Hero of Barbados, 1968

Sir Frank Worrell

Sir Learie Constantine

Born in Barbados, August 1, 1924

Died in Jamaica, March 13, 1967

Knighted for his services to cricket, 1964

Sir Frank Worrell once wrote that the island of Barbados, his birthplace, lacked a hero. As usual, he was under-playing himself. Frank Maglinne Worrell was the first hero of the new nation of Barbados and anyone who doubted that had only to be in the island when his body was brought home in mid March of 1967.

Or in Westminster Abbey when West Indians of all backgrounds and shades of opinion paid their last respects to a man who had done more than any other of their countrymen to bind together the new nations of the Caribbean and establish a reputation for fair play throughout the world. Never before had a cricketer been honoured with a memorial service in Westminster Abbey.

Sir Frank was a man of strong convictions, a brave man and it goes without saying, a great cricketer. Though he made his name as a player his greatest contribution was to destroy for ever the myth that a coloured cricketer was not fit to lead a team.

Once appointed, he ended the cliques and rivalries between the players of various islands to weld together a team which in the space of five years became the champions of the world.

He was a man of true political sense and feeling, a federalist who surely would have made even greater contributions to the history of the West Indies had he not died so tragically in hospital of leukaemia at the early are of 42, a month after returning from India.

People in England can have little idea of the problems of West Indian cricket. It is not a question of a few countries bordering each other coming together in a joint team. Jamaica is 1,296 flying miles from Barbados and Georgetown in Guyana 462 miles from Bridgetown in Barbados.

Before that wonderful tour of Australia in 1960-1, Barbadians would tend of stick together and so would the Trinidadians, Jamaicans and Guyanans. Worrell cut across all that. Soon there were no groups. Just one team.

He told his batsmen to walk if they were given out. When Gary Sobers appeared to show his dissent with a decision, he reprimanded him. After that, everyone walked as soon as the umpire's finger went up.

So when half a million Australians lined the streets of Melbourne in their ticker tape farewell to Worrell and his men, they were not only paying a final tribute to the team's great achievements, they were recognising the capacity and potential of equals both on and off the turf.

Sir Frank started life in Barbados, worked and lived in Trinidad and died in Jamaica after doing much useful work at the University of the West Indies there. He incurred enmity by leaving his birthplace but he did not care much for insularity, cant and humbug.

He saw the many diverse elements of the West Indies as a whole, a common culture and outlook separated only by the Caribbean Sea. This is why he upset certain people in Barbados when he wrote to a newspaper there criticising the island for having the cheek to challenge the rest of the world to celebrate independence.

Worrell was strongly criticised for this action, bitterly in fact in some quarters. But being attacked did not worry him. He always had the courage to say what he felt about every issue he thought vital to the well-being of the islands.

Sadly, the news that he was dying came through as Barbados played the Rest of the World XI. But Worrell held no rancour against his homeland. He had bought a piece of land there and had intended to retire there eventually.

This willingness to speak out often got him into trouble, even at school. Cricket had come naturally to him as it does to most youngsters in the West Indies, particularly Barbados. More so with him because he was born in a house only a few yards away from the Empire cricket ground. He and his friends used to set up stumps on the outfield and play nearly all day in the holidays.

At Combermere School he fell foul of a master who accused him of hogging the crease and not letting his colleagues bat.

He was to write later: "I was unfortunate enough to have been under an endemic psychological and mental strain throughout my school days. So much so that by the time I reached the fourth form I was suffering from a persecution complex."

"These were the days when child psychology was not a subject demanded of applicants to teachers' posts. Indeed, the majority of masters did not have the experience of raising families of their own. There was no allowance for the original point of view."

Worrell was a pupil who always had an original point of view. Also, as it was becoming clear at this time, he was a cricketer with an original talent. He soon made the Barbados team and records began to flow from his bat as he moved up the order from number eleven (yes, that is where he began his career!).

He shared a partnership of 502 with John Goddard in 1943-4 and an unfinished 574 with Clyde Walcott in 1945-6. Typically he dismissed both. "The conditions were loaded in our favour," he said. "I wasn't all that delighted about it."

In 1947 he tired of living in Barbados. His mother had moved to New York and his father was away at sea most of the time so he moved to Jamaica. English people will be surprised to learn that many of Worrell's fellow Bajans have never forgiven him for this 'betrayal'. When will they ever learn?

He established an international reputation against the 1947-8 England touring side and at the end of that tour took the step that made him a batsman for all seasons and all wickets. He signed as professional for the Central Lancashire League side Radcliffe for a fee of £500 a year.

It was a good year to enter League cricket. The Central Lancashire League was a cricket academy and the young, talented player was bound to improve by the experience. Playing in neighbouring clubs were Bill Alley, Jock Livingston, Ray Lindwall, Cecil Pepper, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes, Vinoo Mankad and Dattu Phadkar.

I have always held that League cricket makes a cricketer, not only as a player but as a man. There is much to learn in the field of human relations from the kind, friendly and warm people of the North of England. Frank brought his fiancée, Velda, over and their marriage was another setting influence on him.

Worrell was not just living for the present -- as I regret is the case with some of our cricketers -- but he was thinking of the future. He took a course at Manchester University and qualified in economics, his chosen subject.

The flag on Radcliffe Town Hall was at half mast on the day of his death. He married his wife, Velda, at Radcliffe, and their daughter was born there. Such was the esteem in which he was held by Radcliffe that in 1964 a street near the cricket ground was named Worrell Close.

The 1950 tour of England was a triumph for him and he topped the Test batting averages with 539 runs at an average of 89.83. His best Test score of 261 was made in this season, at Trent Bridge.

Norman Yardley, the England captain of the time, told me it was impossible to set a field to him. Place the fieldsmen straight and he beat them on the wide. Place them wide and he would beat them straight.

I am not one for averages myself. I am more concerned with how a batsman made his runs and not what his average was at the end of the series. Sir Neville Cardus has written of Sir Frank that he never made a crude or an ungrammatical stroke. I agree with that. Worrell was poetry.

While Walcott bludgeoned the bowlers and Weekes dominated them, the stylist Worrell waved them away. There was none of the savage aggression of a Sobers in his batting. He was the artist. All three "Ws" were geniuses but Worrell was my favourite because he had more style and elegance. He had all the strokes and the time and capacity to use them without offence to the eye, without ever being hurried.

He was never seen playing across the line. That is why he never hooked. Players and Pressmen agreed that even when he ducked beneath a bouncer, he did so with a lack of panic and great dignity. And remember he had Lindwall and Miller to contend with!

The tour to Australia in 1951-2 was not such a success as the 1950 tour of England. Worrell himself said this was because there were too many factions in the side and John Goddard, previously showered with advice, was not helped this time by the seniors.

When Worrell took over the captaincy nine years later, he was to heed the lessons of this dismal tour. The return series in the West Indies in 1955 was again a disappointment for Worrell; he scored only 206 runs. The 1957 tour of England was a further let down. Clearly the West Indies authorities had to change their policy of always appointing a white man to captain the side.

The break was made in 1960 when Worrell, the only candidate with the outstanding qualities to do this gigantic repair job, was asked to lead the side in Australia. Everyone knows the story of that tour and how much it did to restore the good name of cricket after the 'bumper' rows, 'slow over rates' disputes and other ills which had been afflicting the international game.

Back in Jamaica, Worrell was acclaimed and rightly so. He was appointed Warden of the University College of the West Indies and also a Senator in Parliament.

The Indians were the next tourists to the West Indies and it was typical of the man that when their captain, Nari Contractor, was seriously injured by a blow on the head, Worrell was one of the donors of blood which saved his life.

It was not generally known that Worrell, the thirteenth West Indies captain, was a superstitious man. During the 1951 tour of Australia he was bowled first ball by Geoff Noblet. Determined to make a fresh start in the second innings, he changed every stitch of clothing, fitting himself out in a completely new gear and walked to the wicket hoping that by discarding his old clothes he would change his luck. Not a bit of it! He was out for another first baller!

As he came in, crestfallen, Clyde Walcott, the next batsman, said with a laugh: "Why do I have to face a hat trick every time I follow you?"

His finest hours in England came in 1963 when he led the West Indies to more glory. By this time he had slowed up in the field and his figure was well in excess of Miss World proportions. He was 38 (age I mean) and no longer the player he had been. He was a tired man and often told me so.

But his influence over the side as captain was such that it was unthinkable to rest him in any of the Tests. He bowled a few shrewd medium pacers with his deceptively easy delivery and when the crisis was on in the Lord's Test, the greatest Test of all time as it was called by the critics, he helped Butcher to add 110 on the Saturday afternoon. The following Monday morning the second innings collapsed.

Asked if Worrell was worried about this, another player replied: "No, he is asleep." Sir Frank had this ability to drop off at any time, particularly when there was a batting collapse. After his death, I wondered whether this had something to do with his illness which was obviously affecting him at this time, though no one knew that he was not a fit man.

As Wes Hall prepared for the final over which could have won or lost the Lord's Test, Worrell went to him with some advice. What was he saying? Bounce them? Bowl'em straight? No, none of the obvious things. Sir Frank said calmly: "Make sure you don't give it to them by bowling no balls." Worrell was the calmest man at Lord's that day and trust him to think of a highly pertinent point which Hall, in his excitement, may have overlooked!

He announced his retirement at the end of this tour which was a triumph of leadership, technical skill and adaptability. The following year Her Majesty the Queen knighted this complete Cricketer, Philosopher and Captain. It was a fitting end to an unforgettable career but there was one more job for him to do -- manage the West Indies side against the 1965 Australian tourists.

He had groomed Sobers well for the captaincy and theirs was an unbeatable partnership. At last the West Indies were the undisputed champions in their truly national sport.

Throughout his life, Sir Frank never lost his sense of humour or his sense of dignity. Some nasty things were said and written during that 1965 tour but Sir Frank was ever the diplomat. He lost no friends, made no enemies yet won more respect. West Indians really laugh their laughs. And Sir Frank laughed louder than most of us.

He was a happy man, a good man and a great man. The really tragic thing about his death at the age of 42 was that it cut him off from life when he still had plenty to offer the islands he loved. He was only at the beginning. Or was it that the opportunity came to him a bit too late?


OTHER TRIBUTES:

S.C. Griffith (Secretary, M.C.C.): Ever since I first saw him play during the M.C.C. tour of the West Indies, I have thought of Frank Worrell as a great and impressive batsman and a very useful bowler. Even more than that, I have been impressed by his ever growing stature as leader of cricketers, by his tolerance and understanding and by the contribution he was making to the game. He was a great friend of mine and like countless other cricketers I shall miss him more than I can say.

P.B.H. May: The game has lost a personality we all admired. He was one of the greatest of the long line of Barbadian cricketers. One associated him with his two colleagues, Weekes and Walcott, but I regard him as the most accomplished of the trio.

Sir Donald Bradman: His name is for ever shrined on the Frank Worrell Trophy which Australia is proud to have created for permanent competition between our two countries. Players of his calibre are rare. Not only was he a truly great and stylish batsman, he was also a fine thinker with a broad outlook.

Richie Benaud: He was a great leader of men and one of the finest cricketers on and off the field in the history of the game. It is difficult to realise that the indolent drawl, the feline grace known all over the world are no more. Few men have had a better influence on cricket.

Ian Johnson: He was easily the greatest captain of modern times. He brought West Indies cricket to the top and set a wonderful example to world cricket.

Alan Barnes (Secretary, Australian Board of Control): His name is indelibly linked with the finest traditions of cricket throughout the world and particularly in the hearts of all Australian cricket lovers.

E.R. Dexter: His reputation as a cricketer is beyond dispute. I found him one of the best captains I have seen or played against.

F.S. Trueman: He was one of the nicest people I ever played against.

J.M. Kilburn: Cricket was always distinguished in the presence of Worrell -- Sir Frank. His knighthood was a personal honour to a cricketer of rare quality and an acknowledgement that West Indian cricket had reached the highest level in the world. In his captaincy he won esteem and affection by the calm demeanour in which he cloaked firmness and shrewd tactics. His serenity smoothed ruffled feathers and diminished crises.

© John Wisden & Co