The England cricket team’s 1981 tour of the West Indies did not get off to an auspicious start. The night before the beginning of the first Test at Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, the Queen’s Park Oval pitch was sabotaged. The suspected culprits were supporters angered by the exclusion of Trinidad captain Deryck Murray from the West Indies team. Attendance at the match was also poor. British High Commissioner David Lane estimated that the ground was only 75% full for the opening two days, dropping to 15% for the remainder. Captained by Ian Botham, England eventually suffered an innings defeat. At least, Lane remarked, ‘the team created, I think, a good impression here for everything except the standard of their cricket’ (FCO 99/654).
The second Test at Georgetown, Guyana was due to begin on 28 February, 35 years ago this weekend. The only concerns about the match prior to England’s departure had focused on the availability of food and drink. A Foreign Office official provided reassurance about culinary issues, but pointed out that ‘it is not the practice for Diplomatic Missions to provide drink for the use of visiting parties’. Nevertheless, he relayed the consolation from the High Commission that ‘locally produced rum, gin and vodka, all quite palatable, are usually readily available’. In contrast, ‘the locally produced whiskey is not to be recommended’, and the party was advised to make full use of their quota of duty free scotch (FCO 99/654).
The decision to call-up Robin Jackman as a replacement for the injured fast bowler Bob Willis put the match in jeopardy. A fine county season in 1980 – for which he was later named as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year – had led to Jackman’s first Test call-up, at the age of 35. Although he did not play in the 1980 Centenary Test against Australia, he remained a logical addition to the England squad. The issue was that, in the absence of earlier international touring opportunities, Jackman had spent the British winters coaching and playing in South Africa and neighbouring Rhodesia.
Three days before the Georgetown Test was due to get underway, Britain’s High Commissioner to Guyana Phillip Mallet reported that ‘A squall has blown up over Jackman’. South Africa’s policy of apartheid was the subject of international outrage and efforts to isolate the country from sporting events. This was reflected in the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement, where Commonwealth leaders vowed ‘to combat the evil of apartheid by withholding any form of support for, and by taking every practical step to discourage, contact or competition by their nationals with sporting organisations, teams or sportsmen from South Africa’ (PREM 16/1883). Continue reading »