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May 1967

The man who made history

Sir Frank Worrell died at 42 and CLR James recalls how he initiated a regeneration in Test cricket

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Sir Frank Worrell died at 42 and C. L. R. James (who else?) recalls how he initiated a regeneration in Test cricket



Sir Frank Worrell: for a few years probably had no equal anywhere © Getty Images
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Dying at the tragically early age of 42, Sir Frank Worrell had already written his name imperishably in the annals of cricket. In practice and theory combined, C. B. Fry dominated the first twenty years of the century; similarly Sir Donald Bradman before 1948; after 196o in Australia Frank Worrell succeeded to the proud position.

Worrell was no accident. The merchant-planter class of Barbados made cricket into the popular artistic expression and a social barometer of the West Indies. That was the environment which moulded the future Worrell. He was a prodigy, at the age of 13 playing for his school against cricketers like Martindale, whose pace at the time was too much for most English batsmen. Barbados selected him as a slow left-hander, but, sent in as a night-watchman, he at once earned his place as a batsman. Before he was 2o he had scored 300 runs in a first-class match. But the Barbados social discipline was very firm. Even when playing for the island as a schoolboy he had to attend school every morning until play began.

He could not adjust to Barbados and went off to make his home in Jamaica. Early in 1948 he scored 294 runs in three Tests against G. O. Allen's team, and for the next few years probably had no equal anywhere. In the winter of 1949 he went to India with a Commonwealth team. In 1950 he came to England with the West Indies team and that winter he was again in India with a Commonwealth team.

There was no memory of anyone scoring runs in every class of cricket with such grace and power. Of many historic innings he himself preferred 223 not out and 93 not out in an unofficial Test at Kanpur in 1949-5o. To his mastery of bat and ball Worrell, in 1950-1 substituting for the ailing Ames in India, led his side with notable skill. In Australia in 1951-2 he alone of the three Ws lived up to their reputation. During that tour Worrell's form did not advance and against India and against Australia in the West Indies, he was demonstrably ineffective both with bat and ball: curiously enough, whether scoring or failing he remained a stroke-player without peer.

In England in 1957 Worrell recaptured form. He played through the innings at Nottingham for 191 not out; bowling now fast medium at Leeds he took seven for 70. After an absence of two years from first-class cricket, against England in the West Indies in 1959-6o Worrell at once played an innings of 197 not out. He did little else of note in the series but at its end was appointed captain, the result of a successful attempt to dislodge the mercantile-planter class from automatic domination of West Indies cricket.

Worrell as captain entered a decadent Test cricket. Captains sought to ensure the avoidance of defeat, batsmen to remain at the wicket, bowlers _ to avoid being hit. Worrell made the tremendous decision to restore to Tests the spirit of the game he had learnt in Barbados. Already experienced in India at building a team of disparate individuals, he was able to weld his West Indians from dispersed areas into a disciplined unit. Having rapidly - created his instrument, Worrell initiated a regeneration. Benaud, the Australian captain, met him halfway and the result was the most exciting Test series in living memory.

In the MCC tour to Australia in 1962-3, Test cricket seemed to sink back into the doldrums and everyone awaited with anxiety Worrell's team to England in 1963. They repeated the renaissance begun in Australia. George Duckworth believed that `no more popular side has ever toured in the old country', and in the words of the Lord Mayor of London, `A gale of change has blown through the hallowed halls of cricket.'



A great cricketer on the field of play © Getty Images
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This was no casual achievement. Behind the singular grace and inherent -dignity of his manner, Frank Worrell was a man of very strong character. He has himself confessed his strange inability to feel at ease in the society of Barbados. His relations with the West Indies Board of Control earned him the title of a `cricket Bolshevik'. What is by now obvious is that he was possessed of an almost unbridled passion for social equality. It was the men on his side who had no social status whatever for whose interest and welfare he was always primarily concerned. They repaid him with an equally fanatical devotion.

It was typical of his particular origins that in 1958, planning his future after cricket, Worrell studied sociology at a university to emerge with a degree in 1959. He was a combination of most unusual gifts. His unobtrusive skill, his reserve and his dignity on the field made him a great favourite with the British public who saw in him the embodiment of qualities which they admired: after the x963 tour he was knighted. But with the Australian public it was the same. The population of Melbourne turned out in 1961 to give Worrell's team a send-off `the like of which is normally reserved for Royalty and national heroes'. Australia presented the Worrell Cup so as to ensure the memory of a historic tour.

His captaincy will stand on his record and on the evidence of the men who played with him and against him. But it is my duty to record that he had an altogether exceptional acuteness and intelligence of mind.

I had long conversations with him and in 1963 I wrote publicly as follows: 'Worrell is one of the few who after a few hours of talk have left me as tired as if I had been put through a wringer. His responses to difficult questions were so unhesitating, so precise and so took the subject on to unsuspected but relevant areas, that I felt it was I who was undergoing examination. No cricketer, and I have talked to many, ever shook me in a similar manner.'

If his reserve permitted it, this remarkable intelligence could be seen in his views of West Indian society. To us who were concerned he seemed poised for applying his powers to the cohesion and self-realisation 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 with them, 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 civilisation 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.

When all this has been said, it must never be forgotten that Frank Worrell was a great cricketer on the field of play. His greatest years had been between 1948 and 1951 but it was characteristic that as a captain he remobilised himself and personally led the renaissance in Australia in 1960-61. He began the season with 1, 37, 65 not out and 68 not out, 82, 51, and o (absent hurt), 65 and 65 (first Test), o and o (second Test), 18 and 53, az and 82 (third Test), 71 and 53 (fourth Test). It was Worrell who set the tone for Sobers and Kanhai and the whole team, and the words of A. G. Moyes on his batting in the third Test should be recorded: `Technically, he was the finest player in the West Indies side and in this innings he simply could not be faulted. If ever a man deserved a century it was Worrell that day, for he entered the arena when three had fallen for 22 and right from the start he batted with a superb mastery that reduced Davidson in a couple of overs to mediocrity.' He was a notable personality of our century and it was cricket which had made this West Indian what he was.

© The Cricketer 1967

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