DateLine: 28th August 2006
This Week looks like a week of Obituaries for Test Cricket. First it was Pakistan’s Wasim Raja (54) who collapsed on the cricket field on Aug 23rd, 2006.
Yesterday, Aug 25th 2006, it was India’s Vijay Mehra (68): the youngest cricketer ever at 17 years and 265 days to have played for India when he made his debut along with Nari Contractor, against New Zealand at Bombay in 1955/56. His record subsequently was taken over by Sachin Tendulkar. Vijay Mehra played just eight test matches and aggregated 329 runs at 25.30 with the help of two fifties. He batted with a fractured thumb to record his highest test score of 62 against Ted Dexter’s Englishmen at Calcutta in 1961/62, which India won by 187 runs. He also made an identical score against West Indies in the same season in the 4th test at Port of Spain and added 144 runs in an entertaining partnership with Salim Durani. Vijay Mehra also served as a National Selector and very popular as AIR commentator having visited the West Indies on behalf of All India Radio during the 2006 series.
And today it’s none other than the West Indian great Sir Clyde Leopold Walcott , a member of the three Ws who helped shape the West Indian Cricket after World War II. He died earlier today i.e. Aug 26th, 2006 in a Barbados Hospital. He was 80 years old. Both Barbados and West Indies lost one of their famous cricketing sons and the international cricket community lost a great ambasaador of cricket. He was one of the famed triumvirate of the three Ws along with Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes. Walcott was the original version of Vivian Richards who believed in attacking right from the word go and treated the bowlers all over the world with utter disdain.
In a career spanning over a dozen years, Walcott aggregated 3,788 runs in 44 Tests with 15 centuries and 14 fifties from 1948 to 60. His batting average of 56.68 stands at 10th position in the list of batsmen who scored 3000 runs or more in test cricket. . He is one of the very few batsmen who had scored 15 or more centuries yet had a higher conversion ratio of 50s to centuries. Only Don Bradman of Australia and Mohammed Azharuddin of India have better conversion ratio in that category.
Walcott kept close ties with the game unlike his other contemporary Everton Weeks, who preferred to stay away from the limelight. The other great ‘W’, Frank Worrell died in 1967 at an age of 42. Clyde Walcott after retiring from cricket coached the Barbados team in the Shell shield, the premier tournament among the Island nations. Then he went on to manage the West Indian team and their successful World Cup campaigns. Later on he got into bigger administrative roles as Selector and president of the West Indies Cricket Board.
Its not an accident that during his tenure at the top of West Indies Cricket Administration West Indies saw their golden period of late 70s to early 90s but his thoughtful actions that led West Indies to register a record 15 test series, It does not surprise me, his resignation in 1993 from that position to become the ICC Chairman, started the slow demise of their glory over the years and made them as another average team. He was knighted in 1994, one year after taking charge as ICC Chairman for his services to the West Indian and International cricket and its administration. He also stood as ICC Match referee for three test matches involving Pakistan and England during 1992.
During his 6 years tenure as the Chief of ICC Walcott introduced many procedures that streamlined the Administration and made his successors' job much easier. It’s a testimony to his administrative acumen that the most of the controversies that gave tumultuous times to cricket all over the world occurred well after his term.
After his term as ICC Chief, Walcott continued his service towards the betterment of cricket and traveled distances and lived like a true ambassador of cricket. Though his health was deteriorated in recent times he rarely missed watching a cricket match played in Barbados which was of any importance. As Rudi Webster, a former manager of West Indian cricket team said, Walcott was an icon and was truly a great man, hi contribution being invaluable to both Barbados and West Indian Cricket.
Everton Weeks, now the lone surviving member of the three ‘W’s gave this tribute to his long-time friend and partner in destruction of the bowling attacks of the World during the golden age of West Indies batting, has this to say about Walcott: “ Clyde had a powerful physique and his batting was based on power and strength, He hit the ball harder than any of us. Walcott kept wicket in 15 Tests before back problems forced him to give it up. He was a true friend and a great man. Whenever I batted with him I enjoyed it, and we have some great times together on and off the field. He was a pretty quiet person but would always find time to talk to you and find out what was going on.”
Walcott did bat with extreme power and the shots he executed of his backfoot were brutal. It is very rare that a batsman of his height, 6’ 2’’ could execute strokes of his backfoot with so much timing and power. “Well, it was just my style of play. I don't think it had anything to do with my height; I just batted that way. I was pretty strong off the back foot, but that doesn't mean I didn't play off the front foot as well. It depended on the bowler and on the pitch of the ball, you know, so it was just my style.” Walcott explained in an interview to John Ward, the editor of Zimbabwe Cricket Online. Walcott liked his style and the results that were yielded so much that he named his autobiography as ‘SIXTY YEARS ON THE BACKFOOT’.
Walcott broke into prominence in 1945-46 when he and his schoolmate Frank Worrell belted the Trnidadian attack to pieces in an unbeaten fourth partnership of 574 for Barbados. It still remains as the highest partnership for a West Indian pair in any first class match. Two seasons later he made his international debut in his hometown against England in the first test of the 1947-48 series at Bridgetown. Though he did not do much in that series with scores of 8 & 16 in his maiden test, 20 & 2 in the 2nd test at Port of Spain, 11 & 31* in the 3rd at Georgetown and 45 in the 4th and final test at Kingston as a batsman, his wicket keeping skills which fetched him 16 dismissals (11 Cts & 5 Sts) kept him in the side that toured India the following season in 1948/49. This is the series in which Walcott graduated into a powerful batsman that he remained for the rest of his career. He made 452 runs at 64.57 which included two hundreds and two fifties.
He made a punishing 168* against England at Lord’s in 1950, which aided by the spin twins Valentine’s and Ramdhin’s bowling won the test for West Indies by 326 runs. But for that one big score and another century against New Zealand at Auckland in 1951/52 Walcott did not achieve much for the next 10 tests. But India, as they have done to many an out of form batsmen, gave him a break again when they toured Caribbean islands in 1952/53. Walcott compiled couple of easy hundreds in the 4th test at Georgetown and 5th test at Kingston against their friendly attack. In the fifth test, which ended in a tame draw, all three Ws scored a century with Worrell making it a double.
The next two seasons Walcott hit a purple patch and provided one of the hottest streaks in test cricket. He began the 1953/54-test season with scores of 65 & 25 against England at Kingston. But it was his innings of 220 out of a West Indian total of 383 at Bridgetown in the 2nd test that catapulted him into the newer heights taking his test batting average to 50s He made another century in the 4th test at Port of Spain where the 3 Ws again scored a hundred and Weeks making it a double this time. The 5th test brought another hundred for Walcott in a lost cause as England won the test by 9 wickets and tied the series 2-2.
Walcott aggregated 698 runs in that series including 3 hundreds and 3 fifties at an average of 87.25. If that was not taken seriously by the Australians who dismissed him cheaply as Walcott made just 87 runs at 14.50 in 3 tests of 1951-52 Series in Australia, they soon realize how wrong they were. Walcott scored 827 runs against an attack which consisted Lindwall, Miller and Benaud among others. He hit a century in each innings of both the 2nd test at Port of Spain and the 5th test at Kingston on top his 108 in the 1st test of the series at Kingston. His 5 centuries in that series still remain as most by any batsman in a single test series and his series aggregate which stood highest by any West Indian cricketer, was surpassed by another Knighted and powerful hitter Sir Issac Vivian Alexander Richards 22 years later by 2 runs during the 1976 summer in England. Richards in fact scored those 829 runs in just 4 tests.
After those two dream series Walcott could not repeat the same kind of form and added just one more century hitting his last and 15th century of his test career against Pakistan at Georgetown in the 4th test of the 1957/58 series and shared a 269 run partnership with another West Indian batsman who just made a world record score in the previous test at Kingston. That series marked the end of one of 3Ws, Everton Weeks Career. Walcott played just two more tests before hanging up his boots as well while Frank Worrell continued playing till 1963. Gary Sobers took over where the great 3Ws left off in keeping the glory and glitter of West Indian Cricket aloft.
In addition to his 3798 runs from 44 tests, Walcott took 53 catches and affected 11 stumpings. When he stopped keeping the wickets after 15 tests he did some occasional medium pace bowling which accounted for 11 victims. Walcott stayed in touch with the game till he took his last breath. Thus the glorious life of Clyde Walcott, which began on January 17th of 1926, comes to an end. One could not have put it in a much better way than Michael Holding, who paying his tribute this great character, said “Clyde, he wouldn’t wait for you to ask him, he would approach you and try to help” could. He did help the West Indies cricket both as a player and as an administrator as much as if not more than any other single individual.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2006 Vijay Jeedigunta)