The era of Walcott, Weekes and Worrell September 26, 2011

The brilliance of the three Ws

How three batsmen from Barbados lifted West Indies' middle order to an unprecedented high

Before the Second World War, West Indies were a decidedly lightweight Test side. They began their Test journey in 1928, and over the next 11 years played 22 times, but with limited success - four wins were offset by 12 defeats, eight of them by an innings, and another by 10 wickets. They notched up their first innings win in 1935, against England in Kingston, but played only three more times before the war intervened and ensured there was no further cricket for them for the next eight years. At this point in their fledgling Test career, West Indies had produced only one truly great batsman: George Headley, who would remain a great in any age and era of West Indies cricket. His 19 Tests had fetched him 2135 run at 66.71, with 10 centuries, which was twice as many as all the other West Indians put together had managed.

Test cricket resumed for West Indies after the war in January 1948, and their side for that first game - on January 21, versus England in Barbados - included Clyde Walcott, who opened the batting and also kept wicket, and Everton Weekes, who batted No. 3. Both belonged to Barbados, and were hence starting out on home territory, and in the next Test they were joined by another Barbadian, Frank Worrell. In the first innings of that game, they occupied positions 3-5, slots they would take several times over the next decade, going on to become one of the greatest middle-order line-ups the game has ever seen.

One of the most remarkable aspects of their success was the fact that it came at a time when West Indies cricket was still trying to find its feet, with only one truly great international performer. Headley played only three Tests after the war, and despite his outstanding career, West Indies' overall middle-order stats had been pretty ordinary before the three Ws came along: till January 20, 1948, the average for the middle order (Nos. 3-6) in their 22 Tests had been 29.38, well below the corresponding numbers for Australia (35.42) and England (35.57).

Over the next decade (1948 to 1958), the stats for Australia and England improved marginally, but for West Indies the average went up by a whopping 63% compared to their middle-order average before the three Ws came along. That put them on a different level altogether when compared to the other teams: the West Indies middle order averaged 47.99, while the next-best was Australia at 39.15. The difference between the two teams, in percentage terms, was almost 23, which is remarkable considering some of the other names who were around during that period. Australia had Neil Harvey and Lindsay Hassett; Denis Compton, Peter May and Tom Graveney were all around for England; while Vijay Hazare and Polly Umrigar scored a fair number of runs for India. Yet collectively they paled before the combined brilliance of Weekes, Walcott and Worrell.

Team-wise stats for middle orders (Nos. 3-6) in Tests between Jan 21, 1948 and Mar 26, 1958
Team Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
West Indies 49 14,542 47.99 43/ 65
Australia 56 13,273 39.15 37/ 54
India 39 8322 36.50 22/ 39
England 84 18,489 36.32 37/ 93
South Africa 42 8381 28.80 14/ 42
New Zealand 29 5517 28.00 6/ 31
Pakistan 23 4131 27.91 4/ 24

During this period, much of West Indies' batting, and the runs they put up on the board, depended on the contributions of the three Ws. A good example of this was the fifth Test of the home series against Australia in 1955. In the first innings West Indies were bowled out for 357, of which 272 came from the bats of Walcott (155), Worrell (61) and Weekes (56). In the second innings Walcott scored another century, and in all the three Ws contributed 430 out of West Indies' match total of 676. West Indies, though, lost the match by an innings and 82 runs.

Though their middle order was so much better than those of the other sides, West Indies' overall results in this era were not outstanding: they won 17 and lost 15 out of 49 Tests, and their win-loss ratio was third-best, behind Australia, who were far superior, and England. Apart from the middle order, the other aspects of West Indies' team weren't the best: Australia and England had better openers, while four teams - Australia, England, South Africa and Pakistan - had better bowling attacks: West Indian bowlers only averaged 32.73 runs per wicket compared to Australia's 26.10. But in terms of middle-order batting, no team came close to West Indies' classy line-up.

Apart from the considerable batting skills of the three Ws, opposition bowlers also got a first taste of bowling to a player who would become a giant of the game: Garry Sobers had a relatively slow start to his Test career, but in 1958 against Pakistan, he slammed three successive hundreds - including an unforgettable 365 not out - to announce himself on the world stage. Among middle-order batsmen who scored 1000 or more Test runs during that period, four of the top six best averages belonged to West Indians.

Best middle-order batsmen in Tests between Jan 21, 1948 and Mar 26, 1958 (Qual: 1000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Garry Sobers 15 1115 61.94 2/ 6
Clyde Walcott 40 3639 61.67 15/ 13
Everton Weekes 46 4235 58.01 14/ 19
Lindsay Hassett 25 2114 57.13 8/ 7
Vijay Hazare 24 1985 56.71 7/ 9
Frank Worrell 30 2302 54.80 7/ 10
Neil Harvey 52 4351 53.71 16/ 16
Dudley Nourse 15 1242 51.75 4/ 5
Peter May 44 3083 47.43 8/ 16
Denis Compton 55 3941 46.36 9/ 20

What stands out about this West Indian middle order was its numbers in comparison with other middle orders during that era. There have been other great middle-order combinations in Test cricket, but never has this sort of superiority been replicated. Even during Bradman's time, Australia's middle order was about 15% better than their nearest competitor: Australia's Nos. 3-6 averaged 50.98 in 60 Tests during Bradman's time, while England's middle order, which was the next-best, averaged 44.34.

Middle-order stats during Bradman's era (Nov 30, 1928 to Aug 18, 1948)
Team Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Australia 60 17,234 50.98 49/ 66
England 105 27,585 44.34 73/ 111
West Indies 23 5375 34.90 13/ 20

Here's a look at some of the other powerful middle-order combinations over the years. Every era has had at least one team - though generally more - of high-class middle-order batsmen. In the 1960s, for instance, West Indies' line-up of Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Co was still the best in the business, but the difference was that they weren't as far ahead of the competition as the three Ws had been. In fact, the top three middle-order run-getters during that era were all from England: Ken Barrington, Colin Cowdrey and Ted Dexter all scored more than 3000 runs, with Barrington scoring 5548 runs at 62.33. In all, England's middle order average 44.75, with South Africa (41.57) and Australia (40) also touching the 40-mark.

Between 1972 and 1976, Australia's top-class middle-order line-up averaged 46.38, but Pakistan (46.14) and West Indies (44.38) were close behind. That was the period when the Chappell brothers led the way, scoring more middle-order runs than any other batsmen, and at 50-plus averages too.

In the seven-year period between 1978 and 1984, though, middle-order runs were far more difficult to score, with only Pakistan averaging more than 40. West Indies, with an average of 39.80, were almost four runs behind Pakistan's 43.65. West Indies were clearly the best side in the 1980s, but their middle order was at its best in the early 1990s, when they averaged 45.60, a run and a half better than Australia's 44.03. Soon, though, Australia moved quite emphatically to the top, and their middle order played a significant role in that: they averaged almost 50. But that was also the period when five teams averaged more than 40. That has increased to seven teams over the last eight years, which is telling proof of how the game has changed: during the days of the three Ws, only one team topped 40. From 2002 to 2010, Sri Lanka's middle order was the most prolific, followed by India's heavyweight line-up. The list of top middle-order batsmen during this period has all the usual suspects.

One way to capture the increased dominance of batsmen over the last decade is to look at the overall top-order averages during each of those periods, and then compare those with the middle-order numbers for the top sides in each era. That comparison shows that even though other middle orders have higher averages over the last 15 years, in terms of the ratio no line-up has topped the West Indies team of the three Ws.

Best middle-order combinations over the years (Nos. 3-6)
Team Period Main batsmen Middle Order ave Overall top-order ave* Ratio
West Indies Jan 21, 1948-Mar 26, 1958 Weekes, Worrell, Walcott 47.99 34.64 1.39
West Indies Jan 1961-Dec 1970 Sobers, Kanhai, Butcher, Nurse 46.57 36.58 1.27
Australia Jan 1972-Dec 1976 Greg & Ian Chappell, Doug Walters 46.38 38.20 1.21
Pakistan Jan 1978-Dec 1984 Miandad, Zaheer 43.65 35.20 1.24
West Indies Jan 1991-Dec 1996 Lara, Richardson, Adams, Hooper 45.60 35.50 1.28
Australia Jan 1999-Dec 2007 Ponting, Martyn, Steve & Mark Waugh 49.68 37.63 1.32
Sri Lanka Jan 2002-Dec 2010 Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Samaraweera, Dilshan 50.58 39.29 1.29
India Jan 2002-Dec 2010 Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly 48.10 39.29 1.22
* Average for Nos.1-7 in that period

In fact, among No. 4 batsmen who've scored at least 2000 runs at that slot, only Jacques Kallis (65.24) has a higher averaged than Weekes' 63.62. The table below lists the top No. 4 averages (with a 3000-run cut-off).

Highest averages for No. 4 batsmen (Qual: 3000 runs)
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Jacques Kallis 92 7895 65.24 30/ 33
Everton Weekes 37 3372 63.62 11/ 17
Greg Chappell 54 4316 59.12 15/ 19
Sachin Tendulkar 160 12,536 57.50 44/ 51
Mahela Jayawardene 98 7989 57.47 26/ 29

Worrell and Walcott, on the other hand, batted mostly at No. 3 or 5, and their averages figure in the top 10 among batsmen who've scored at least 2000 runs in those positions.

The three Ws did score their runs in an era when scoring them was generally more difficult, but even so, they did enjoy their time against the relatively weak bowling teams of the time. Weekes and Worrell both averaged less than 40 against Australia, but feasted on the Indian attack: Weekes averaged 106.78 in 10 Tests, and scored more runs off India than any other team, while Worrell averaged almost 61 against India, and 116.50 in two Tests against New Zealand. Walcott's record was more consistent, with an average of 57 against Australia - including centuries in each innings in two Tests in 1955 - and more than 44 against all sides.

The home-and-away stats, though, were especially skewed for Walcott and Weekes. Walcott averaged almost 30 more at home than he did away (69.83 to 40.46), while for Weekes the difference was almost 20 (69.14 at home, 49.63 away). For Worrell, the numbers were a little more balanced - 55.41 at home, and 44.90 away.

Tests that the three Ws played together
There were 29 Tests that Weekes, Worrell and Walcott played together, and in those matches Worrell was the only one to average more than 50 (even though in terms of overall career stats he was the only one among the three to average less than 50). West Indies, though, didn't have a very successful time in those games, winning seven Tests and losing 12. Against Australia, they lost six out of seven matches, which perhaps isn't so surprising given that both Weekes and Worrell averaged less than 40 against them.

The three Ws in the Tests they all played
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Frank Worrell 29 2443 51.97 7/ 10
Clyde Walcott 29 2290 49.78 9/ 8
Everton Weekes 29 2314 47.22 6/ 12

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jesse on September 29, 2011, 4:10 GMT

    I didnt realise how unbelievable Kallis's numbers were! He has a better strike rate scoring hundreds than Tendulkar batting 4, and a much higher average. He is an underrated great of modern day cricket.

  • Dummy4 on September 27, 2011, 19:42 GMT

    I only wish SA at the time had an open policy to have them play here. So many great cricketing moments lost. I think these three men along with Headly set the foundation for west indies dominance to come. Also very intresting that Jaques kallis averages 8 runs more than Tendulkar at 4. Kallis spent a long time at 3 which in my opinion is the most difficult place to bat. If you add in that the overall batting average for batsmen is significantly lower than for batsmen in india makes you wonder who truly is the best batsmen of the last two decades.

  • Dummy4 on September 27, 2011, 12:02 GMT

    I think Walcott is the only batsman in test history to score centuries in both innings twice in the same test series ---Australia vs West Indies in the 1950s. It is very unlikely that this record may be broken in the near future!

  • Harsh on September 27, 2011, 11:08 GMT

    We must never forget Worrel's accomplishments in the Commonwealth games where he averaged 97 runs ,his 2 mammoth first class stands of 502 and 574 and his brilliance as acaptain winning 9 out of 15 test matches.Weekes plundered runs like an emperor and Bradman rated him the best of all West Indian batsman.What went against Wekes was his performances overseas in tests in England and Australia.I can't forget Weekes's first -class performances on the 1952 tour of England.Worrel mastered seaming English pitches when he scored 197 and 261.Worrel's only weakness was against short-pitched bowling.In the modern era I feel with the placid tracks they may well have averaged over 60 runs!Overall Weekes was neck to neck with Tendulkar,Lara and Viv Richards,with his ferocious domination of bowling.Overall I would place Worrel only behind Sobers and Viv Richards amongst West Indian cricket stars ,who brought unparalleled grace to the game of cricket.

  • Harsh on September 27, 2011, 10:57 GMT

    Worrel was arguably the most elegant West Indian batsman of all whose batting posessed the grace of a pianist tapping his notes.He was also amongst the technically soundest with the prowess of adapting to difficult tracks.In first class Cricket even overshadowed Weekes.Walcott was the most explosive while Weekes was arguably the closest to Sir Don Bradman.Weekes was the most pugnacious of all batsman of his era whose batting style resembled Sir Don and had phenomenal statistical achievements in test and First class Cricket.His 90 in 1957 in England was possibly the cloest to Bradman.Walcott at his best statistically overshadowed both of his compatriots against Australia at home aggregating 827 runs with 5 centuries.

    Never in cricket history did or perhaps will dominate the proceedings of a team like the 3W's.As a batsman Weekes was the best but overall as a cricketer Worrel wins my vote.A seperate book should be written on the 3w's which would be a classic.

  • roy on September 27, 2011, 6:43 GMT

    Walcott has never been given his rightful credit for being a great all round bat with both a great attacking style and a formidable defensive technique- better that the other two W's. Not only his stats against Australia and England - the best bowling attacks in the then world, but his contributions and value of his innings. Weekes was a murderous stroke player - followed by Rohan Kanhai), Worrell was all silken grace and intelligence but for me Clude Walcott was the best. And his contributions to W I cricket as a cricket director in Guyana when he was soley instrumental in unearthing Kanhai, Butcher and Soloman from the sugar estates in Berbice; and as a national coach, manager, director and W I President are all now forgotten. Worrell was the talisman- but Clyde Walcott was the sword and the plough of W I cricket.

  • Aloke on September 27, 2011, 1:39 GMT

    Stories of the 3 W's were legendary and while Worrell averaged less than the other 2, his value to the West Indian team was immeasurable. He was a great leader of men, a handy bowler and the person who galvanized the team to make them world beaters. In that sense, Worrell and Benaud are two cricketers whose contribution went beyond just their batting/bowling (the former for captaincy and as a statesmen and the latter as a captain and a commentator). It is hardly surprising then that the 60/61 series between Aus and WI was amongst the best series ever played. Also interesting to note that India came in at number 3 in middle order averages, probably due to the greatness of Hazare, Merchant (and possibly Umrigar).

  • Stephen on September 26, 2011, 19:42 GMT

    These statistics, as impressive as they are, do not really convey the essence of batsmanship & character that the Three Ws brought to Cricket. Some fans of the game today limit themselves to the analysis of averages & runs aggregates to assess the relative skill of a player. The assumptions in comparing cricketers of different eras are not accounted for. These include: back-foot bowling rule, uncovered pitches, short-ball restrictions, number of games played, rest days etc. Compare at your own peril. However, let it be known that these men were each & collectively a colossus of the game in the days when batting was still a difficult skill to master.

  • Arvind on September 26, 2011, 15:40 GMT

    Thanks for this Rajesh. thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • Dummy4 on September 26, 2011, 14:56 GMT

    I vividly remember how Weekes and Walcott were the scourge of the Indian team during the West Indian tour of India in 1948-49.Weekes especially was in terrific form with four centuries and a 96 in the 4th test at Madras , just missing 5 consecutive centuries in that series. However it may also be mentioned that Indian fielding was far below par in that series. Otherwise the lion hearted Vinoo Mankad would have reaped a bigger haul of wickets. It may not be out of place to mention here that India was robbed of its first test win in the fifth test at Bombay due to time delaying tactics by the West indian fieldsmen especially wicket keeper Clyde Walcott who ran all the way to third man ignoring the slip fielder! That was on the final day!

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