In Honour of Frank Worrell
Ian On Sunday
By Ian McDonald
April 1, 2007
Frank Worrell stepped with supreme assurance onto the world stage. Worrell became captain of the West Indies at a time when worldwide cricket was losing its way. Caution was the order of the day - batsmen playing for safety, bowlers bowling defensively, captains seeking to avoid defeat at all costs
Last week at the University of the West Indies in St. Augustine, Trinidad, there was a panel discussion in honour of Frank Worrell to mark the 40th anniversary of his death. It was a memorable and well attended occasion. Joe Solomon and Basil Butcher were there and their memories of Frank Worrell and reflections on his leadership and influence were extremely well received. Similar events have taken place in Jamaica and Antigua where Rohan Kanhai and Lance Gibbs represented Guyana. Work will continue to honour the life and career of Frank Worrell and sponsor West Indian causes dear to his heart.
In the presentation which follows I refer to Lloyd Best, the celebrated West Indian economist and political thinker, who had died just a few days previously.
I am honoured, to find myself in the company of some of the greatest names in West Indies cricket - Deryck Murray, Andy Ganteaume, Joe Solomon, Basil Butcher, Willie Rodriguez. They are the ones who really light up an occasion like this. They can truly tell what it was like to perform at the highest level of the game. They are the ones who knew Frank Worrell and what he stood for and how he led.
Before I say my own few words about Sir Frank, I feel I must express my deep sorrow on the death of Lloyd Best, a friend from the New World days in Guyana long ago. I never left his presence anything less than excited and enthused with new ideas. There is a good quotation taken from Thomas Carlyle which could well apply to Lloyd: "The popular man stands on our own level or a hairsbreadth higher; and shows us a truth we can see without shifting our present intellectual position. The Original Man stands above us, and wishes to wrench us from our old fixtures, and elevate us to a higher and clearer level."
Indeed, it occurs to me that the quotation might also apply to another great Original Man, Frank Worrell, whom we celebrate today: "The Original Man stands above us, and wishes to wrench us from our old fixtures, and elevate us to a higher and clearer level."
I remember as if it was yesterday the first time I saw Frank Worrell bat. I was a schoolboy at Queens Royal College in the 1940s and when intercolonial matches were played we were given half-days off and we would walk down to the Oval to see Trinidad play. There came a day when I was watching Trinidad play Barbados and Frank Worrell was batting. As time passed a realization built up in me that I was receiving a gift beyond price, a blessing that would not fade. And then Wilfred Ferguson, the wonderful and popular Fergie, sent down a very good leg-break and Frank Worrell, all grace and perfect balance, with a dancer's marvellous, adroit step, late cut the ball most delicately to the boundary in a pure and gleaming flash of genius. I still have the image in my mind. It was the moment when my reverence for cricket crystallized forever. I loved the game forever afterwards.
That was Worrell the batsman of supreme grace and elegance. But lying in wait, of course, was Worrell the leader par excellence, the catalyst for fundamental change in the West Indies, the cricketer who re-invented the popularity of the game worldwide. Through his intelligence, his unerring sense of values, his example, his calm not to say serene authority he inspired West Indians of every stripe and colour in all walks of life and lifted up the whole game to a new level of excitement, popularity and world importance, illuminating it anew when it had been fading almost into decadence.
It was perhaps inevitable as indigenous intellectual authority gained the upper hand conclusively everywhere in the West Indies, and political independence loomed, that the white mercantile-planter class would be dislodged from automatic domination and leadership in the game. What was not inevitable was that a man of exactly the perfect temperament, intellect, character and charismatic leadership qualities should have emerged to break the mould and make the transition seamless and inspirational. He was the perfect leader of men and he believed in the West Indies with his whole heart.
Here is CLR James describing with what absolute sureness of touch Worrell brought out the best in the West Indies teams he captained.
"The West Indies team in Australia, on the field and off, was playing above what it knew of itself. If anything went wrong it knew that it would be instantly told, in unhesitating and precise language, how to repair it, and that the captain's certainty and confidence extended to his belief that what he wanted would be done. He did not instill into but drew out of his players. What they discovered in themselves must have been a revelation to few more than to the players themselves. When the time came to say good-bye some of the toughest players could only shake the captain's hand and look away, not trusting themselves to speak."
Talk about the right man in the right place at the right time! He transformed our cricket. But he did more than that.
Frank Worrell stepped with supreme assurance onto the world stage. Worrell became captain of the West Indies at a time when worldwide cricket was losing its way. Caution was the order of the day - batsmen playing for safety, bowlers bowling defensively, captains seeking to avoid defeat at all costs. It is clear that Worrell decided to restore to Test cricket in 1960 the spirit and the fervour of the game he loved. We know what happened. Richie Benaud, the Australian captain, met him halfway, the greatest Test series ever played transformed expectations, and the West Indies even in losing inaugurated a cricketing renaissance. When the West Indies visited England in 1963 the Lord Mayor of London summed it up, "A gale of change has blown through the hallowed halls of cricket." Who can doubt that Frank Worrell is indelibly one of the greatest, most transforming figures in the history of cricket?
And because of all this I believe a strong claim can be made that Frank Worrell was the most important figure not just in West Indies cricket but in world cricket in the 20th century. And because of this he automatically is to be considered one of the most influential and greatest West Indians of the 20th century. This is because Worrell was not only building a new West Indies cricket team, he was very instrumental in helping to build a new West Indian nationhood.
In the writings of WB Yeats there is a wonderfully eloquent phrase: he speaks of "a community bound together by imaginative possessions." Yeats, the poet, used this phrase in the context of discussing the importance of a National Theatre for his beloved Ireland. Yeats also wrote of theatre as an institution for transforming those isolated from one another into the unity of one audience. And he wrote that it was impossible for a nation to exist if they were "no national institutions to reverence, no national success to admire without a model of it in the mind of the people."
What the theatre was to Yeats, cricket was to Worrell. He saw that cricket truly is supremely an imaginative possession which binds our Caribbean community together and he did his very best to promote this concept.
Frank Worrell was not simply a great West Indian cricketer and an outstanding captain who transformed the game. He is undoubtedly right up there high in the pantheon of great West Indian leaders. His early death at 42 deprived us of the presence of one who needed to live and spread his influence beyond the boundaries of cricket.