The power of three
"I can never do more for cricket than cricket has done for me," he said, wrapping up an interview. "I can never put back what was given to me."
Within this acknowledgement of perpetual indebtedness lay an equally powerful statement: that Clyde Leopold Walcott would never give up trying to repay it. Who else would weigh his cricket life on such an untenable scale?
Who could look at his contribution and say more was expected?
Sir Clyde Walcott was more than a legend in his time; he was one of the three men who reconfigured West Indies history by defining an era that has come to be known as the age of the three Ws.
West Indians, shaped by the molding hands of slavery, indentureship and colonialism, had liberated their spirits through an abiding individualism. Their cricket had thrown up outstanding and gifted players, men who stood out as sharply as silhouettes before the ascending full moon. Individuals whose talents summoned superlatives and overshadowed the team were the stuff of West Indian lore.
That is, until the three Ws -- Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott -- three Barbadians who coalesced into one majestic unit in the public imagination. For the first time in its richly individualistic history, West Indies cricket came to know the power of three. It was a superb blend of the similarities borne by their environment and the differences in their personalities and styles.
Frank Worrell was the debonair diplomat, charismatic captain and astute tactician. Smooth, sleek, spirited and smart, he answered all the calls for a new West Indian leader. When he died in his early forties, the cricket world was immeasurably saddened. So young, so much was yet anticipated of this stellar being. The grief was as much for what had gone as for what was to come.
Everton Weekes was rated the best batsman of the trio. Coming from a social background that threw needless obstacles in his way, his trajectory was not as steep and he was deeply conscious that scoring hundreds would not guarantee him a place on a West Indies team renowned for its predilection for favouring political and social considerations in its selection process. He would have to score five consecutive centuries to secure his position. Although cricketers revere him, he was the last of the three to be knighted, and his considerable expertise and talent has not been utilized and embraced within the sphere of West Indies cricket as it should have been.
Walcott was the danger man. Powerfully built, standing at 6ft. 2ins. he was a mighty hitter with aggressive instincts that rendered bowlers impotent by the sheer force of his drive. Having learnt at Harrison College that he could double his chances of playing if he expanded his skills, he became a wicketkeeper. Though his height complicated this he was good enough to serve in this capacity for the West Indies though it later injured his back.
It was fortuitous because although he made his debut for Barbados at 16 - and just after World War II he set a record stand of 574 (his highest, 314*) for the fourth wicket with Worrell against Trinidad in 1946 - he did not score well in his first international encounter with the MCC, and it was his safe gloves that kept him on the side until he and his bat reconciled.
It was a grand reconciliation when the team toured India in 1948-49. Walcott kept wicket, but scored two centuries. On the famous 1950 tour of England, he and Weekes scored seven centuries each, with Walcott's 168 at Lord's ensuring the first West Indian Test victory in England. Later, in 1955, he set a record by scoring a century in each innings in two of the Tests against Australia.
The three Ws kept abreast of each other, such was their synergy. Twice they all scored centuries in the same Test match. Against India at Sabina Park in 1953, Worrell made 237, Walcott, 118 and Weekes 109. The following year in Port-of-Spain, this time against England, Weekes made 206, Worrell, 167 and Walcott, 124.
Soon afterwards, Walcott went to British Guiana to work on one of the sugar estates developing cricket. He coached, organised clubs and competitions, and helped improve and create facilities. He described his Guyana sojourn from 1954 to 1970 as "one of the most satisfying periods" of his life. From it emerged players like Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Lance Gibbs, Joe Solomon and Roy Fredericks. He eventually captained the Guyana team, and even led them to victory against Barbados in 1963. By the time he left, he had been President of the Guyana Cricket Board of Control for two years. Two years later, he would become senior vice-president of the Barbados Cricket Association before assuming the presidency of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control from 1988 to 1993.
In this role, he sat at the ICC, and from 1993 to 1997, he became its first non-English chairman. He had also managed the West Indies team for seven tours from 1969 to 1987, including the first two World Cups in England and the third in India and Pakistan.
If he felt that he had not contributed as immensely to cricket as it had to him, others disagreed. In 1966, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to cricket in Barbados, Guyana and the West Indies. In 1970, he received the Golden Arrow of Achievement Award for his contribution to Guyana's cricket. In 1991, he was presented with the Gold Crown of Merit for his contribution to cricket and cricket administration in the Caribbean and in 1993 he was awarded a knighthood for his contribution to the game globally.
In 1958, he published his autobiography, Island Cricketers, and ended by acknowledging that the game will continue changing and improving, and that there will always be critics and confusions.
"Perhaps," he concluded, "when Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, and myself are crusty old men, cricket authority will still be discussing the lbw law, the size of the stumps, the number of fielders on the leg-side...
"And, no doubt, we shall shake our heads, complaining that 'it's not as good as it used to be.' But you know, we will probably be wrong."
Worrell went too early, and Weekes is still going strong. Walcott left us at eighty. Went from the youngster defying his parents' desire to make him a dentist to a life of cricket that segued into coaching and administration.
He'd seen it all, lived it fully and more than repaid his imagined debt. We remain perpetually indebted for the gift of his cricket, the gift of his life.
Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad