The year was 1950. Sonny Ramadhin, a prodigious, right-armed spin bowler of East Indian descent — the first player of his ethnicity to be chosen for the West Indies cricket team — was about to make history. At just 21 years old, the Trinidadian had recently made his test cricket debut on June 8 at Old Trafford cricket ground. Just 12 days later, his impressive teamwork with fellow spin bowler Alf Valentine, and the powerful batting of the legendary “three Ws” (Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott) would help usher in the West Indies’ first win against England at Lord’s. The team would go on to win the entire test cricket series, their first away from the Caribbean.
News of Ramadhin's death, on February 27 at the age of 92, hit cricket fans hard, as he was the last surviving member of that team. His grandson, Kyle Hogg, a retired cricketer himself, posted on Twitter:
Sad day – great innings grandad https://t.co/5Q04tNwagU
— Kyle Hogg (@kylehogg22) February 27, 2022
His cricketing career was a stellar one, with impressive statistics — 158 wickets in 43 tests matches — but no one, especially not London's West Indian immigrant community, would ever forget Ramadhin's sparkling debut. His bowling performance, in tandem with Valentine, even inspired a popular tune by Lord Beginner, “Victory Calypso,” which made mention of “those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine”.
On learning of his passing, Cricket West Indies president Ricky Skerritt offered condolences, calling Ramadhin “one of the great pioneers” of the sport in the region:
Many stories are told of his tremendous feats [as part of] cricket’s ‘spin twins’ [when] West Indies conquered England away from home for the first time. This iconic tour is part of our rich cricket legacy […] we salute Sonny Ramadhin for his outstanding contribution to West Indies cricket.
Part of Ramahdin's legacy as a pioneer lies in the fact that his presence on the team broke a colour barrier. In an interview with the UK Guardian in 2020, he said:
I felt very proud, because Indians didn’t have much chance in those days. It was only white or black players, but I opened the doors. After me there were a lot of good ones who made it.
From Guyana, the Berbice Cricket Board confirmed that Ramadhin had paved the way for other players of Indian ethnicity to have successful careers with the West Indies cricket team.
Trinidadian politician Tim Gopeesingh added:
[B]y his living example, he showed us all then, and now, how ethnic, geographic, religious and class differences can be overcome through hard work, discipline, motivation and a desire to be the greatest in your chosen field.
Shamfa Cudjoe, Trinidad and Tobago's minister of sport and community development, remembered Ramadhin as “a dominant force through his ability to turn the ball both ways”:
He has proudly represented this country and has inspired many cricketers and sports aficionados, both nationally and internationally. He was indeed a great cricket legend.
Ramadhin was born on May 1, 1929, in the southern village of Esperance. The son of Indian indentured workers, his parents died when he was just two years old, leaving him to be raised by other family members. By the time he was 13, he was working at the Palmiste sugar estate, where the overseer would, as the story goes, often give him the job of preparing the cricket pitch. This nurtured his love for the game and it was here that he honed his skills, eventually trying out for the West Indies team during trial runs in 1948; he was selected the following year. A park in the Palmiste area, where Ramadhin found his cricketing roots, has a statue in his honour.
Friends, colleagues and admirers remembered the great spin bowler as “humble and pleasant,” and ever passionate about the sport, even after he was dropped for Lance Gibbs in the middle of the West Indies’ 1960 test against Australia. Ramadhin's test cricket challenges, however, really began in June 1957, during a test against England, when the batting duo of Peter May and Colin Cowdrey used the era's leg before wicket (LBW) rules to their advantage by using their leg padding to drive away any deliveries they could not hit. The LBW rule was later changed, but it was the beginning of the end for Ramadhin, who never played for the West Indies again after that last tour of Australia.
He eventually married a British woman, June Austerberry, had two children and settled in England, where he continued to play county cricket. Upon retiring, he and his wife ran the popular White Lion pub in Delph, a town in Greater Manchester, where cricket enthusiasts would often seek him out.
In his later years, Ramadhin became president of the Friarmere Cricket Club, which tweeted upon his passing:
Rest in Peace Mr President the world has lost an absolute gentleman. No words can describe how much you meant to our little club.
— Friarmere CC (@FriarmereCC) February 27, 2022