Gladstone Small on Lawrence Rowe December 12, 2009

Amazing grace

He walked out to the middle dragging his bat; then the sparks began to fly

Growing up in Barbados, it was a sure bet I would grow to love cricket.

It was my grandfather, Clement Pollard, who really started me on the road. He loved cricket, but unusually, he idolised English cricketers - like Cowdrey, May, Barrington, Graveney and Boycott - far more so than he did Bajan players or cricketers for the West Indies.

Not too many people will know I started out playing as a batsman who bowled a bit of offspin. Anyone who played against me on the island as a schoolboy will remember me as an Under-13 batter for Combermere School. So my heroes were always batsmen, and the very best of those was the great Lawrence Rowe.

I remember in 1974, when England came to Barbados under the captaincy of Mike Denness, one Friday afternoon I made the brisk 30-minute walk from my school to Kensington Oval to try and watch the legendary Rowe. In those days the schoolboys would either climb over the wall or scramble up a tree to get a vantage point.

We saw England lose their last couple of wickets in an hour or so, and then West Indies went in to bat.

England had a tall, curly-haired fast bowler with a huge run-up, who I later found out was Bob Willis. He was sharp and was soon taking on the great man, Rowe, who opened the batting with Roy Fredericks.

Rowe was probably the most elegant and graceful batsman I'd ever seen. He was so stylish and languid with his strokeplay that he even made someone like David Gower look rushed!

We had a short rain break, but Rowe came back out wearing a cap that had a ramrod-straight peak. It was almost as if he'd ironed it flat. He walked back out so slowly, dragging his bat and chewing his gum, almost as if he didn't want to play. But as soon as he started playing shots again he would whistle as the ball left the face of his bat - as if to appreciate the stroke and the timing. He was legendary.

Willis dropped one in short; a bouncer straight at the head, but Rowe rocked back and pulled it virtually from the peak of his cap for a four that flew over the stand. The crowd erupted.

He was 48 not out overnight, so on the Saturday, knowing I idolised this guy, my elder brother took me to the cricket. It was my first full day of watching Test match cricket. Alvin Kallicharran scored a hundred and Rowe batted on into Sunday and eventually reached 302 before Tony Greig got him out. That's a lot of whistling!

As things worked out I ended up playing alongside Kallicharran and Willis at Warwickshire, but I never did get Rowe's autograph.

As told to Mark Pennell, managing director of freelance reporting and public relations agency Kent & Sussex Sport