required at that point in 75 minutes, with seven wickets to spare. Nonetheless, despite their defeat, James concluded that overall ‘Glamorgan are worth going to see’.
Smart is a player of exceptional originality and excellence. Turnbull and [Johnnie] Clay have assured reputations, Lavis is a most delightful stroke player, [Tom] Brierley is a vastly improved wicket-keeper. Some time ago it was suggested that Glamorgan should be sent down from first-class county cricket. Many clubs deserve that distinction more than Glamorgan do, and other counties should rush to make fixtures with them, not only for the sake of gates but in recognition of players for whom the game remains a game. (‘Fine Cricketers seen at Swansea’, Manchester Guardian, 27 July 1935).
by Christian Høgsbjerg (University of Brighton)
For more on James’s cricket writings in the Manchester Guardian from 1933-35, see Christian Høgsbjerg, ‘“What would an Athenian have thought of the day’s play?” C.L.R. James’s early cricket writings for the Manchester Guardian’, Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 52, 3 (2016).