Headley scores a century in both innings

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There was always a strong possibility that West Indies 1939 tour of England would be disrupted.

But the events most likely to cause this disruption were not the territorial ambitions of Nazi Germany but the machinations of the West Indies Cricket Board. The success of their previous England tour in 1933 had made stars of two younger players, batsman George Headley and fast-bowler Manny Martindale, and amplified the legend of all-rounder Learie Constantine. All three were now earning good money as professionals in the Lancashire League. More than a year before the tour, agreement was reached between the three players and the WICB, but unknown to any of them, Constantine had been offered better terms than the other two - £600 to their £500 for the whole tour. For Constantine and Headley, this represented less than they would have earned from another summer of league cricket, but it was the disparity that irked them. When they got wind of it, the tour came close to losing its three most popular players.

Perhaps Headley felt he had a point to prove to the administrators when he arrived at Lord’s for the first Test. It is difficult to see why his wages should have been second to anyone’s. Through the 1930s, only Don Bradman stood above him. He had a record of eight hundreds from 16 Tests and an overall average of 66.7. The first six times he had passed 50 in a Test match he had gone on to make a hundred.

The pitch at Lord’s was a good one, but England boasted a strong attack of Bill Bowes, Hedley Verity, young leg-spinner Doug Wright and debutant paceman Bill Copson. Copson claimed 5 for 85 on debut and had it not been for Headley’s brilliance, West Indies would have been in deep trouble. His 106 occupied almost five hours and took the tourists to 244 for 4. After he departed, they collapsed to 277 all out. Centuries from Len Hutton and Denis Compton took England to a lead of 127 and when West Indies resumed, Headley found himself walking to the wicket again after just five minutes as opener Jeff Stollmeyer having fallen without a run on the board.

The wicket was now beginning to wear, but although his colleagues failed to cope with it, nothing seemed to trouble Headley. The writer Neville Cardus once claimed that Headley was in fact superior to Bradman as he was a better player on poor wickets. Of this innings he wrote: “his batting was of such sure judgement and aim that if ever he edged a viciously spinning ball, he did so with the edge’s middle.” His innings of 107 came at a slightly faster rate than his first-innings 106, but with only eight boundaries. It made him the first batsman in history to score hundreds in both innings of a Test Match at Lord’s. It would also be the last Test century of his career. He was run-out when well-set on 65 in the final Test at the Oval; by then the storm clouds of war were already gathering over Europe.