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Obituaries

Everton Weekes

No West Indies cricket lover could have easily chosen between the Three Ws

07-Oct-2021
Sir Everton Weekes attends a Test at Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, January 26, 2019

Sir Everton Weekes attends a Test at Kensington Oval  •  Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

WEEKES, SIR EVERTON DE COURCY, GCM, OBE, died on July 1, aged 95.
No West Indies cricket lover could have easily chosen between the Three Ws. But despite the elegance of Frank Worrell and the power of Clyde Walcott, plenty believed the ruthless run-gathering of Everton Weekes gave him a hair's-breadth advantage. In the early 1950s, he and Neil Harvey were the most exciting batsmen in the world, but Weekes's pursuit of big scores meant comparisons were more often made with Don Bradman. "He attacked the bowlers from the start," said Sonny Ramadhin. "He never gave them a chance."
Richie Benaud and Keith Miller reckoned Weekes had the edge over his compatriots, and statistics support them: he scored more Test runs (4,455), at a higher average (58), than Worrell or Walcott, and tied with Walcott on 15 centuries, to Worrell's nine. Small in stature, Weekes was predominantly a back-foot player. "He was a fierce hooker, puller and square-cutter, but at the same time a terrific driver," said Benaud. He also had nimble footwork. "He was down the pitch in a trice once the spinners came on, sometimes even before they did," wrote John Woodcock. C. L. R. James thought Weekes played a defensive shot only when he had exhausted his attacking options. And he was an outstanding fielder: safe close to the wicket, electrifying in the deep. "He had a fantastic arm from the boundary," said Ramadhin.
Weekes's figures retain their lustre. Among batsmen whose Test careers are complete (and comprised at least 20 innings), he has the eighth-highest average, and the secondhighest for West Indies, behind George Headley. He reached 1,000 Test runs in 12 innings, a record shared with Herbert Sutcliffe. But his significance went deeper than sport. From a childhood of poverty, he fought his way through the strict racial divisions in West Indies cricket, breaking down decades of prejudice and exclusion for the black population of Barbados. In March 2020, he overtook Andy Ganteaume as West Indies' longest-lived Test cricketer.
The Three Ws were born within a mile of each other in the parish of St Michael, Weekes arriving six months after Worrell and 11 before Walcott; it was said the same midwife delivered them all. He was named after his father's favourite English football team - "It's a good job he didn't support West Bromwich Albion," quipped Jim Laker - but was brought up by his mother and elder sister while his father was working in Trinidad. The house was 300 yards from Kensington Oval, home of the whites-only Pickwick club; access was possible only if he turned up early to help the groundstaff. In January 1935, aged nine, Weekes lingered after completing his duties, and saw both Headley and Wally Hammond bat on the opening day of the First Test against England.
Football was Everton's first sporting love, and he represented Barbados. Racism, though, was ingrained in the island's sporting institutions. Weekes said: "I could not think of anyone of colour apart from George Headley who played cricket professionally. It was said that a line was drawn, and you were not supposed to be in parts of your own country at certain times of the day." Leaving school at 14 with no qualifications, he took a less trodden route to first-class cricket, via the Barbados Cricket League. (Worrell and Walcott had things easier, attending secondary schools with links to the established Spartan and Empire clubs.)
Weekes prospered after joining the Barbados Regiment during the Second World War: no active service, but plenty of cricket. "The first time I got on to a properly prepared pitch, I wondered just how do you get out." In February 1945, two days before his 20th birthday, he made his first-class debut for Barbados against Trinidad, and was stumped for a duck. His first hundred came against British Guiana at Georgetown in September 1946, and the following season he was called up for a Test debut against Gubby Allen's understrength England. He made a steady but unspectacular start, scoring between 20 and 36 in each of his first five innings. Initially dropped for the Fourth Test at Kingston, he was reprieved by an injury to Headley. But an unscheduled stop in Puerto Rico delayed his arrival.
Flying into Jamaica, he could see the game going on below and, when he got to Sabina Park, he found local favourite John Holt fielding in his place; after Weekes came on instead, the crowd booed every time he touched the ball. When West Indies batted, he was dropped on nought by Godfrey Evans, and needed to be coaxed by Worrell through a spell of left-arm spin from Dick Howorth. Weekes hit 141, and was carried off in triumph. That innings was the start of an extraordinary run.
Later that year in India, he made 128 at Delhi, 194 at Bombay, then 162 and 101 at Calcutta: five successive Test centuries remains a record. He rated the 162 his best: "Everywhere I tried to hit the ball, I hit it." In the Fourth Test at Madras, Weekes had 90 when Gerry Gomez called him through for a single. "I got into the crease - I watched the whole thing happen. The umpire's hand went up. We didn't have all this technology, we didn't have replays. It was rather doubtful." He finished the series with 779 runs at 111.
In 1950, Weekes embarked on a triumphal procession around England, although only after Headley had agreed to take over his Lancashire League contract with Bacup. It was a seminal trip for West Indies, who won their first series there. Ramadhin and Alf Valentine cast a spell on the English batsmen, and the Three Ws hammered 20 first-class centuries, with Weekes contributing seven in his 2,310 tour runs at 79. At The Oval, he made 232 against Surrey, demonstrating a new-found ability to hook and sweep. A few days later, in reply to Cambridge University's 594 for four on a Fenner's featherbed, he made a career-best unbeaten 304 in under five and a half hours, as the West Indians ran up 730 for three. As he approached the triple-century, his concentration lapsed, and he was overheard chastising himself: "Play carefully in the nineties, Weekes man."
Against Nottinghamshire he hit 279 in 235 minutes; against Hampshire 246 not out in 245. At Leicester in mid-July, Weekes reached three figures in 65 minutes - the fastest hundred of the season - on his way to an undefeated 200. His only Test century of the tour came in the third match, at Trent Bridge. His fourth-wicket partnership of 283 with Worrell was then the highest for any West Indian wicket. "It is many a long day since I saw an English Test attack thrashed so unmercifully," wrote Charles Bray in the Daily Herald.
Along with Ramadhin, Valentine and Worrell, Weekes was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year. There were memorable innings to come, though he was never again so consistent. In the First Test against Australia at Brisbane in 1951-52, he injured his thigh, and was troubled for the rest of his career; even so, at home against India he was soon back to his punishing best. The visit of Len Hutton's Ashes winners in 1953-54 was hyped as a battle to decide the best team in the world. A sulphurous series produced some compelling cricket, with England recovering from 2-0 down to draw. Weekes averaged nearly 70, and hit 206 at Port-of-Spain, but his 94 in the Third Test at Georgetown was his most memorable contribution. "Brian Statham was bowling brilliantly," said Ramadhin. "He was bowling off-cutters and the like, but Everton made it look so easy. In the end, Brian just had to smile."
Following a trail blazed by Learie Constantine and Headley, the Three Ws all spent English summers in the Lancashire leagues. They would meet for a drink in Manchester on Friday evenings, but not much more: "There were no nightclubs," said Weekes. He played for Bacup for seven seasons between 1949 and 1958, and was worth every penny of the club's annual £500 investment, passing 1,000 runs each time. His average - 91 from 150 innings - is the highest in league history. In 1951, he totalled 1,518 runs, surpassing his own record of two years earlier; it has been bettered only three times since.
When Bacup suspended him for playing for a Commonwealth XI without permission, supporters daubed slogans on the pavilion roof calling for his reinstatement. "He was a great cricketer, a great man and a great ambassador for race relations in the town," said Peter Steen of Rossendale Borough Council. The local authority plan to name a new market square after him.
West Indies lost 3-0 at home to Australia in 1954-55, but Weekes scored 469 runs at 58, and at Port-of-Spain managed the only two sixes of his Test career. His reluctance to hit in the air dated back to boyhood games in confined spaces: a shot into neighbouring gardens could mean a broken window and a confiscated ball. He carried his form to New Zealand in 1955-56, making a hundred in each of his first five first-class innings, but West Indies' return to England in 1957 proved a letdown. They were beaten by an innings three times, and Weekes scored just one century, against T. N. Pearce's XI at Scarborough, in his last match of the tour. Laid low by sinus trouble, he had to settle for an aggregate of 1,096, but he batted through the pain of a broken finger to hit a brilliant 90 in the Lord's Test; MCC secretary Ronny Aird wrote him a note of appreciation on behalf of the members.
There was one more series, against Pakistan in 1957-58. In the opening match, he scored 197 at Bridgetown, his only Test score above 50 at his home ground. He celebrated his 33rd birthday during the Third Test, and retired at the end of the series: "I wasn't enjoying the cricket and I wasn't enjoying the administration."
Weekes became the first regular black captain of Barbados in 1959-60, leading them until his retirement from the international game in 1964. The following year, aged 40, he hit 105 for a Barbados Colts XI against the touring Australians. He remained involved in cricket, as coach, selector and West Indies team manager in home series. He was briefly an ICC match referee in 1994, but perhaps the role that suited him best was as a TV summariser alongside Tony Cozier. He also represented Barbados at bridge - "It's like golf: once you get into it, you get addicted" - and took up poker. One of his four children is David Murray, who played 19 Tests as wicketkeeper for West Indies before being banned for touring South Africa. Murray's son, Ricky Hoyte, also kept wicket for Barbados.
Weekes's funeral took place at Kensington Oval; he was buried alongside Worrell and Walcott on the Cave Hill campus at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, where the ground is the Three Ws Oval. In Manchester and Southampton, West Indies and England players held a minute's silence during their intra-squad warm-up matches. Perhaps the greatest tribute had come 70 years earlier, from Nottinghamshire's George Gunn, after Weekes's 279 at Trent Bridge. "I have seen them all since Victor Trumper, including Bradman, but I have never seen a more brilliant array of strokes, nor heard the ball so sweetly struck."