The ominous Leap Year of 1964 brought a special delight to sports folk throughout the British Commonwealth when it was announced that Queen Elizabeth 11 had raised frank Worrell to the order of Knighthood. This honor came unexpectedly on that cricketer’s retirement from Test games, because we were looking forward to it like astronomers awaiting the appearance of a phenomenal star ever since Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia, made the suggestion after the West Indies’ unforgettably happy tour of that country during 1960-61.
Even those revolutionaries who wish to dispose of titles could hardly refrain from cheering this marvelous cricketer who revived interest in the game just at a time when the crowds were turning to their idols. Worrell’s sportsmanship and enterprise on the West Indies tours of Australia in 1960-61 and England in 1963 really rejuvenated the spirit and prolonged enthusiasm into those older cricketing territories.
I first heard of this Messiah of cricket when I was staying at a YMCA hostel in Manchester, England, toward the close of World War 22. Some Barbadian servicemen, students and technicians had told me that Jamaica did not have any great cricketer except George Headley, but we would soon hear of a dazzling player named Frank Worrell. I paid little attention because Worrell at the time must have been making his first appearance for Barbados and batting somewhere in the lower orders.
It was not long, however, when at only 19 years and in the Inter-colonial tournament of 1943-44 Worrell rose rapidly, his batting overtaking his bowling ability to score 308 not out against Trinidad in Port-of-Spain which was his highest first class innings.
Surely, all the territories of the Commonwealth where Worrell played will cherish his memory. Unfortunately, South Africa will regard with chagrin that they were never charmed by his presence although he very nearly took a team there but yielding to his better judgment cancelled the tour when he was told that there would have been segregated galleries.
Some more highlights in Worrell’s cricketing career are that he scored more than 10,000 runs in first class games including 40 centuries. He played in51 Tests, scored 3,860 runs in 87 innings averaging 48.25 and a highest Test innings of 261 not our versus England at Trent Bridge, Nottingham, in 1950 – the first Test series West Indies had won in England. He also shared in a fourth wicket alliance of 399 runs with Garfield Sobers who in 1950 – the first Test series West Indies had won in England. He also shared in a fourth wicket alliance of 399 runs with Garfield Sobers who mirrored his elegance in a Test against England at Bridgetown, Barbados in 1960.
Worrell’s mantle fell to Sobers who captured the elusive world championship of cricket in the tournament against Australia in the West Indies in 1965, defeated England in England the following year and trounced India in India during the 1966-67 tournament. When West Indies came home from India Worrell went there on a lecture tour. Then grief befell us on his return, for he went to the University Hospital for treatment so near to the campus where he had been Warden. He died of leukemia while we waited anxiously for more favorable reports.
Worrell’s body was flown to Barbados and he was buried there in profound sorrow. Memorial services were held for him all over the world including Westminster Abbey. We shall all miss Worrell, and there should be no curtain to obscure the stage he designed for the slow changing scenes of cricket!
Three years later Jamaica felt the impact of the three Ws – Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and the giant, Clyde Walcott, when I saw a Barbados team play for the first time in this Island. Worrell, an ambidextrous youth, quickly endeared himself to our big-hearted galleries with the delicacy of his strokes, his swift fielding, and calculated medium pace left arm bowling. He did not display the savage power of Everton Weekes, nor the catapulting force of Walcott; but he had the qualities to arouse the soul of the poet and artist.
There was the perfect upright stance, the left toe slightly raised like a ballet dancer, poised for the cover drive, the masterly drive between the bowler and mid off such as against Lindwall at Sabina Park in 1 955, the flick off his pads past mid on, the one step backward dance to pull to mid-wicket; the prayerful hook on his knees to square leg or fine leg, the rapier square cut or the divinely delayed late cut – these were part of the Worrellian repertoire that charmed cricket watchers in many lands. His batting had all the joy and lightheartedness of Arturo Rubenstein on the piano and Richard Tauber singing!
His playing aside, Worrell’s affability was almost philanthropic. He was easy to approach to converse with and for journalists to interview. He revealed his urbanity as a true citizen of this world when he came to Jamaica and remained to play for Kensignton. He unlike some of his countrymen, fitted in convivially to be domiciled, and to be raised to the first Senate in this newly Independent nation.
Even in circumstances demanding no molestation, Worrell was willing to offer information to those desiring it. I recall the pre-dawn hours before the West Indies flew to Australia in 1960 when I waited on Ruel Vaz’s verandah for a vital interview on behalf of the Jamaica Times. The West Indies captain had but a few hours sleep after a farewell cocktail party, Gentlemen Vaz and Frank Pixley who had risen early, gave me the impression that Worrell was too weary and could not be disturbed. But telepathy reached Worrell as he turned in his sleep and he muttered some-thing, for someone told him that a reporter was outside, and instead of returning to sleep he invited me into his bedroom and accommodated me with an interview to allay the frantic editor and impatiently waiting press. This must have incurred the envy of contemporary publications. Few cricket captains would have been so cooperatively obliging.
Worrell made hosts of friends in Jamaica even among people who cared little for cricket. While staying at the Vaz’s he would often visit an ice cream parlor called the commissary near the Rialto Theatre sipping sodas and talking with everyone discursively inclined far into the night. Obviously, he had signified his intention of making Jamaica his home and he readily entered the Senior Cup competition when his fellow Barbadians returned to their homeland.
Worrell’s 169 for Kensington against Railway was one of the most perfect innings I have ever seen, for he never lifted a ball. His first appearance against the MCC, who were led by Gubby Allen in 1948, thrilled the English players so much that he was immediately asked to accept a League post as a professional in Britain.
Worrell’s compass-like performance in the Fifth Test of that series in Jamaica charted Everton Weekes’ dynamic career. Weekes had difficulty countering Dick Howarth, a left arm spinner when Worrell almost sacrificed his wicket. The result was that Weekes gained confidence, a place in the West Indies team to India, fame and permanence afterward.
But Worrell did not join the team because of a principle in his negotiations with the West Indies Cricket Board. It was that devotion to ethics which won for Worrell universal esteem while he was playing as a professional in the Lancashire League and studying for a degree in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. With that sense of fair-play, he was instrumental in changing the status of the not so socially regarded players who sustained the cartel at the turnstiles, and bolstered them with economic dignity.
Those statesmanlike qualities of reform, astute arbitration, the smooth creation of a new fraternity among players on and off the field led Worrell eventually to the helm of the West Indies. His appointment to take over from Franz Alexander, who had done favorably in India and Pakistan and against England at home, was like the transition of Jamaica from Colonial care to full Independence. Alexander told me that anytime Worrell returned from his studies in England, he would have been happy to hand over the captaincy.
The change was well timed towards the close of 1960 when Worrell led the West Indies to Australia and created history. The Australian crowds had seen him in 1951-52 playing under John Goddard, and although the Lindwall Miller attack seldom gave him any chance to reproduce his phenomenal performances of the 1950 summer in England, they realized his genius when he scored 104 with an injured hand in one of the Tests. In that series he helped to win the Third Test at Adelaide by taking six wickets for 38 runs.
The Worrell, Australia saw again eight years later, was a genial commander who enriched the game in that wealthy country. He and Benaud were the stage directors of the dramatic and first Test ever to end in a tie. His orders to his batsmen to challenge the crafty Australian bowling even in the face of danger, drew the admiration of all who watched and listened to commentaries of the Tests. And though fate was against the West Indies in the deciding match when some incredible judgments were given, Worrell inspired his team to accept them in the finest ideals of the game. No wonder half a million Australians fare welled the West Indies in exultation and tears in the magnificent city of Melbourne.
No wonder a Worrell Trophy was instituted to perpetuate that tour and to be contested by these two countries henceforth! Worrell’s captaincy enabled the West Indies to win all five Tests against India at home in 1962, and in 1963 he won for the West Indies the Wisden Trophy 3-1 against England in England. On his last Test tour, his third Test tour of England, Worrell’s bat did not wield the magic, nor ooze the music of former times, but his 74 in the First Test at Old Trafford was the grand finale, and his direction and sportsmanship summoned the accolade of knighthood.