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Sir Wesley Hall – A true sporting legend
By Alan Harris
The sight of Wesley Hall in full flow as he ran towards the wicket is still treasured in the memories of all but the opposing batsmen – and maybe in theirs as well.
The aforementioned perfectly describes who Sir Wesley Winfield Hall was, is and shall forever be – a man feared by some but loved by all.
At 74, Hall was on Friday bestowed with a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, the lone Barbadian of nine recognised by the Queen in her Diamond Jubilee year to be created a Knight Bachelor.
Many would say it was a long time in coming.
Hall, still sprightly to this day, played a principal role in the fearsome West Indies pace attack of the 1960s, taking 192 scalps in 48 Tests at an average of 26.38.
For more than a decade, he terrified batsmen with his extraordinarily long approach to the crease, likened to that of a galloping horse, which culminated in a fast, explosive delivery sometimes followed by a menacing stare.
But despite his threatening presence, Hall was full of compassion, especially for an injured player, many times at his own hands.
“There was never a hint of malice in Hall or in his bowling,” said English cricketer Ted Dexter, himself hit several times by Hall.
To prove it, after fracturing Wally Grout’s jaw in 1962 while playing for Queensland, Hall said: “It made me sick to see Wally leaving and it made me sicker to hear some jokers in the crowd ranting on as though I had intentionally hurt him.”
That attitude made Hall one of the more popular cricketers of his day, especially in Australia, where he captured the imagination of the public with his famous final over in the 1960-61 tied Test in Brisbane, the images of which are immortalised through choppy black-and-white footage – a true West Indian treasure.
“Remember Wes, if you bowl a no-ball you’ll never be able to go back to Barbados,” Frank Worrell told him before he sent down his final delivery. Hall gave himself at least twelve inches breathing room. And he did return to Barbados, unscathed and a hero.
After his performance, Australian commentator Johnnie Moyes described Hall as “a rare box-office attraction, a man who caught and held the affections of the paying public”.
Born in Station Hill, St. Michael to a teenaged mother, Hall first attended the St. Giles’ Boys’ School, and later Combermere, where he began to lay the foundations of his cricketing career.
He started out as a wicket-keeper/batsman for the Cable Office cricket team but converted to a bowler when he was asked to fill-in in a match against Wanderers. He took six wickets and decided bowling would be his path to the West Indies team.
He was first included in the Barbados team in 1956, and based partly on his promise, was selected to the West Indies squad for their 1957 tour of England. Despite his enthusiasm, Hall struggled in the unfamiliar surroundings.
“When I hit the softer wickets, I was like a fish out of water,” he said.
Hall did not play in any of the Tests against England and his lacklustre performance in the tour matches saw him overlooked for the home series against Pakistan the following year.
He did, however, make his Test debut in 1958 against India at the Brabourne Stadium in Bombay, taking three for 35 in the first innings and one for 72 in the second.
Later that year, Hall created history against Pakistan by becoming the first West Indian to take a hat-trick in Test cricket. His victims were Mushtaq Mohammad (aged 15 and in his debut Test match), Nasium-ul-Ghani and Fazal Mahmood.
After years of constant cricket, Hall’s slow decline as an effective Test match bowler became more and more apparent after the home series against England in 1967-68. Garry Sobers, the West Indies captain at the time, then had to convince the selectors to include Hall in the team to tour Australia and New Zealand the following year.
The selectors told Sobers that Hall was “past his best” and that he would be left out of the team. Sobers still considered Hall to be one of the best bowlers in the Caribbean and insisted on his selection, threatening to withdraw from the tour himself if he did not get his man in the squad.
Hall was included in the touring party but only played two Tests against Australia. He played the first Test against New Zealand but sustained an injury after bowling 16 overs and was unable to complete the match. It was to be Hall’s final Test.
After his retirement, Hall served Barbados and West Indies cricket in a variety roles, including chairing the West Indies selection panel. He also accompanied several touring West Indies teams as manager, including the ill-fated 1995 tour of England, marred by player unrest.
In 2001, Hall was elected president of the West Indies Cricket Board. In his role, he was instrumental in attracting the 2007 Cricket World Cup to the West Indies. Citing health problems, he opted not to stand for re-election in 2003.
In the 1980s, Hall joined the Democratic Labour Party and became actively involved in Barbadian politics. He was first appointed to the Senate and later elected to the House of Assembly as the representative for the constituency of St. Michael West/Central in 1986. He was subsequently re-elected in 1991.
In 1987, Hall was appointed Minister of Tourism and Sports by the late Prime Minister Errol Barrow. “You think my run up was long. Now you should hear my speeches,” said Hall upon his appointment.
In recent years, he turned to the church to become a minister of a different kind, a legacy of his deeply religious upbringing.
“Wes was regularly my “reliable source” on complicated cricket issues and I was chuffed when he agreed to officiate at the weddings of my children, although I was careful to emphasise the need to keep the service short and to remind him of the time as Wes is renowned for his entertaining, if often prolonged, oratory as well as for his tardiness,” said veteran journalist Tony Cozier.
“But if he happens to be a little late, he is always worth waiting for. When he turned up at my 50th birthday bash at 1a.m., numbers were beginning to thin. Wes kept it going for another four hours.”