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Too much distance

Richard Whitehead finds an imbalance of routine match reportage in this study of the Trinidadian who became a Lord

Connie: the Marvellous Life of Learie Constantine By Harry Pearson Little, Brown, HB, 356pp, £20

Learie Constantine’s status in the history of cricket in the Caribbean is incontestable. Alongside his team-mate George Headley and in later decades Frank Worrell and Clive Lloyd, his exploits helped to establish the primacy of the game in the region and forge the idea round the world of what the content and style of West Indies cricket entailed. That quartet inhabit a plateau somewhere above the scores of brilliant cricketers to emerge from the islands.

But Constantine was much more than just an extravagantly gifted, exuberant allrounder. In retirement he campaigned for racial equality in England, became a barrister and eventually the first black man to sit in the House of Lords. For the son of an overseer in a Trinidadian cocoa plantation, it was an extraordinary journey: a life that belongs as much in Hollywood as between hard covers.

Although he was at the forefront of West Indies’ first faltering steps in international cricket, he spent most summers as a professional with Nelson in the Lancashire League. From our perspective it is impossible to comprehend the impact of the arrival of a black man in a small provincial mill town in late-1920s Britain. Children peered in at the windows of his first lodgings; in the street he was asked whether his skin colour was the result of working in a mine, and there was hate mail among the letters of welcome he received.

That he became deeply loved and respected in the community – when he was ennobled he incorporated the name of the town into his title – was not just down to his prodigious sporting prowess but to his impressive humanity and the way in which he dealt with ignorance and prejudice.

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About The Cricketer Magazine

England’s greatest batsmen – we asked 27 experts to name their top 5, and collated the results. There are some fascinating choices! The superb Simon Barnes, with the best turn of phrase in sports journalism, on England’s year so far. The feisty Jarrod Kimber on the state of play in Australian cricket. The elegant and massively under-rated David Townsend on Adelaide Oval. A lovely piece on the greatness of Dennis Lillee, by Simon Hughes. A forensic look at the problems at Sussex, by the man in the know, Bruce Talbot.