| Clyde Walcott in India
Somewhere in cyberspace, there should be a website with the magnificently evocative URL: www.www.wi. This site would be concerned with the course and career of West Indian cricket in general, and with the course and career of three West Indian cricketers in particular.
There were some superb Caribbean cricketers before the three Ws. There was the white batsman, George Challenor, and the black fast bowler, George John, both recognized as authentically ‘great’ by their fellow West Indians. A little later, there were George Headley and Learie Constantine, whom even the white cricketing world came to recognize as great for their performances in and against England and Australia.
History, however, tends to reward and remember winners alone. However gifted they might have been, Headley and Constantine had the misfortune to play in sides that usually lost test matches by a hefty margin. On the other hand, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes and Frank Worrell, all played crucial roles in the first major cricketing victory of black over white — that of the West Indies over England, in England, in 1950. After losing the first test of that series, the touring side comfortably won the next three. In the first of these, at Lord’s, Walcott hit a matchwinning 168 not out while Weekes chipped in with a half-century in each innings; in the second of these, at Trent Bridge, Worrell hit a double hundred and Weekes a century; in the third of these, at the Oval, Worrell stroked another hundred. One reason for the emphatic victory of the West Indians was thus the collective batsmanship of the three Ws; a second, the artful slow bowling of those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine.
That the three Ws were spoken of together was not owed only to that common first letter of their surnames. It also had something to do with the fact that they were born so close to one another — in time as well as space. Worrell arrived in the world first, in August 1924; then Weekes, in February 1925; finally Walcott, in January 1926. And all were born in the same tiny island of Barbados.
The three Ws were principally batsmen, although they batted in different styles. Worrell was a graceful strokemaker, a master of the cut and the glide, and with much patience to boot. Walcott was all power, hitting hard off front foot and still harder off the back foot. Weekes was the best all-round batsman, who played with superb assurance against both fast and slow bowling, and on green tracks as well as dusty ones. At a time when cricketers and fans alike set less emphasis on records, Worrell averaged just under 50 runs an innings in 51 test matches, while hitting nine hundreds (he also took 69 wickets with his left-arm slow-medium stuff). At 56.68, Walcott’s career average was more impressive; he scored fifteen test hundreds, including five in a single series against the mighty Australians. Weekes had the highest average, 58.61; he likewise had fifteen centuries to his name.
In the winter of 1948-49, the West Indies became the first side to play test matches in India after this country became independent. Unlike us, the islands of the Caribbean were still under the colonial yoke; so, while we had an authentically subaltern captain, Lala Amarnath, they were led by a white gentleman, John Goddard. But their best players were black, among them Walcott and Weekes (Worrell did not come, as he was then finishing up a degree at Manchester University).
In this five-match series, the West Indies won one test, at Madras. Four tests were drawn, three in a humdrum manner. The last match at Bombay went right down to the wire. Set 361 to win on the last day, India made a brave fist of it. Rusi Modi, going in at number three, made a typically stylish 86. Then Vijay Hazare kept the middle and lower order going, helped by a useful contribution from Amarnath. When Hazare was finally out, for 122, India still needed 75 runs to win. That handsome all-rounder, Dattu Phadkar, hit out bravely, and although wickets fell at the other end, so long as he was in, the home side had a chance. With a minute-and-a-half’s play left, India were five runs short of the target, with two wickets still in hand. One ball of Goddard’s over remained, and there was surely time for another. At this moment, one of the umpires, for god knows what reason, took off the bails. What happened next was nicely described by an eye-witness, the boy-poet Dom Moraes:
“The players started looking after the umpires. Then suddenly the West Indians realized what had happened, and made a dash for the stumps. Phadkar and Ghulam Ahmed registered extreme incomprehension. Then the crowd broke into the field and flooded over the turf towards them…Phadkar, swept up by the crowd, was borne shoulder-high to the pavilion. That must have been a satisfying moment for him, but how much more satisfying it would have been had he made the winning run that Fate in the shape of an umpire’s mistake, denied him.”
So, well before Darrell Hair, an Indian umpire had ended a test match before its time was truly up.
In that series of 1948-49, both Walcott and Weekes batted brilliantly. In the first test, at Delhi, both hit hundreds. Weekes followed this with another century in the second test, and then one in each innings of the third. At this stage he had hit five hundreds in successive test innings. Going for a sixth, he had reached 90 in the first innings of the Madras Test, when he was run out by a throw from Bengal’s own ‘Putu’ Chowdhury.
As for Walcott, he hit another hundred in Calcutta and batted usefully in Madras and Bombay (he also kept wickets, as he was to do on that epic 1950 tour of England). My friend T.G. Vaidyanathan, who watched him bat in Madras, remembered his brute power, singling out a six off Vinoo Mankad, hit over the bowler’s head and off the back foot. He remembered, too, the exquisite cutting, square as well as late, of Everton Weekes. As for the third W, he came thereafter with successive Commonwealth sides, scoring runs aplenty, thus also leaving his mark on the collective consciousness of the Indian cricket fan.
Frank Worrell died tragically young, in 1967. With Walcott’s recent death, only Weekes remains. Now in his eighties, he too must not have much longer on this earth. With his fellows, he has left an imperishable imprint on the history of cricket. In their lifetime and after, the three Ws were known and revered in Guyana and Jamaica, England and Australia, and — not least — in India. But let me end with this (possibly apocryphal) story of a tribute paid them by their fellow Bajans. Once, a visiting Archbishop of Canterbury came to preach in Barbados. Plenty turned up to listen, for the island-nation is chock-full of devout Anglicans. “I have come here to talk of the three Ws,” said the archbishop, and a great cheer went up from the seats in front, accompanied by louder shouts from the rafters. “Yes, the three Ws,” he went on: “Work, Witness, and Worship.” The cheers were now replaced by a collective groan, as a long line of worshippers-turned-mourners made for an early exit.