(‘Don’s Century’ is a book on the cricket career and life of Don Bradman, paying tribute to him in 2008, the year of his birth centenary. It is also a panorama of batting from the 1860s onwards featuring 35 of the greatest batsmen and discussing whether Don Bradman was indeed the greatest of them all).
In the six decades of uninterrupted cricket since the retirement of Bradman, and particularly after the proliferation of the game since the 1970s, several top-class batsmen have delighted spectators around the world. We shall briefly dwell on a chosen few, not necessarily for the runs they scored or the averages they achieved, but for their dominance, quality of strokeplay, elegance, courage, resilience in battling the odds and impact on the game.
There is no parallel in world cricket to the saga of the four Ws – Worrell, Weekes and Walcott of the West Indies. These great Barbados batsmen were born, remarkably, within a radius of three miles in a span of 18 months. They made their Test debut in the same series against England in 1947-48, which the West Indies won 2-0, and all three were knighted at various stages.
Frank Worrell was a calm, stylish strokeplayer, left-arm medium-pace swing bowler, and first coloured captain of the West Indies, rated among the great leaders, a true statesman of the game. Of his highest Test score of 261 against England at Trent Bridge in 1950, 239 runs were scored in a day. England were handed a 3-1 drubbing on home turf. Indeed Worrell sculpted six of his nine Test hundreds off the English bowlers in five different series at home and away, once carrying his bat for an unbeaten 191.
Worrrell became the only batsman in first-class cricket to be associated in two partnerships of 500 or more, both unbroken for the fourth wicket representing Barbados against Trinidad. In 1943-44, at 19 years the youngest to score a triple century, an unbeaten 308, he put on 502 with John Goddard. Two seasons later, he raised 574 with Clyde Walcott. Worrell was the odd man out among the three Ws in missing out on a Test average of 50. He came within touching distance, finishing at 49.48 per innings for his 3860 runs in 51 Tests.
The 1960-61 series in Australia, when Worrell took over the captaincy, was one of the most thrilling in history, not just for the first tied Test at Brisbane, but also for the competitiveness and wonderful spirit in which it was played. The West Indies lost 1-2, but were accorded a memorable farewell in an open motorcade. From here on, all series between Australia and the West Indies came to be played for the Frank Worrell Trophy. In 1963 his team gave a 3-1 thrashing to England, finally ending the hegemony of the two founder members of the Imperial Cricket Conference. Worrell’s untimely death in 1967, just after a memorable post-retirement tour to India, some of which comprised delightful moments in the commentary box, came as a rude shock to cricket lovers all over the world.
The diminutive Everton Weekes was a scintillating strokeplayer, quick on his feet and particularly strong on the off-side. He scored hundreds in five consecutive Test innings, beginning with the fourth and final match of his first series, as he hit up 141 against England at Kingston in 1947-48. Then during the tour to India in 1948-49, Weekes scored 128 at Delhi, 194 at Bombay, and a century in each innings – 162 and 101 – at Calcutta. In his next outing at Madras, he was run out for 90, the West Indies winning the only Test that produced a result in the series. For good measure, Weekes scored 56 and 48 in the final Test, back at the Brabourne Stadium. He set the pattern as the West Indies won the toss in all five matches and batted first on easy-paced wickets. The bulk of the bowling was done by the spin twins, left-armer Vinoo Mankad and off-spin exponent Ghulam Ahmed, with one medium-pacer of some quality being Dattu Phadkar. It was, nevertheless, a triumph of concentration, patience and brilliant strokeplay, as Weekes logged up 779 runs in the series at an average of 111.28.
When it was the turn of the Indians to make a return tour of the Caribbean islands four years later, Weekes was just as severe on their hapless bowlers. By now leg-spinner Subhash Gupte had joined Mankad. Again the West Indies triumphed 1-0, with the lone win coming at Bridgetown. Weekes scored 207 at Port of Spain, 47 and 15 in the relatively low-scoring game at Bridgetown, 161 and 55 not out again at Port of Spain, 86 at Georgetown, and 109 and 36 at Kingston. That was a total of 716 runs at 102.28 per innings.
Weekes scored three centuries in the 1955-56 series in New Zealand. But, like Neil Harvey, he did not replicate such successes when confronted by the stronger attack of England, as also Australia, never scoring more than one century in any series against them. On his first tour of England in 1950, though, in first-class matches Weekes scored a triple century and four double centuries. Only Bradman had six scores of 200 or more on an English tour two decades earlier. In 48 Tests Weekes scored 4455 runs at an average of 58.61, notching up 15 hundreds.
Big and strong, Clyde Walcott was a savage hitter, renowned for his back-foot driving. C.L.R. James noted in his Beyond a Boundary: “For defence and power in putting away the length ball this is one of the greatest of all batsmen. Only Bradman can be mentioned in the same breath for commanding hooking of fast bowlers.” Like Weekes, he revelled on the Indian tour of 1948-49, cracking 452 runs at an average of 75.33. His greatest run, however, was when Australia came calling in 1954-55. Walcott hit a century in each innings of not one, but two Tests – 126 and 110 at Port of Spain, and 155 and 110 at Kingston. No one else has achieved this feat in the same series. Before that he had scored 108 in another Test at Kingston. Not even Bradman had managed five hundreds in the same rubber. Walcott’s tally in that series was 827 at 82.70 per innings. This capped his consistent showing at home; during the previous two seasons he was a prolific scorer against England and India.
Along with Weekes, he feasted on the Indian bowling. Not to be left out, Worrell finally joined the party with his 237 at Kingston in 1952-53. Walcott eventually finished with 3798 runs at an average of 56.68 in 44 Tests, matching Weekes’ 15 tons, and his wicketkeeping abilities were a bonus. One of the reasons why he retired in 1959 at the age of thirty-three was that, as the celebrated C.L.R. James noted in his Beyond a Boundary, he was frustrated at the continued appointment of only a white man as captain of the West Indies. So when his great mate Frank Worrell eventually led the West Indies shortly thereafter, the big hitter would have been a satisfied, if not totally contented, man. That feeling would have grown when Walcott himself went on to become president of the West Indies Cricket Board and chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Overall, Worrell stood up to England, the best side for much of the 1950s before his own team turned the tables; Weekes was the scourge of India; and Walcott was awesome on home turf. Put together, they appeared in 143 Tests for the West Indies and amassed 12,113 runs at an average of 54.80, notching up 39 hundreds. For those times when much less Test cricket was played than at present, it was a phenomenal performance. Few chapters in the game are as romantic and colourful. It was the three inimitable Ws, aided by the spin twins Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine who put Caribbean cricket on the high road to the summit that later outfits led by Gary Sobers, Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards scaled in the next three decades. George Headley was, of course, the pioneer, and the enormously talented Learie Constantine with his fellow speedster Manny Martindale had shown early glimpses of the fearsome pace battery that was to follow. But it was Worrell, Weekes and Walcott who set the trend for top-class West Indies line-ups of succeeding generations – Hunte, Kanhai, Butcher, Sobers and Nurse; Lloyd, Rowe and Kallicharran; Greenidge, Haynes and Richards; Richardson, Lara and Chanderpaul to carry forward the tradition. The Ws propelled West Indies cricket towards glory, and that is their true contribution.
(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email email@example.com. Follow Indra Vikram Singh on Twitter @IVRajpipla.)
Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links : A Maharaja’s Turf ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6, The Big Book of World Cup Cricket ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3, Don’s Century ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0, Crowning Glory ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7.
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