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Frank Worrell: An epitome of grace and sportsmanship, mascot of Black People

By Harsh Thakor* 

Very few cricketers or sportsman bestowed grace or sportsmanship at such a height as Sir Frank Worrell, on and off the field .Worrell reminded one of a priest bowing before a pulpit. Worrell transcended cricketing aestheticism or barriers in artistry in heavenly regions. giving the game its soul. When playing he never abused opponents, dealing with those around him with the same grace he caressed a cricket ball.
His batting gave vibrations of lotus blooming in full. The ensemble of his strokes was the game’s equivalent of a Musical conjeto. His only flaw was his execution of the hook shot or in tackling the short pitched delivery. I rank him amongst the 3 most elegant right handed batsmen ever.
He was the first black captain to lead West Indies when appointed skipper in 1960-61 Frank Worrell was a mascot for pride and dignity of the Afro-American race.Worrell was the pioneer in the black man being the flesh and blood of West Indies Cricket. Earlier it was a sheer monopoly of the white man.
Worrell carried the mantle of a mascot for the coloured people. Few sportsperson ever contributed more in elevating the pride of the black people. Very sadly he left us at the very tender at the tender age of 43 in 1967, because of leukamia.Cricket had truly lost it's apostle.

Historical Background

Quoting Hillary Beckley “Sir Frank Worrell remains the one beloved public figure From the 1950s, following the defeat of England in a Test series, the West Indian nation have considered these heroes in much the same way that ancient Greek society celebrated warriors such as Hector and Achilles. Cricket for the crowd is their finest theatre where the turbulent past and divided present are acted out in epic, dramatic proportions. But there was considerable opposition to these developments in the popular consciousness. Whites from elite families had opposed the abolition of slavery and the introduction of civil rights in the nineteenth century; similarly, they opposed political democracy and national independence in the mid twentieth. Likewise, they opposed the democratisation of cricket culture with the consequence that the emerging nation found it difficult to embrace them as legitimate citizens. In the sphere of cricket, while they were willing to make concessions to the principle of meritorious representation, they were unwilling to relinquish control of the leadership.
Against this background Frank Worrell emerged in 1960, after ten years of highly organised black protest, as the first black player to be appointed sub- stantive captain of the West Indies team. Residual racism in white Barbadian society had much to do with his decision to adopt Jamaica as his home. He never felt accepted among the local elite, who considered that he had taken from them a critically important instrument of their race rule in the West Indies. He was considered an arrogant ‘black boy’ in some quarters.”

Performances

In England in 1950 Worrell's 261 at Trent Bridge rank amongst the finest batting exhibitions ever in England. Worrell depicted the skill of a surgeon in the most challenging conditions, with the ball moving all around the place. At the Oval he scored 138.He amassed 539 runs in that series and topped the averages.
Worrell also with great surety withstood the hostility of great pace bowlers like Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, like when scoring 108 and 30 at Melbourne in 1951-52., batting virtually one handed after receiving a blow from a ball by Miller.
He virtually resurrected his 1950 effort at Trent Bridge when scoring 191 in 1957 on the very same ground, batting as an opener to carry his bat through the innings.
It is also worth mentioning his 237 in India in 1951-52 as well as his unbeaten 197 at Kingston versus England in 1959-60.
Worrell marshalled his resources as astutely as the very best of captains and was a master in motivating his players. Few were more adept in harnessing the potential of talented cricketers. He galvanised every ingredient to knit a talented bunch of players into a world class team. He led West Indies to their 2nd ever series in England in 1963 triumphing by a 3-1 margin.
No skipper till then contributed so much for his team players being awarded professional status and being paid adequately. Writer CLR James even called him a 'Cricketing Bolshevik.'

Evaluation as Cricketer

Overall in test cricket Worrell scored 3860 runs at an average of 49.48 and 9 centuries in 51 test matches. In 1st class cricket Worrell's statistics were simply staggering, averaging over 54.with 308 being his highest score. On the 1949 Commonwealth tour of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, he displayed phenomenal consistency, averaging over 74 overall and amassing 1600 runs..Notably Worrell also was a participant in a 502 run partnership with Trevor Goddard in 1943 and a 574 run partnership with Clyde Walcott in 1948.
Worrell also was an effective bowler capturing 69 wickets at an average of around 38,with best figures of 7-70.In first class Cricket he had 349 scalps at an average of around 29,wih 13 five wicket hauls.
Worrell was part of the famous trio of 'W's with Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott. His batting was in striking contrast to that of Weekes and Worrell who carried bat like a bludgeon. However his timing and placement was so spectacular that he could score runs at an even faster speed, than his compatriots.
Statistically he was overshadowed by Weekes and Walcott in his day, George Headley earlier, and later Gary Sobers, Viv Richards and Brian Lara. However to me none manifested purity or style at an equal scale.
Frank Worrell was the best West Indies captain of all, winning 9 out of 15 tests., and ranks amongst the best ever skippers in cricket history. Worrell scored his best innings in the most challenging circumstances or conditions. Overall as a cricketer generally he is ranked below the likes of Viv, Sobers, Lara, Marshall, Headley and Weekes. The 2000 edition of Wisden ranked Worrell at 5th equal place, amongst the cricketers of the last century. Writers John Woodcock and Cristopher Martin Jenkins ranks Worrell amongst the 40 best cricketers ever. Geoff Armstrong places him at 26th, place above even Weekes, Headley and Walcott, on grounds of his contribution as a leader. Some ex cricketers chose Worrell in their all-Time test XI.Summing all criteria, I would choose Worrell amongst the 40 best cricketers of all time and amongst West Indies cricketers, only behind Sobers,Viv Richards,Brian Lara ,and Malcolm Marshall.Taking into account his prowess as a leader and bowler, arguably b a whisker he stands ahead of Weekes,Walcott or Headley.

Character

It was Worrell who nurtured or sowed the seeds of the flourishing of West Indies cricket .He tapped the potential of greats like Sir Garfield Sobers, Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Seymour Nurse, Wes Hall etc. He literally knit a bunch of talented cricketers into a cohesive force.Worrel gave scant respect to inter-island pettiness and rivalry, being born and raised in Barbados, before moving to Trinidad and Jamiaca. What was remarkable was that when leading West Indies even against the most powerful opposition, he treated opponents in the manner of a mother treating her child.. Even when motivating his players to play at their best, he would reprimanded them for expressing any discontent towards an umpiring decision or abusing opponents .No skipper would comfort an injured batsman more than Worrell.
Frank was the ideal illustration how cricket or sport was not all about winning or slaughtering opposition, but giving glory or redeeming spirit of the sport. In 1960-61 in Australia in one of the hardest fought contests for supremacy, West Indies went down by a 2-1 margin. However Worrell's team brought more glory to their nation or sport, than even champion English, Australian or West Indies teams. The famous tied test at Brisbane took twists and turns in sport to regions not transcended, In one test by the skin of its teeth the West Indies were denied victory ,due to a defiant last wicket partnership and a dubious umpiring decision giving the Australian last man not out ,in the final 20 overs of the game. The stage was set for grand finale, and though the calypsos lost by a margin of 3 wickets, they won the hearts of cricket lovers as never before in history. In times later or in the modern era, it is almost inconceivable witnessing such sportsmanship or cricketers exude so much joy even in defeat. The series took the spirit of the game to region snot transcended in cricket, being a virtual advertisement of sportsmanship. There could have been mo better illustration of how White and black people could promote sporting friendship.
After retiring in 1963 after the England tour, Worrell planted the seeds of potential world beaters ,which was testified on West Indies victorious tour of England in 1966.
Worrell was significantly the first non-white captain to morally lead West Indies, which was historic turning point to the coloured community. Cricket historians like C.L.R James testify how it created a virtual renaissance in the spirit of the coloured people. Worrell was mascot against racism and for Black pride. It is befitting that even a Marxist writer like C.L.R. James upheld the social contribution of Frank in his book "Beyond the Boundary.
Cricketer Roy Marshall being the son of a planter wrote about how Worrell was responsible for extricating his racist attitudes and reformed in to respecting people of all creed and colour.
Worrell also made an important contribution in players being paid fairly before the 1948-49 tour of India and fought till the last tooth for a player's welfare on the island. He waged a crusade with the cricketing board for facilitating West Indies players to play league cricket in England.
Later skippers Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards gave a crippling blow to the myth of white supremacy, but they placed emphasis on winning at all cost. They replaced the gentlemanly grace Frank, with brute power .or aggression, converting a gentleman’s sport into a mercenary one. It is ironic that Worrell was never bitter in defeat and even expressed happiness when opponents triumphed. Let alone cricket, in any game today, I cannot visualize a leader upholding spirit of sport or gentleman ship as Worrel,.He underlined that sport was not about nationalism, above everything.
Quoting writer Rajgopal Nidampoor "Worrell was the apotheois of candour, sporting sprit and dignity. Irrespective of race and colour Worrell displayed resilience, courage, heroism, compassion, and care, for others in the wake of adversity.Race,Origin,colour ,and ideologies, did not mean anything as long as human being s behaved as one. He even rejoiced when the opposition would win a test match."
Quoting writer Geoff Armstrong "As a cricket statesman, his influence arguably went further than any other player in history. There was a touch of Nelson Mandela in the manner he transformed the West Indies team.
Quoting historian CLR James “To us who were concerned he seemed poised for applying his powers to the cohesion and self-realization of the West Indian people. Not a man whom one slapped on the shoulder, he was nevertheless to the West Indian population an authentic national hero. His reputation for strong sympathies with the populace did him no harm and his firm adherence to what he thought was right fitted him to exercise that leadership and gift for popularity which he had displayed so notably in the sphere of cricket. He had shown the West Indian mastery of what Western civilization had to teach. His wide experience, reputation, his audacity of perspective and the years which seemed to stretch before him fitted him to be one of those destined to help the West Indies to make their own West Indian way.To him every man was entitled to equal consideration, whatever the colour of his skin. Being around with Frank and seeing how he treated everybody, you could not help but come to the same conclusion.”
I doubt Worrell would have approved of the barrage of intimidatory short pitched bowling or bouncers unleashed by the fiery Caribbean pace quartets. from the 1970's and 1980's . I imagine he would have been critical of the game turning into a million dollar business, turning cricketers into virtual mercenaries. I would have backed him to raise his voice against the 'sledging' introduced by Australians.

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