Learie comes of age

The Cricketing Constantines

by Michael Anthony

Lebrun (1874-1942) Learie (1901-1971)

IT WAS around 1916 that the ability of the keen young cricketer began to flower. Not only did he develop into a hurricane batsman like his father, but his medium-to-fast bowling was very effective, and his fielding was extraordinary. Lebrun must have been effective, and his fielding was extraordinary. Lebrun must have been delighted that at this time when he himself had passed the high noon of his career, his 15-year-old son was bursting on the scene.

Just around this period, Lebrun, after leading Maraval Cricket Club for some years, seemed to have taken over the leadership of a new club, Shannon. This club was then in the second division but in 1920 it was promoted to the first division. Learie appears to have played his first season for Shannn in 1921.

There he did not lack for inspiration, for apart from his own father, there was his uncle, Victor Pascall, one of the finest show bowlers in Trinidad at the time.

Learie started excelling in all three departments of the game-bowling, batting and fielding-and he quickly gained the reputation of being the best all-rounder in Trinidad.

But it was specifically his batting that electrified. Few were the dull moments when he was at the crease, for he could always be depended upon to lift the ball high beyond the boundary. His bowling and fielding gave a great boost to Shannon in the Bonanza Cup Cricket competition and he was such a success that he was chosen to play for Trinidad in 1922.

That year, 1922, was most interesting because as Learie was walking into the Trinidad team, his father was just about to say goodbye to it. Trinidad, Barbados and British Guiana during October 1922, and both father and son were selected for the match against Barbados. This match happened to be Lebrunís last, for at 48 he felt he had had a long day.

But it was a historic match for the two Constantines for it was the first time father and son had played in the same match for Trinidad.

(This has not happened since, and it is believed that in first class matches it was also the first time father and son had played in the same representative match anywhere in the West Indies).

Learie continued to shine in the Bonanza Cup competition and his achievements speak for themselves because after only two years of first class cricket-1921 and 1922-and one appearance for Trinidad (1922), he was selected for a West Indies cricket tour of England in 1923.

The tour of 1923 confirmed Learie as one of the best all-rounders of the day, and together with a few players like George Challenor and Joe Small, he emerged as a hero of that West Indies tour. The disastrous cricket tour of England of 1928-the year Test status was granted to the West Indies-did not diminish him in the eyes of the experts. When England toured the West Indies in 1935, he performed brilliantly, especially in fielding, and in that bizarre tour of 1939, abruptly interrupted by the Second World War, Learie was again in full cry and he was already 38.

The lull in international cricket during the Second World War brought an end to the career of Learie Constantine, and when the West Indies played England again (in 1948) Learie did not play.

If he had played he would have fallen one year short of Lebrunís age when Lebrun retired from first class cricket: 48.

Then came the famous West Indies tour of England in 1950 and when in the second Test match the West Indies team did what it had not done in 50 years, beat the best in England (and not only that, but beat England at Lords), it was a heady, emotional moment for Learie Constantine.

He was overwhelmed and almost moved to tears. Thinking not of himself but of Lebrun, who had struggled for a day like that, he blurted out: "I wish my father was alive."

The debt which West Indies cricket owes to this father and son, Lebrun and Learie Constantine, is not easily put into words, and this is why special tribute is paid to them as the century closes. They were the biggest cricket names that shared the first half of our 20th century, and even at the end of the second half their names are not forgotten.

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