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Connie The Marvellous Life of Learie Constantine By Harry Pearson

Release date: 03rd June, 2018
Publisher: Little, Brown

List Price: £18.99
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Those of us who vividly remember the menacing West Indies pace attack which almost destroyed English cricket in the 1970s did not shed too many tears when the roles were reversed at the start of the century. West Indies failed to win a Test match against England between 2000-17, a run which restored a modicum of Three Lions’ pride, although cricket fans began to crave some competition and were relieved when the visitors finally overhauled England at Headingly last year.

It could be argued that we may have missed West Indies’ fluctuating fortunes were it not for one man, Learie Constantine, or Connie, as he was affectionately known, after three thumping defeats in 1928 led Wisden to question whether they had been elevated to Test status too soon.

At first glance, Connie’s Test record appears ordinary: he took 58 wickets at an average of 30.1 and posted a batting average below 20, but cricket provided him with an unlikely platform, enabling him to tackle some of the racial barriers hindering black people during mid-twentieth century Britain. Connie would go on to receive a knighthood and take his seat in the House of Lords as the first black peer.

Such recognition would be enough for some folks, but Connie managed also to become an all-time great of the Lancashire League.

He was an extraordinarily powerful hitter of the ball as well as an outstanding fielder. Ironically, it was following that disastrous 1928 tour that Connie, one of West Indies’ rare successes, won a professional contract with Nelson, a small, cloth-manufacturing town in Lancashire, where he would spend nine seasons, becoming one of the highest-paid sportsmen in Britain.
Connie was a hit from the moment he arrived (there’s a blue plaque on the front of the house where he lived), a star attraction who drew record crowds to Nelson's and rival grounds.

If there’s an anomaly in Constantine’s career, it’s that he occasionally committed to club cricket instead of representing his country, although it’s worth noting that West Indies sides were often selected on the basis of which island was hosting a touring side.

Nelson, by contrast, embraced Connie and was free of internecine politics which affected the national team. In Nelson, Connie wrote, 'a cricketer is just a cricketer and nothing else’.
Constantine struggled to adapt to Trinidadian political life, although he continued to advocate Caribbean independence after returning to the UK where he contributed to a huge improvement in race relations. "The country we live in would be a much diminished place had he stayed in Trinidad," writes Pearson, a statement with which it’s difficult to argue.

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