Wisden Obituary

Gerry Alexander


Gerry Alexander portrait, May 1, 1957
Gerry Alexander: "His heart and soul were in West Indies cricket," said Gary Sobers © Getty Images
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ALEXANDER, FRANZ COPELAND MURRAY, died on April 16, 2011, aged 82. Even by the standards of West Indies cricket at the time, the career of Gerry Alexander (a lifelong nickname derived, according to family, from his early likeness to an uncle called Gerald) was one of contrasts. Initially an unexpected choice as captain, by default as much as anything, he was replaced after some early success by Frank Worrell, following a spirited campaign for a first - and long-overdue - black skipper. Alexander finished with a grand farewell as a belligerent batsman and athletic wicketkeeper as Worrell's vice- captain in the memorable 1960-61 series in Australia, before he returned to his job in the Jamaican government's agriculture ministry.

The second of the six West Indies wicketkeepers from Wolmer's Boys School in Kingston (Karl Nunes, Ivan Barrow, Jackie Hendriks, Jeffrey Dujon and Carlton Baugh are the others), the sturdily built Alexander had played only twice for Jamaica when he was chosen for West Indies' 1957 trip to England. His inclusion was based on two seasons with Cambridge University, where he had studied veterinary medicine. While there, Alexander also won a football Blue, and later played for England's amateur team.

Alexander's form in two Tests in England was unconvincing, but when Worrell, the obvious candidate, declined the offer of the captaincy for the home series against Pakistan early the following year - he was at Manchester University - the West Indian board reverted to their traditional practice of appointing a white amateur as skipper, and turned to Alexander, although he was actually of mixed race. With a cadre of brilliant emerging young players under him - Garry Sobers, Collie Smith, Rohan Kanhai, Conrad Hunte, Lance Gibbs, Basil Butcher and Wes Hall - West Indies won successive series against Pakistan at home and India away, before a 2-1 defeat on Pakistan's unfamiliar matting pitches in 1958-59. That tour was the first time since their entrance 11 years earlier that all Three Ws (Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott) had been absent.

The triumph in India was diminished by the furore over the volatile fast bowler Roy Gilchrist, Alexander's fellow-Jamaican, who was sent home, apparently for bowling beamers at Swaranjit Singh, a mate from the captain's Cambridge days. This was widely seen as the light-skinned, privileged, university-educated captain from the city against the poor, under-privileged country boy. Alexander, a no-nonsense disciplinarian, held firm, and Gilchrist never played for West Indies again. Many felt that, given his background, Worrell would have handled him better. By the time England toured the Caribbean early in 1960, Worrell was available again, but the board retained Alexander, fuelling the crusade for a change in leadership, which had been initiated by C. L. R. James in Trinidad's Nation newspaper. The board eventually relented and, after 18 consecutive Tests at the helm, Alexander reverted to the ranks for the 1960-61 Australian tour. The practice of captaincy by colour had finally come to an end. Alexander stood clear of the debate. Instead, he accepted vice-captaincy, and emerged as an unlikely star in one of the greatest series of them all. Alexander averaged 60 with the bat, ten more than the next man (Kanhai); his 108 in the victory at Sydney was his only first-class hundred, and he made five other scores of 60 or more.

In 1982, he was awarded Jamaica's Order of Distinction. Garry Sobers, a team-mate in all his 25 Tests, described Alexander as "a truly wonderful man whose heart and soul were in West Indies cricket", while Alan Davidson, Australia's linchpin in that 1960-61 series, felt he "upheld all the virtues of cricket".

Richie Benaud remembered a vital moment from the closing stages of the tie at Brisbane: "The throw from Hunte was superb, but it was flat and fast, and Alexander was looking into the sun as he prepared to try for the run-out of Wally Grout. He gathered the ball and hurled himself into the stumps to achieve the dismissal, part of an extraordinary piece of cricket."

Alexander's only official role in West Indian cricket after his retirement was as manager of the team which toured India and Pakistan in 1974-75. He had made the same trip 16 years earlier as captain of a group of up-and-coming stars; now it was Clive Lloyd's first time as leader of a similar band, who would become the dominant force of the next decade. Alexander's influence was essential.

© John Wisden & Co