History at Kensington

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With Kensington Oval very much in focus for the hosting of its 50th Test featuring West Indies and New Zealand in the third and final match, which started yesterday, there are countless memories and stories of fascinating performances and results at the region’s most revered ground.

History tells us that Kensington Oval was established in 1882 when Pickwick Cricket Club leased four acres of pasture land from Kensington Plantation and started to develop it as a cricket ground with a clubhouse.

The old Kensington Oval.
The old Kensington Oval.

Over the course of the next century, Kensington Oval would become Barbados’ premier sporting facility – and a fortress for the West Indies team.

The modern Kensington Oval.
The modern Kensington Oval.

There was always a special international touch. With the ICC World Cup in 2007 being awarded to the Caribbean, Kensington Oval was re-developed. It hosted the 2007 World Cup final as well as the final of the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in 2010. Its capacity is roughly 13,500.

As a boy, it was a venue I eagerly looked forward to visiting and hopefully playing at as well. Therefore, when I got an opportunity to represent my school Foundation in a BCA Intermediate division match against Pickwick way back in the 1970s, the feeling was very special. My teammates were also naturally excited to play there, if only to boast that they, too, touched the soil which so many great cricketers graced.

The first Test to be played in the Caribbean was hosted at Kensington Oval in 1930 against England and ended in a draw. Opener Clifford Roach’s 122 in that match was the first century by a West Indian in Tests.

The great George Headley made 176 in the second innings. It was the first century by a West Indian on debut.

Derek Sealy, a Barbadian, made his debut at age 17 years, 122 days in that Test. He was then the youngest-ever Test cricketer and still remains the youngest to have played for West Indies.

The statistics for Tests at Kensington show that West Indies have won 22, lost ten with 17 drawn.

Significantly, nine of those ten defeats were in the last two decades, as West Indies did not lose a Test at Kensington between 1935 and 1994.

In 1994, England won the fourth Test by 208 runs with their opener Alec Stewart creating a record by becoming the only batsman to score a century in each innings at the ground. He made 118 and 143.

Reflecting on Test matches at Kensington Oval, you are sure to hear about feats by sons of the soil including the world’s greatest ever all-rounder Sir Garfield Sobers.

My contemporaries like to discuss the triple century by Lawrence Rowe against England in 1974 when the Test was drawn. It was a truly high-quality knock and the fact that I was among those privileged to be present gives me even greater joy.

In response to England’s first innings total of 395 all out, West Indies closed the second day – a Thursday – on 83 without loss with Rowe on 48 and Roy Fredericks 24.

That 48 included a few classy strokes off the new ball pair of Geoff Arnold and Bob Willis and became such a talking point that one could hardly wait for the rest day – Friday – to pass.

Gaining entry into Kensington on the Saturday morning was a most testing and at times frightening experience. Some friends from my village in Christ Church ensured that we would all be inside the ground as early as 9 a.m. for the 11 o’clock start. Somehow we managed to ease in at the southern end without paying a cent.

As fans tried to occupy every available vantage point including the roofs of a couple stands, there were pleas at the ground and on the radio for them “to get down”. They all wanted to see Rowe.

And the elegant Rowe delivered. By the close West Indies were 394 for three with Jamaican Rowe unbeaten on 202. Guyanese Alvin Kallicharran made a fine 119 with 18 fours in a second wicket partnership of 249 with Rowe.

Rowe went on to score 302 in a total of 596 all out. He batted for 612 minutes, faced 430 balls and struck 36 fours and one six.

England made 277 for seven in their second innings.

One of the most memorable Tests was in 1999 against Australia when Brian Lara made 153 not out to spur West Indies to a one-wicket win in pursuit of 308 as they took a 2-1 lead in the fourth-match series. Scores were: Australia 490 and 146. West Indies 329 and 311 for nine.

West Indies went into the fifth and final day on 85 for three and were soon under pressure on 105 for five. Jimmy Adams made a fighting 38 in a sixth wicket stand of 133 before the score slipped to 248 for eight.

Curtly Ambrose (12) then kept Lara’s company in adding 54 for the ninth wicket. When Courtney Walsh joined Lara, six runs were needed for victory and amidst all of the tension as Walsh survived five balls, Lara hit the winning shot by driving fast bowler Jason Gillespie to the cover boundary.

Old-timers like to remind all and sundry of the fourth Test against Australia in 1955 when West Indies were struggling on 146 for six in reply to a first innings total of 668 before captain Denis Atkinson and fellow Barbadian Clairmonte Depeiza added 347 for seventh wicket. It was a first-class record for 40 years and is still the best in Tests.

Atkinson made 219 and also took seven wickets in the match including five for 56 in the second innings, while Depeiza scored 122 in a total of 510.

The one-off Test against South Africa in 1992 when West Indies won by 52 runs is yet another one which stands out. Played before empty stands as Barbadians boycotted over the omission of fast bowler Andy Cummins, the scores were: West Indies 262 and 283. South Africa 345 and 148.

Set 201 to win, South Africa closed the fourth day on 122 for two with captain Kepler Wessels on 74 and Peter Kirsten on 36. But after Walsh dismissed Wessels without adding to his overnight score, wickets tumbled like ninepins with Walsh and fellow pacer Ambrose bowling their hearts out. Ambrose took six for 40 and Walsh four for 31.

In 1997, West Indies beat India by 38 runs in the third Test after India were set just 120 to win. Scores: West Indies 298 and 140. India 319 and 81. Lara was the West Indies captain for the first time in the absence of an injured Walsh.

Traditionally, pitches at Kensington were fast and bouncy. Nowadays, they tend to a bit flat. Some critics say they are downright docile.

One of the most outstanding groundsmen was the late Livingstone “Boo” Medford. And there were two elderly gentlemen who “ruled” the scorebooks – Colin “Dixie” Deane and Darnley “Chick” Lucas, now both deceased.

Deane and Lucas took tremendous pride in their work with the former having a motto of “As good as but not better than”.

When reminded of Medford, Deane, Lucas and others who were well known at the “Mecca”, a veteran journalist in the Media Centre said today he has his own slogan for Kensington Oval – simply the best.


Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and international cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) championship for over three decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Holder is also the host of the cricket Talk Show, Mid Wicket, on the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation 100.7 FM on Tuesday nights.


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