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A genius personified, Lawrence Rowe betrayed fellow Africans suffering under apartheid

By Harsh Thakor* 

It is a matter of great regret that Lawrence Rowe could never reach the stature or limelight of Carribean giants like Sobers, Lara or Viv Richards. Few ever possessed the gift of the gods as Rowe. or was more an embodiment of cricketing art. On January 8th, we celebrate his 75th birthday. It is my firm view that had Rowe completely tapped his potential he would have been an all-time great player.
Arguably, technically he was the best or most correct of all West Indies batsmen. I can hardly think of any Caribbean batsmen with more organised a technique. I am considering even the likes of Frank Worrell and Rohan Kanhai.
The flow Rowe’s strokes had the composure of lark singing and the beauty of moonlight. Rowe could accumulate gigantic scores with remorseless grace and clinical batting skill. At his best Rowe transcended heights in batting prowess rarely scaled.
Rowe was an enigmatic, elegant, composed right-hander, opening or high in the order. He relished sunshine, and was a master of back-foot shots that were conducive or ideal on hard pitches and less comfortable on slower seaming surfaces. His hooking and pulling was instinctive and mercurial.. Regretfully his career was marred by problems with his eyesight, a variety of injuries and, perversely, an allergy to grass.

Batting Highlights

Between 1972 and 1980 when Rowe played for the West Indies, he had everyone literally on the edge of the seats or with the goosebums.. Rowe manifested batting art. batting making the most breathtaking; innings enjoyable.
Rowe became eulogised as a cricketing genius when, in his debut match against New Zealand at Sabina Park in 1972, he made a double century, 214, in his first innings, and 100 not out in his second innings. On debut, perhaps none more embezzled, or gave touches of reaching heights of a Bradman or Headley.
Later, his dauntless and spectacular 302 at Kensington Oval in Barbados in 1973-74,against England, left Bajans and West Indians startled with his original style of batting. Overall,in that series he averaged majestic 88,amassing 616 runs.Dennis Amiss and Geoff Boycott rate that innings of Rowe as the best they ever witnessed in a test match. Arguably, for sheer virtuosity, it has rarely ever been surpassed. It possessed every ingredient of a perfect test innings, be it technique, stroke making, defence, composure, concentration or innovation. It gave vibrations of a famous monument being constructed, containing the most majestic strokes.
On the 1975-76 tour of Australia when West Indies had a 5-1 drubbing. Rowe gave glimpses of the talent he was endowed with.,in his 107 at Brisbane and 67 at Sydney. However he was inconsistent, fading out after an initial spark, to average 24.54 at the conclusion. In Kerry Packer WSC cricket, Rowe executed some astonishing and most dazzling batting exhibitions. Rowe was not at his best in England in 1976-76, averaging 42,with 70 his highest score.
In Kerry Packer WSC, Rowe’s 175 at MCG comprised one of cricket’s classics-executing a stunning range of strokes, to manifest the ultimate bating connoisseur.. Even 30 years later, people classed it as the best batting they’ve ever seen. Overall in Packer Word Series Cricket, Rowe averaged an impressive 43.85 and aggregated 570 runs, including g 2 centuries and 2 fifties.. Only 4 batsmen, averaged more. in World series cricket. After a long patch of inconsistency in the late 1970’s.Rowe redeemed himself when scoring a Century at Christchurch, in 1980.

Analysis of Greatness

Just how great was Lawrence Rowe?. Old scorecards and statistics can give you some idea, do scant justice to him. Lawrence Rowe in test cricket scored 2047 runs at an average of 43.55,in 30 test matches, scoring 7 centuries. These figures are hardly staggering, compared to the Caribbean giants.
Lawrence Rowe feasted in his hometown: at Sabina Park, four Tests brought him three centuries, including a unique double and single hundred on debut, and an average of 113.40. In the rest of the Caribbean he averaged 43, and less than 30 abroad.
In his autobiography, Michael Holding described Rowe “What struck me most was that he never, but never, played at a ball and missed,” he wrote. “Everything hit the middle of the bat, and whatever stroke he chose to play (and he had them all) would have the desired result. His technique was superb, his eyesight like a cat’s and he had all the time in the world to play with captivating ease and elegance. I have not seen such perfection since.”
In the view of cab driver cricket fan in West Indies who had grown up on stories of the three Ws — Weekes, Worrell and Walcott — and had watched Sobers, Hunte, Kanhai and Lloyd. Rowe belonged to their league. Andrew Miller, of Cricinfo colleague from the UK, Hallam described Rowe’s 302 against England in 1974,as the ultimate masterpiece.. This was the man whose nickname Sir Vivian Richards had painted on his backyard fence in his transition stage and was also the same man who Richards overshadowed when he came into the limelight in the mid-1970s.
Rowe knew how he would be remembered, and as a result, even factual reminiscences sounded like a desperate plea for recognition from a man who had largely been obliterated out of the game’s history.
Quoting Rowe “After my debut series in 1972, they were comparing me to [George] Headley and [Don] Bradman, but injuries robbed me of a chance at greatness,” I was more naturally talented than Viv, but he accomplished a lot more. He had a full career.”
Quoting Michael Holding “The thing is, the connoisseurs don’t really disagree. “Technically, he was one of the best,” Holding told me recently. “Not as strong a character or as big a personality as Viv, but he was top class.“If you are only dealing with batting skill and style, there aren’t many I would put above him. Obviously, his numbers don’t compare, but that’s because of what I mentioned earlier regarding character.”
Even Sir Garfield Sobers eulogised Rowe’s batting technique. Between 1972 and 1980 when Rowe played for the West Indies, he had everyone literally on the edge of the seats or with the goosebums. Rowe manifested batting art. batting making the most breathtaking; innings enjoyable.
Very hard or complex to diagnose why Lawrence did not bloom in the manner of icons like Viv Richards, Gordon Greenidge or Clive Lloyd, particularly away from home. I am curious, whether he suffered from a complex, playing amongst such great stars. In my view, Rowe in terms of pure game, stood amongst the most complete of all batsmen.
I firmly adhere that had Rowe done justice to his talent, he would have averaged around 50.Amongst Calypos batsmen I would rank Rowe almost on par with Rogan Kanhai and Brian Lara,in terms of sheer talent .Overall I rate Rowe just a shade below Rohan Kanhai, Frank Worrell and Clive Lloyd, and as the equal of Alvin Kalicharan. I am convinced that had Rowe played for a weAzharuddi, his record would have been on par with stalwarts like Zaheer Abbas,David Gower or Mohammad Azharuddin.
Lawrence Rowe in test cricket scored 2047 runs at an average of 43.55, in 30 test matches, scoring 7 centuries. These figures are hardly staggering, compared to the Caribbean giants. He feasted in his hometown: at Sabina Park, four Tests brought him three centuries, including a unique double and single hundred on debut, and an average of 113.40. In the rest of the Caribbean he averaged 43, and less than 30 abroad.
I admired Rowe’s selection for an all-time test XI where he selected George Headley, Sunil Gavaskar, Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee, Barry Richards, Wes Hall, Lance Gibbs, Gary Sobers, Subhas Gupte, Alan Knott and Don Bradman. Most meritoriously and balanced selection.

Touring South Africa

Regrettably, Rowe's actions off the field were in abject contrast to his brilliance on the field. By 1980, only eight years after his debut, Rowe's fortune began to dwindle. He was not picked for the 1981-2 England tour of the West Indies. He also developed problems with his eyes and suffered from hay fever, which made him allergic to grass.
The South African government was, by 1983, bearing the brunt of isolation by the international cricket community because of its racial policy which led to the exclusion of black cricketers from its Test team. Due of its inhuman policy of racial segregation, the South African government was devising methods to attract cricketers to visit South Africa in order to preserve their grave crime against humanity.
In 1983, the apartheid regime of South Africa invited Rowe. It offered lucrative money before him and, before long, he agreed not only to be the captain of a cricket team to South Africa but to help harness other talents in the West Indies. In Jamaica, he induced Richard Austin, Herbert Chang, Ray Wynter and Everton Mattis to join him. From the wider Caribbean community, others also jumped at the apartheid bait. These included Alvin Greenridge, Ezra Mosely, Colin Croft, Emmerson Trotman, Wayne Daniel, Franklyn Stephenson, Sylvester Clarke, Gregory Armstrong, and Alvin Kallicharran.
According to the late former Prime Minister Michael Manley, Rowe, despite the pressure from the West Indian cricketing public not to go, had long made up his mind. Manley, in his 1995 revised masterpiece, A History of West Indies Cricket, wrote:
"Tremendous pressure was now placed on Rowe to turn back from a course that could only bring disgrace and disaster upon his head. The cricket authorities and governments were united in their abhorrence of apartheid and their determination to use every possible weapon to fight it. There was not a chance that they would overlook the action planned by Rowe and his 'rebel' team. Nor were they likely to respond with a tap on the wrist. At this juncture, the same intermediary made several attempts to meet with Rowe in the hope of dissuading the island's finest bat since Headley. Rowe would not agree. His mind was set, and, in due course, in February 1983, the team flew to South Africa."
Lawrence Rowe, despite the consistent protestations by freedom-loving and democratic-minded people in Jamaica and the West Indies, ignored all the calls not to betray his fellow African brothers and sisters suffering under the evil system of apartheid. He even had the audacity to return to South Africa in 1984. Rowe literally robbed the game and West I8ndies cricket of it’s dignity and epitomised the spirit of a pure mercenary.
For his sheer disrespect for the racial segregation which existed in South Africa at the time, and for violating the international ban imposed on apartheid South Africa, Rowe and members of his rebel team were not only banned by the West Indies Cricket Board of Control but also by their clubs and country for life. It completely tarnished his reputation, with his name smeared with black mark.
---
*Freelance journalist

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