Sriram Veera on India in the West Indies 2011 June 20, 2011

Rowe apologises for rebel tour as Jamaica honours him

Sriram Veera
Celebration and remorse were both in the air

Celebration and remorse were both in the air. And closure. In an extraordinary statement, 28 years after he was shunned for going on a rebel tour of South Africa, Lawrence Rowe apologised for going on that trip in 1983. He dubbed Monday as the "final death of that tour".

It started as a day of joy. Rowe, Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh were immortalised in the Sabina Park stadium during the lunch break of the first Test between West Indies and India. The two ends were named after Holding - his wife was there for the unveiling - and Walsh, while Rowe's name was attached to the pavilion.

Rowe smiled and Walsh even allowed himself a laugh before Rowe read out his statement of apology. "About 28 years ago, a team of West Indies cricketers toured South Africa. At that time South Africa was banned for the apartheid regime. That tour and other such tours were grouped together as rebel tours. It was organised and conducted without the approval of West Indies' cricket board. Such tours were in fact outlawed by cricket boards over the world, by governments including the government of Jamaica and by other international organisations like the United Nations. Understandably, that tour upset the people of Jamaica. Today I sincerely apologise to the cricketing fraternity of Jamaica, the Caribbean and the rest of the world."

It wasn't expected by the press and there was a moment of surprise before cynicism entered the minds of a few. Was the apology sincere? "If it wasn't sincere I wouldn't have done it," Rowe said. "Jamaica Cricket Association decided to honour me and I thought before I accept it I should apologise."

Life wasn't easy for Rowe after that fatal tour. There are reports that he would hide in the Kingston club to watch Tests in Sabina Park. There was anger in the air. Time is a healer. "When I came back, I had to leave the country and go to the States," Rowe said. "At that time the crowd reception was hostile but I have been back after that. I have been accepted and treated fairly. Even today, people were cheering for me."

That they did. The sparse crowd cried out his nickname "Yaga" as he walked out to the middle of the unveiling ceremony. Rowe, of course, had the crowds coming out in droves in his younger days. Tony Cozier still remembers Rowe's triple-hundred at the Kensington Oval. "Gates were broken, walls were scaled and even high-tension electric cables were used by people to get in." Rowe, himself, couldn't enter. "We had to be escorted in," Rowe told ESPNCricinfo. "It was a special day. I went on to score that 300."

It was a six that he hit the day before that had excited the crowd into such fervour. Bob Willis was bouncing Rowe. "I don't hook early in my innings." Willis was trying to get him do it. One delivery reared up towards the face when Rowe hooked it off the peak of his cap and it went screaming over backward square-leg. It was a flat six. The crowd went wild. Rowe remembers it vividly. "Geoffrey Boycott was standing at the backward square-leg boundary and it flew barely a few feet over him. I had connected it really well and hit it hard." The next day was a rest day. The word spread like fire. Rowe was in his 40's and the crowd knew that there was going to be something special from him the next day. The talk spread from bar to bar on that rest day and it gathered momentum. It went over the boil the next morning and the whole of Barbados, almost, poured into the Kensington Oval

Rowe's most famous knock was the 175 he hit in the World Series in Australia, organised by Kerry Packer, against Dennis Lillee and Co. It's a stuff of folklore but it's not Rowe's best innings. He rates a 66 he hit in Sydney as his best. "The pitch was so green and they had Lillee, Thomson, Max Walker. The ball was flying and moving around. And I managed to play my shots. It was a great feeling. That 175 was my most dominating knock of course but I really cherish that 66 on that track."

It wasn't the rebel tour that killed Rowe's career. The end had begun a while back. Rowe's life almost fatally attracted tragedy. His knee gave way during a game in Trinidad, an eye disease was discovered in London and he had an allergy to grass, a perverse ailment to strike a cricketer. The knee injury, that happened in 1973, was wrongly diagnosed by a doctor who thought it was just a mild strain and the cast was removed.

"That was a mistake. It was a ligament tear and took me a year to really recover. I suffered because of that during the England tour." The eye disease - a "rare case of stigmatism" - was found out almost accidentally in a restaurant by the manager Gerry Alexander. "I was peering into a menu and was holding it really close to my eyes when Gerry asked me what's wrong with me. I hadn't even realised my eye was affected." The right eye had a perfect 20-20 vision but the left eye was giving up on Rowe. He tried spectacles but everything looked "oblong and hazy". "I was told I was soft. I would call it bad luck."

Having lost the fluency that he was known for, Rowe started to turn against himself. He couldn't accept his game, hailed across the cricketing world as the most graceful batting seen in history, was drifting away from him. Paranoia seeped in. In a festive game in England, people had thronged the ground to see him bat. Rain came down to leave the pitch damp and Rowe refused to come out to bat. Michael Holding, a great fan of Rowe, wrote a revealing line. "He couldn't be the Lawrence Rowe that people were expecting." And he didn't come out to bat. "The fear of failure gripped him," Cozier said.

Was he a special batsman? "No-one better than him," Cozier said. "No-one. He was the most graceful batsman that you could dream to see." Rowe was blessed. He was then cursed. Greatness eluded him but luckily, on Monday, as West Indies took on India on the same ground where he had a dream debut, he found some sort of redemption. The man they called Yaga was all smiles at his Sabina Park. It felt good.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on October 10, 2011, 16:28 GMT

    I saw the 300 he scored in Barbados. Since then i have and will never in this or another life time ever see batting like that again. During that time every young cricketer wanted to be lawrence Rowe.Could you imagine sitting on high tension wires while lawrence batted and we were not executed? Well i was there!

  • testli5504537 on October 8, 2011, 13:43 GMT

    Rowe hurt all of us and he must sincerely apologize for helping to tear west Indies cricket apart. Rowe is very arrogant in many of his interviews he express where he was rob of greatness,no Rowe you were on the decline. When you was drop by the west Indies after your new Zealand tour you were on the decline, there were many west Indian batsmen who were better than you. We had to drop you we needed talent to rule the world of cricket and you have lost yours. The people of the west indies new you are over rated,I can cite many many incidents were you proved you weren't good enough .

  • testli5504537 on October 8, 2011, 11:58 GMT

    Nice to read about a time when the west indies were great and even nicer to read posts by fans of windian cricket such as errol andrews and marlon biggs.....its nice to know such passion still exists for windies cricket. As a lifelong fan my very first test series in clear memory was the 1984 england tour as a 8 year old boy. I was mesmirised by garner,marshall,richards,gomes. Its shocking the way the game disintegrated in the mid 90's as Bishop turned out a disapointment, and lara, hooper, adams and chanderpaul couldnt play with the same consistency, team awareness and pride as the class of 1975-1994. Its like the fall of ancient egypt relatively swift and no rejuvenation in site. Why are all the modern windies bowlers short? where are the tall windian athletes going?

  • testli5504537 on July 11, 2011, 1:00 GMT

    Hello! akgedfa interesting akgedfa site!

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2011, 21:44 GMT

    Mr editor, i wrote earlier on the genius Lawrence Rowe and stated that he played against Kerry Packer at Albion Guyana.This i think is wrong.I did saw him bat at Albion,but it may have been against Australia,i think he made 32 or so runs.I am sorry and i appologise for this error.Rowe of course was a jewel of fine art.

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2011, 13:33 GMT

    Why not pay respect to this genius of batting?He found himself in a team comprised of only the greats,a team that was on the verge of conquering the word and he did not let them down,it is tragic that his path was crossed with medical issues,but a genius comes once in a lifetime.Honour this greatness.I must say i was lucky to see him during the Kerry Packer series at Albion in Guyana,and i remembered his signature late cut.Hail to greatness.

  • testli5504537 on June 25, 2011, 8:44 GMT

    I saw Rowe and others at Cape Town for the first match of that rebel tour. For all that was wrong with the tour there is a sense in which it contributed to change in South Africa. I remember well the buzz of excitement that greeted the team. The contrast of hero-worship of a group of very cool Caribbean dudes against the mistreatment of our own people was apparent even in more conservative circles. During the tour there was an incident when Colin Croft (I think) got into the "wrong" carriage on a train (reminiscent of Ghandi!) which was the first time I saw the apartheid government embarrassed by a racial incident (they usually ignored it, or blamed it on "communists and agitators"). Less than 7 years later they unexpectedly flip-flopped and begun the end of apartheid and started the miracle emergence of the rainbow nation. So many factors contributed to that, but I like to believe that Rowe & co. played their part.

  • testli5504537 on June 24, 2011, 2:08 GMT

    Lawrence remains one of the greats of West Indian and a bit of a tragic hero because of events that prevented him from fulfilling an amazing promise. That innings at Kensington Oval in 1974 will forever remain an innings that stir the imagination of all Caribbean peoples and moreso the young ones. Kanhai and Sobers was still in that team and so was Lloyd, Murray, Kalli, Fredericks, Bernard Julien, Gibbs, Holder and Boyce. This was the nucleus of the team that gave rise to the all-conquering Windies that ended its domination around 1996. It does not matter what anyones says: South Africa was for economic reasons and nothing else - so we all have to be easy on them. They deserve to have earned a livelihood at a time when WI cricket was brimming over with greats. I sometimes wonder if he was part of the Australian tour of 75-76 when WI lost 5-1. I gather from the article that he was part of that team but it appears that he did not do too well.

  • testli5504537 on June 23, 2011, 21:06 GMT

    I cannot properly express how delighted and relieved I am that I can finally bury the hatchet with my all time hero and favourite batsman.I saw most of if not all of Lawrence Rowe's innings at Sabina Park.Yagga used to work for an air conditioning company and as an incentive they used to offer him money for each run he every time he hit a boundry the cry of "dollar worth!"would ring out across'BINA'.People used to run out on the pitch and full his pocket with their money whenever he reached a milestone ...the stats might say Bradman or Tendulkar...but no one can bat like 'Yagga Rowe'there is a DVD I bought at DERRICK HARRIOTTS RECORD SHOP in Kingston of his 175 in World Series Cricket....not very good quality picture...but well worth it.

  • testli5504537 on June 23, 2011, 16:09 GMT

    Thanks for the special comments.....and special thanks to brother Errol Andrews! This was like reliving the olden days..

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