'Yagga' Rowe: Misunderstood (Part 1)

Thu, Jun 3, '04

by MICHELLE MCDONALD

interviews

[ Part One] | [ Part Two] | [ Part Three] | [ Part Four]

When stories are told about the most elegant batsmen in the history of cricket, Lawrence George Rowe's name is always at the top of the list. A natural born strokeplayer, Rowe exploded onto the scene in 1972, scoring a double and single on debut and averaging 113.40 in his first Test series.

He was destined for great things when a series of freak injuries -- and an allergy to grass -- interrupted his career and hastened the controversial decision to lead a 'rebel' West Indies side to apartheid South Africa. In this exclusive sit-down with CaribbeanCricket.com's Michelle McDonald, Rowe talks candidly about his career and the reasons for his decisions along the way...

Lawrence, you grew up around the Waltham Park Road in the 1950s and 1960s. Describe your life back then? How did you come to play cricket?

As a young boy, I think at about age 9, my bigger brother who is now deceased, he was my influence, with his friends, and that's the way I got started. I used to play a lot of back yard cricket and bush cricket with them. You know in those days you cut out a bat and knit up a ball and you go in the back fields and you play there and you throw up stones and you hit it and you do some commentary on yourself, and you call yourself Sobers, or Kanhai or Worrell, so that's how I really got started.

Which school were you going to?

I was going to Greenwich Primary. I actually never played a lot of cricket at school itself, but was playing with my brothers as I said, and they were bigger guys. This particular afternoon, I was at school and they used to play what they called 'bowl for bat' or 'catchy-shubby' in those days and I was passing with my sno-cone in one hand and the guy hit the ball in the air and I caught it and these big guys were saying 'little guy, little boy let me bat for you' and I said 'no, I want to bat for myself' and I went and I took the bat and I batted the rest of the lunch period. The bigger guys then decided they had to introduce me to the sports master of the school and that is how I first played for Greenwich Primary as a youngster, and in my first match for them, I made 57.

Who first taught you the rudiments of the game?

Nobody in the early years did that, it was basically natural. That is one of the things that is the hallmark of my career later on, that most experts and former players and people who I played with describe me as probably one of the most technically gifted players the Caribbean had seen, probably in the 20th century, so I suppose most of it was a gift.

At what point in your life did you realize that you had this immense talent?

I didn't really realize that until I started playing Jamaica schoolboy cricket. I went to the youth clubs and through that we were selected to enter into the BAT series, that is really the youth cricket of the West Indies now. I got in through the youth clubs into that. They had experimented with about four youth club guys along with the all-Sunlight guys. They selected us and got us into camp at Jamaica Defence Force and then from that we went on tour to Barbados.

How old were you then?

I was 19 or 20 at the time. At that time, it was just the love of the game. It was one of the two sports that most guys played in those days - cricket or football. Actually I was known as a better soccer player when I was about 15 years old and my brother was known as the cricketer. So a lot of people, later on down when they heard the name Lawrence Rowe go out there, they thought it was my brother. I had given up soccer probably at about 16. I used to go and play just for fun, and to keep fit with the guys, but after cricket became my career the guys used to play soccer so rough it seemed like they probably would hurt you so I stopped playing and concentrated on cricket.

Tell us more about your schooling.

I went to Greenwich until I was 15, then I had taken the technical exam to go to St Andrew Technical High School, passed it and was supposed to go there and my brother decided at that time that he would not send me there, he's going to pay for me to go to Excelsior High School. I didn't get to go there, he said he was going to do it, but it didn't happen. So then I had to go to a private secondary school. I went to a school call Matts Hall for Boys, which is no longer in existence, and then later on I went to Jamaica Commercial Institute to do Accounting. When I was supposed to do my final exams in Accounts, I went off on the schoolboy tour. At the time I was about 19.

How did you do on the schoolboy tour to Barbados?

Did very well. Got a hundred against Guyana at a place called Carlton, Black Rock. First time I met up with Sir Everton Weekes. He tipped me to play for the West Indies after that hundred. He thought that I was good enough and I would have probably gone on to play for the West Indies. He came and spoke with me. I don't even know if Sir Everton remembered that. I was trying to remind him the other night at the function but I didn't get a chance.

The following year, they upped the age limit to under 21, so I got to play again. Did very well the second year as well and by this I think I was regarded as one of the best schoolboy players in the region. I was called to Jamaica trials that year, it was now 1969 and I did very well in the trials, I think I got a couple of hundreds in the trials and was named to the Jamaica team in 1969.

How was that season for you?

Started out miserably and then ended up reasonable for me that I held my place and a lot of the Caribbean people and journalists started to look at me. I think at this time I was probably ranked as the best schoolboy player so everybody was more or less rooting for me to do well.

At this time now, are you thinking that cricket is what you are going to do or are you going to concentrate on accounting? What were you thinking to do for your future at that time?

At that time, my mother and brother had migrated and gone to New York and my mother was about to file for me to come to the States and the Vietnam War was in process at the time and I told them not to file for me, I am going to try to see if I can play for the West Indies, so that was put on hold and I made a decision and it seemed to work out ok for me because I actually did play. At the time you didn't know how things would have gone so it worked out for me and then I played for the West Indies in 1972.

So this is late 60s, early 70s, you've decided you want to stay, you don't want to go to New York. What kind of preparation did you do to get yourself ready for selection?

We won the Shell Shield in 1969. I think it was Rothman's who sponsored the winning Shell Shield team to go to England in 1970 and I went with the Jamaica team and I was one of the most successful Jamaican batsmen on that tour so by the time I got back I was sort of getting in line now for the West Indies and this is where I think my focus started to look at the West Indies. We then had an international Cavaliers team come, in 1970 I think. They had players like Sir Gary, Colin Cowdrey, Brian Luckhurst, Ted Dexter, John Snow, Mushtaq Mohammad, just to name a few of the great players on that team, and I made 109 against them at Sabina Park. I think that was my first First Class century. Then was the first time that the opening was there that the public started to talk about me playing for the West Indies. I was convinced now that I probably could play for the West Indies in truth.

There must have been some competition to get into the team with people like Maurice Foster and other players who were considered class players at the time.

Oh yes, Sir Gary at the time was the captain of the West Indies team and then you had Maurice Foster who had already played for the West Indies and was looking to enhance his career as well and then I was the young 'kid on the block' who was kicking up a storm. India toured here in 1971, and I think I opened up the Shell Shield season that year with a hundred against Trinidad at Sabina, and I played against India for Jamaica, and I didn't do very well, and they played me in the President's XI and I didn't do very well in that either.

Why?

I suppose you know, you're now stepping up in class of cricket and a lot of expectations were there of me at that time but I didn't come through at that time. Actually that was the first time I met the former Prime Minister Michael Manley when I was coming up from Jarrett Park where the match was held. I saw this tall figure of a man coming down to the back of the plane when I was coming across on the 20 minute flight and he came and sat beside me and introduced himself and said to me that he's been watching my career as a schoolboy coming up. He wished me all the best, cheered me up a bit because I was down after the failure. That was nice of him to do.

I got back out of it, was made 12th man for the West Indies here against India in 1971 and never got a look in, because in those days you had to make some runs to get in there. Competition was tough and if you didn't make runs, they wouldn't pick you, so I was left out the whole of 1971. A lot of disappointment because there were people who thought I would have gotten in, and I remember saying it to Easton McMorris who was my captain at the time and he said to me "You don't want to play for the West Indies". They thought that I was so talented that I should have made the runs to get in there. I said to him "Skip, nothing happens before the time".

I went back to the drawing board after that, and I worked my tail off.

What kind of work did you do?

Running, batting for hours, two hours, hour and a half. Running early morning before I went to work, I used to get up at 5:00am.

Where were you working at the time?

Carrier, the air conditioning company. At the time it was the Matalon Group of Companies. I wasn't in Accounts. I used to be the clerk who controlled all their stock. My boss was a man called Vic Higgs, who died here a couple years ago. He was a golf man. He was very receptive to the fact that I was a young and upcoming cricketer, so I got a lot of time off to go practise and things like that. From there I played against Guyana in a Shell Shield match of the following season - 1972, and I made either 204 or 147 against them. I don't remember which one it was. But that was the starting of the 1972 year for me.

When New Zealand came I got 227 against them for Jamaica in the tour match and then my first Test, I got the record making 214 and 100 on debut.

How did you hear you were selected?

Funny enough, I don't remember who told me that I was selected for the West Indies I must be honest with you. It was more or less automatic that I would have been selected, I must be honest with you because I was knocking on the door as a young player. Here I am, I made that century against Guyana and then in the first match against the tourists I made 227, so it was like a given now that I was going to play. What I didn't know was in what position I was going to bat. I was batting number three for Jamaica. Now that I was stepping in with the big boys, I didn't know where I was going to bat. Sir Garfield Sobers was the captain at the time.

Reminisce about your debut test match at Sabina Park.

I can recall the morning of the Test match when I came out to knock up outside and all the well wishers were there and saying 'good luck' and somebody bowled a ball to me, and I was so nervous when I hit the ball the bat fell out of my hand and I just went right back inside the pavilion. I didn't knock up. I can remember that Sir Gary came in and he said to me 'we've won the toss and you're number 3, put the pads on'. I put the pads on and went around the front.

In those days, the players pavilion was the bottom of the Kingston Club. I was out there sitting down getting ready to bat because I was number 3. The well wishers were all there wanting to talk to me and I remember Sir Gary going to them and saying 'no he has to bat, so you have to leave him, he has to concentrate from now'. The rest is history. I went out there and got a record breaking first Test and then all of a sudden I was ranked with the greatest of the game. I was ranked alongside Headley and Bradman and those people.

Did that put any pressure on you?

Oh enormous amount of pressure but I was young and I was good at what I did and I was confident, I was making a lot of runs. The magnitude of it didn't hit me then. I just loved the game and just wanted to play and make runs. You started at number three for the first six test matches, then you opened the batting for five matches before being put to bat again at number three. They felt that I was technically equipped and then we had the other young player in the West Indies at the time who was Alvin Kallicharan from Guyana and they felt that for balance of the team and to get the best team together, I would open the innings, and Kallicharan would come in at number three. They spoke to me on that and I said it was no problem, I would do it.

Which position did you prefer batting in and why?

I was always at number three from a schoolboy, and in the Jamaica team I was at number three so I fell in love with batting at number three. So although they upgraded me to opening if I was to choose one, I would rather bat at number three.

Do you know at which position your batting was better?

I'm not sure. I had my best series opening, the 1974 series against England. When I went to play county cricket at Derbyshire I opened up there too because I was doing so well as an opener for the West Indies when I got up there they just pushed me into the opening spot.

You only played one seasons for them because of the allergy to grass?

No, it wasn't because of the allergy why I played one season. It was because of the eye problems.

* In part two of this interview, Rowe discusses the eye problems that hampered his career and the decision to lead a 'rebel' cricketer side to apartheid South Africa.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The content on this website, including this article, is protected by copyright laws, and may not be reproduced, republished, distributed, transmitted, displayed, broadcast or otherwise exploited in any manner without the express prior written permission of CaribbeanCricket.com.