Frank Worrell

Mover and shaker

Worrell inspired, stirred, roused. And therein lay his greatness

Telford Vice

Text size: A | A

Frank Worrell puts on his pads, Cambridge University v West Indians, 2nd day, Cambridge, May 18, 1950
For Worrell, there was a lot more to life than cricket © Getty Images
Enlarge
Related Links
Players/Officials: Sir Frank Worrell
Series/Tournaments: West Indies tour of Australia
Teams: West Indies

Frank Worrell bought me plenty of coffee during the 2007 World Cup. That's odd because he died 40 years ago. But in Barbados the going rate for a double espresso is $4.50 in the local currency, and the face that beams with easy dignity on a $5 bill is that of Worrell. "Go on," his slight smile seemed to suggest as Australia ground towards their umpteenth victory, "it won't feel so bad if you have another." So I did, often, and in the midst of a caffeine buzz it didn't seem to matter quite so much that Ricky Ponting's custard column was marching unhalted through another World Cup, or that one-day cricket had marked time since Steve Waugh had lifted the trophy at Lord's in 1999. What might Worrell have said about all that? "Stop moping and find a way to beat them," probably.

It is for real and imagined reasons like this that Worrell is my favourite player, despite the fact that I was but a year old when he succumbed to leukaemia in 1967. Among the more real reasons is that Worrell donated blood to help save the life of Nari Contractor after Charlie Griffith had bounced Contractor into hospital in 1962.

I can easily forgive Worrell's well-meant but silly insistence that guilty batsmen should walk. That lapse into unreality is more than made up for by his decision, in a match against Yorkshire, to pack the leg-side field and to instruct his bowlers to gun for the batsmen. When Douglas Jardine had employed similar tactics, he had been vilified outside of England as a darkly calculating figure. But no one anywhere accused Worrell of being other than a creative captain who was merely trying to win the match in question, which his team duly did. Was this because Worrell was by all accounts an infinitely better human being than Jardine?

Another reason why Worrell is at the top of my list is that he was prone to nodding off in the dressing room, particularly in the middle of a batting collapse. Yes, sometimes cricket really is a boring old business. Interest in the world beyond the game by the more abject professionals who play it for a living would seem to extend only as far as the nearest golf course. Worrell, by contrast, crammed as much life as he dared to into his 42 years.

After retiring as a player, he became a warden at the University of the West Indies, and he graced the Jamaican Parliament as a senator. Who would want Kevin Pietersen for an MP? Who would entrust the tertiary education of their children to Shane Warne?

Worrell was born in Barbados, spent much of his adult life in Trinidad, and saw out his days in Jamaica. Those are three of the most disparate societies in the West Indies. "He saw the many diverse elements of the West Indies as a whole, a common culture and outlook separated only by the Caribbean Sea," Learie Constantine wrote in Worrell's Wisden obituary. Worrell propagated his views earnestly enough to berate Barbados for inviting the international community to celebrate the country's independence. A nation bristled, and for weeks afterwards the newspapers fairly rustled with harrumphing. Worrell was a cricketer who demanded to be so much more than only that.

 
 
I wonder what difference Worrell and his team might have made to the history of South Africa had they spent just one summer playing here
 

And, of course, he was no mean cricketer. Neville Cardus wrote that "he never made a crude or an ungrammatical stroke". For CLR James, Worrell's late cut was "one of the great strokes of our time".

Worrell's finest hour at the crease was West Indies' tour to England in 1950, where he scored 539 runs at 89.83. But his two stands of over 500 - 502 with John Goddard in 1944, and 574 with Clyde Walcott in 1946, both unfinished, and both for Barbados against Trinidad - provide a better epitaph for him as a player. He did, after all, believe in partnerships above all else.

Many will remember Worrell best as the first black man to be appointed West Indies captain. "... He was possessed of an almost unbridled passion for social equality," James wrote. "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." Not for nothing, then, was Worrell snidely referred to as a "cricket Bolshevik" in the corridors of West Indian power.

Such treason evaporated in the heat of his first assignment at the helm, West Indies' epic 1960-61 venture to Australia. Famously, 500,000 Australians lined Melbourne's streets to bid the West Indians farewell at the end of the tour. And that in an Australia that was in the grip of a racist mindset.

As a South African who grew up when apartheid was at its most murderous, I have had cause to wonder what difference Worrell and his team might have made to the history of my country had they spent just one summer playing here. I never met Worrell or saw him play, but in the words of James, "No cricketer... ever shook me up in a similar manner." Espresso for the soul, you might say.

Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa

RSS Feeds: Telford Vice

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

FeedbackTop
Email Feedback Print
Share
E-mail
Feedback
Print
Telford ViceClose
Telford Vice Telford Vice, crash-boom-out left-hand bat, sort-of legspinner, was never sure whether he was a cricket person. He thought he might be when he sidestepped a broken laptop and an utter dearth of experience to cover South Africa's first Test match in 22 years in Barbados in 1992. When he managed to complete Peter Kirsten's biography as well as retain what he calls his sanity, he pondered the question again. Similarly, when he made it through the 2007 World Cup - all of it, including the warm-up matches - his case for belonging to cricket's family felt stronger. But it was only when the World Twenty20 exploded gloriously into his life in 2007 that he knew he actually wanted to be a cricket person. Sort of ...

    An all-round ODI giant

Numbers Game: Few players can boast the sort of numbers that Jacques Kallis achieved in ODIs

    Is being bowled out by Moeen embarrassing?

Polite Enquiries: Is Rahane India's Misbah? Should Rohit be dropped? Jarrod Kimber and George Dobell discuss

    'We were determined to prove we were not an average team'

Former South Africa wicketkeeper Dave Richardson remembers his favourite moment from the Lord's win in 1994

    'A test of Kohli's mental strength'

Bowl at Boycs: Geoffrey Boycott on Kohli's recent form, and Cook's captaincy

How does one 'lead by example'?

Alex Bowden: A captain needs to do enough as an individual to retain respect and control, but exceptional performances may not result in even greater influence

News | Features Last 7 days

The woeful world of Pankaj Singh

Pankaj Singh greeted his most expensive analysis in Test history with the words 'That is cricket'. It was admirable acceptance from an impressive man of a record he did not deserve

Bhuvneshwar on course for super series

Only 15 times in Test history has a player achieved the double of 300 runs and 20 wickets in a Test series. Going on current form, Bhuvneshwar could well be the 16th

Ugly runs but still they swoon

Alastair Cook did not bat like a leading man but the crowd applauded him for simply not failing

Boycott floored by an Indian trundler

When Eknath Solkar got under the skin of Geoff Boycott, leading to a three-year self-imposed exile from Test cricket

Worst keepers, and honours at Lord's

Also, most keeping dismissals on debut, seven-for at HQ, and youngest ODI centurions

News | Features Last 7 days
Sponsored Links

Why not you? Read and learn how!