Sir Frank Worrell's Legacy - the West Indies should learn from its elder statesman!

Wed, May 16, '18

by ALBERT BALDEO

Commentary

“Worrell never made a crude or an ungrammatical stroke… Worrell was poetry.”
-Sir Neville Cardus, the doyen of cricket writers

“So when half a million Australians lined the streets of Melbourne in their ticker tape farewell to Worrell and his men, they were not only paying a final tribute to the team's great achievements, they were recognizing the capacity and potential of equals both on and off the turf…He saw the many diverse elements of the West Indies as a whole, a common culture and outlook separated only by the Caribbean Sea.”
-Sir Learie Constantine

“I have seen grown men break down and cry because they felt they had let him (Sir Frank Worrell), down…”
-Roy Gilchrist, formerly West Indies controversial fast bowler, and the most feared in his time

After I graduated from Queens College and Bishops High School (after it became co-ed, of course), I proceeded to Cave Hill, Barbados to pursue my legal education, competing with some of the finest scholars. One of the first places I visited was Sir Frank Worrell’s gravesite. I wanted to pay tribute to one of the Commonwealth’s foremost heroes. I had read so much about this man. He was bigger than life, and was regarded as the most powerful unifying force in the West Indies and one of the most influential and greatest West Indians of all time, a quintessential Caribbean man.

You could feel his presence, even after his death. The fact that he died so young, (42 years), adds to his mystique. Later, the addition of the monuments of Sir Clyde Walcott and Sir Everton Weekes, who collectively formed the unique trinity called “the 3Ws,” all of whom were knighted for their services to cricket, completed the legend of these three great West Indies cricketers, who were born within a mile and eighteen months of each other in Barbados, delivered by the same midwife, and whose busts now stand beside each other.

This monument, bearing the busts of this magnificent trio, can be found surrounded by tropical flora in the park opposite the Oval named in their honor (the 3Ws Oval), at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill campus in Barbados, adding a serenity fitting for such souls. Both Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Clyde Walcott are buried on the grounds of the University campus on a hill overlooking the square, and serve as an inspiration to the many brilliant students from the Caribbean region who congregate there to become future leaders and professionals. Sir Everton Weekes is the only surviving W.

My student’s room at Sherlock Hall overlooked Sir Frank’s grave, and I would look over to it when I tired, and took inspiration form the way he fought the overwhelming odds, especially when his leukemia illness would have weighed heavily on his health. It was getting yourself to think like Sir Frank batting at the wicket, fighting institutional confines, fatigue and tiredness to get to that double century. This was, after all, cricket’s messiah, a leader who changed the future of the Caribbean, by daring to think bigger beyond the institutional shackles that sought to restrain him.

Sir Frank Worrell is cricket’s Nelson Mandela. Although he only captained the West Indies in 15 Tests, as the West Indies first black captain, it was enough for him to leave a lasting legacy as one of the Caribbean’s outstanding icons. Cricketers of color, like Sobers, Kanhai, Lloyd, Kallicharran, Murray, Richards, Greenidge, Haynes, Richardson, Walsh, Lara, Adams, Hooper, Jacobs, Chanderpaul, Sarwan, Ganga, Gayle, Reifer, Sammy, Ramdin, Holder, Braithwaite and others who have had, or will have the privilege of captaining the West Indies, ultimately owe this honor to this trailblazer.

The magnificence of his life, accomplishments and ideals are indelibly enshrined in cricket, and also as a leader, educator, counsellor, senator (Jamaica), author, humanitarian, not least in breaking the color barriers that then existed in West Indian cricket and social life.

At the age of 36, when he was belatedly anointed as the West Indies cricket captain in 1960, the Barbadian knight was already past his cricketing prime, having risen to one of the world’s best and most loved cricketers, but his leadership skills elevated the West Indies to great heights. As captain, he ended the cliques and rivalries between the players of various islands to mould together a team which became world champions in the space of five years. He settled an intense batting rivalry between Kanhai and Sobers, appeasing each by bringing the best out of them, and uniting every player in the team.

Worrell was more than a gifted batsman with an insightful cricketing brain. The inimitable Rohan Kanhai, in his book, “Blasting for Runs,” refers to Worrell’s “touch of genius that made him such a great skipper.” (Pg. 65). He was a man of ambassadorial and political insight, and surely would have made even greater contributions to the socio-political history of the West Indies on a wider scale had he not died so early. He was simply a colossus. Indeed, a memorial service was held in his honor in Westminster Abbey, the first time such an honor was granted to a sportsman. He was also the first West Indian carry his bat to carry in a Test innings. His cricket feats are well known, for his batting skills flowed from an incomparable silken genius he used to mesmerizing effect, and needs no repetition here.

Suffice it to say, Worrell was the supreme artist, blessed with style and elegance, pleasing to the eye while executing all the strokes, while never playing a hurried or false one. He was grace, personified.
However, to emphasize the length and breadth of Worrell’s influence, we should mention that in 2009, the Sir Frank Worrell Memorial Blood Drive was begun in Trinidad and Tobago, inaugurated by Nari Contractor, to whom Worrell had donated blood after his head injury in 1962, when Contractor was injured by a Charlie Griffith bouncer. Following Frank’s example, the Cricket Association of Bengal organizes a blood donation drive every year and the day is commemorated as Sir Frank Worrell Day in the state of West Bengal in India.

Former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley pays tribute to Worrell’s leadership, and posits that a Frank Worrell or a Clive Lloyd, who both assumed paternal roles over the teams they led, might have better guided bad boy Roy Gilchrist into manifesting his full talent, instead of being banished from the game. In his History of West Indies Cricket, Manley saw Gilchrist’s expulsion as "a tragedy born of the interaction between a flawed individual and a malformed society, an almost Greek inevitability as man and system proceeded to their inevitable and final collision."

As a testament to his impact beyond the boundaries of the West Indies, there is an annual Sir Frank Worrell day in India where people donate blood, although he never played a Test match in India (he did however tour India with three Commonwealth teams). During a lecture tour to Indian universities he was conferred with an honorary Doctorate of Law degree by Punjab University.

Upon his death, flags flew at half-mast in Radcliffe, Lancashire and in Jamaica and Barbados. As a tribute to him the West Indies and Australia compete for the Frank Worrell Trophy. He is an inductee in the US Black Athletes Hall of fame in Connecticut. He became a popular professional in the Lancashire league and there is a street in Radcliffe named in his honor.

His photo adorns a Barbadian $5 note and postage stamps. There are the Sir Frank Worrell grounds at the St Augustine campus of UWI Trinidad, Frank Worrell UWI scholarship fund, and the Frank Worrell memorial gardens around his burial site. A number of Frank Worrell momentos are lodged at Lord’s museum. He is an ICC hall of fame inductee and there is a sculpture of him at the famous Madame Toussauds Wax museum in London. He was one of five great West Indian cricketers of all time as selected in 2004 to commemorate 75 years of Test as a regional team (the other four were George Headley, Garfield Sobers, Viv Richards and Brian Lara). In 1964 he was knighted for his contribution to cricket.

He performed one last service to the region, managing the West Indians in their crushing home-series defeat of Australia in 1965. The Frank Worrell Hall at the University of West Indies, Barbados, is named after him as well as the Sir Frank Worrell Cricket Development Centre and Cricket ground in Trinidad. A memorative plaque at his boyhood home was unveiled by the Barbados PM in 1991 and in 2007 the home was torn down to be replaced by a museum in his honor.

Wisden summed up Worrell best: “West Indians of all backgrounds and shades of opinion paid their last respects to a man who had done more than any other of their countrymen to bind together the new nations of the Caribbean and establish a reputation for fair play throughout the world.”

 

Albert Baldeo is a civil rights activist and community advocate, and his political battles placed previously ignored minority communities like Richmond Hill and Ozone Park firmly on the political and economic map. As the President of the Baldeo Foundation and Liberty Justice Center, he has continued to fight for equal rights, justice, dignity and inclusion in the decision making process. He can be contacted at the Baldeo Foundation: AlBaldeo@aol.com or (718) 529-2300.

comments 6 comments