Seldom in cricket history has the success story of a side been scripted by individuals with surnames beginning with a specific alphabet. The West Indies, as a cricketing side, is unique in that it does not represent any nation; instead, it represents a group of islands. Cricket helped the islands that form part of the West Indies to emerge out of the shackles imposed by the forces of colonial powers and develop self respect and pride. The development of cricket in these islands and the socio-psychological liberation of the people therein were made possible by the exploits of great players who turned out for this side and stirred the imagination of the lovers of the game world over by their exploits. Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes were giants who strode the West Indian cricketing arena during the period from late 1940s till early 1960s and they laid the foundations for a system where merit was respected and acknowledged, irrespective of the colour of the skin of the players concerned.
Worrell, Walcott and Weekes formed the Three Ws. The three right-handers formed the backbone of the West Indian batting during their playing days. They scored runs against opponents, irrespective of the conditions, in all parts of the world. All of them came from ordinary backgrounds but attained such stature that they were knighted by the Queen of Britain. Worrell went on to become one of the greatest captains the game has seen, Walcott became a top class administrator and Chairman of International Cricket Council (ICC) while Weekes represented Barbados in international bridge tournaments.
Worrell was first to depart, at the young age of 42 and Walcott passed away in 2006 at the age of 80. And in the week that went by, Weekes went to meet the maker at the grand old age of 95, which makes this a good time for remembering these all-time greats and paying tributes to them.
Walcott played in 44 Tests from 1948 till 1960, scoring a total of 3,798 runs with 220 as the highest score, at an average of 56.68. He started out as a wicketkeeper but gave up the big gloves towards the latter stage of his career and turned to bowling medium fast stuff, and even picked up 11 Test wickets. He was the hero when the West Indies recorded their first ever victory in Test matches in England in 1950 as his unbeaten 168 in second innings sealed the win. The 3-1 victory recorded by the visitors in that series became the stuff of legends and went a long way to popularise the game in the Caribbean islands. Walcott was also in the middle when Gary Sobers reached the landmark of 365 not out against Pakistan that remained in record books for the next four decades as the highest individual score in Test cricket before Brian Lara broke it in 1994 against England.
Ambassador of West Indies cricket
After his retirement from the game, Walcott served first as a selector from 1973 till 1988 and was manager of the West Indies side that won the ICC World Cup in 1975 and 1979. He became the president of the West Indies Cricket Board from 1988 to 1993 and after that took over as the first non-white president of the ICC in 1993. In between he also donned the role of match referee for a short span in 1992 and later on, conducted investigations into allegations of match-fixing on behalf of the ICC, before retiring from cricket administration in 2000. Thus, he lived a full life, dedicated almost entirely to cricket and remained popular with players and followers of the game till his death six years later.
Worrell was the first cricketer to rise to the level of a statesman. He capped a successful career as a batsman (3,860 runs in 51 Tests at a average of 49.48 and highest score of 261) by becoming the first ever non-white player to lead the West Indies. This followed a long campaign by followers of the game and writers of repute to change the practice of insisting that only a white player should lead the side. Such was Worell’s personality that he could ensure that this changeover took place without any rancour and Gerry Alexander, the last white captain, had no hesitation in playing under him. The first series that he led the side, against Australia in 1960-61, is still rated as among the best in the history of the game. Though Australia won the series 2-1, the quality of cricket played and the edge-of-the-seat excitement that the matches generated, won for both sides the respect of the spectators, so much so that the West Indians were given a civic reception and touching farewell at the end of the tour. Worrell led the side with a calm demeanour and amazing self assurance that helped the West Indians to hold their nerve during tense last moments of the match at Brisbane that produced the first ever tied Test.
Worrell led the side in 10 more Test matches. The West Indies blanked India 5-0 in the home series of 1962 and followed this by defeating hosts England 3-1 in the summer of the same year. When Nari Contractor, the Indian skipper, was hit on the head by a Charlie Griffith bouncer in a first-class match at Barbados and suffered fracture of skull that required an emergency surgery, Worrell was among the first to donate blood. After his retirement from the game, Worrell was appointed to the Jamaican Senate and also managed the West Indies side during the tours of Australia in 1964-65 and India in 1966-67. He was diagnosed as suffering from leukemia during the series against India and breathed his last in March, 1967.
Weekes was the most prolific run-getter of the three, with an aggregate of 4,455 runs in 48 Tests, at an average of 58.61, which places him at fifth position among batsmen who have played more than 30 matches. He holds the record for scoring five centuries in four consecutive Tests, out of which three games were against India. He might have reached the three figure mark in the fifth match as well, but for getting run out when 10 runs short of the landmark. He appeared to have a particular fascination for the Indian bowlers as his highest score of 207 was also made against them at Port of Spain, Trinidad, in January 1953. Her also scored two more hundreds in that series. He retired from the game at the relatively young age of 32 and later served as match referee during the 1990s.
Weekes hit just two sixes in his career that saw him play 81 innings in international cricket! He believed in playing the ball along the ground, a habit that was ingrained into him from his early days while playing on the streets when a lofted shot could result in paying the price of a damaged window pane! He was an absolute murderer of the short-pitched ball as he would play the pull, hook and cut shots with ferocious power. Australians, who played against the West Indies during this era, felt that he was the best batsmen among the Three Ws. After retirement, he took to playing bridge and attained such skills that he represented his country in numerous international tournaments. He used to follow all the international matches played around the world till his death, sitting up late, but never missing a ball; this was the extent of his fascination and commitment to the sport that had given him fame and prosperity.
The passing away of Weekes marks the departure of one more legend who adorned the game in an era when sport was played for fun and entertainment, principles of sportsmanship and fair play were the norm and happiness and goodwill were generated all around. He played cricket in the true spirit of the times and stayed a perfect gentleman till he breathed his last.
Rest In Peace, Sir Everton Weekes! Memories of your brilliance with the willow would remain in the minds of cricket lovers forever.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)