THINGS THAT MATTER
Sun, 04/24/2016 - 12:00am
Sir Gary, Sir Everton and other Heroes
“He has taken our name
to all parts of the world
and covered it with glory.”
(Burton, Hughes and Sandiford on Sir Gary, in One hundred years of organised cricket in Barbados, 1892 to 1992)
One of the most challenging but enjoyable tasks I’ve ever been asked to perform by my employer of 33 years, our beloved University of the West Indies, is that of Public Orator for the Cave Hill Campus. When Principal Sir Keith Hunte called me one day in 1992, in the middle of my Hypertension Clinic, I was speechless – but not for long: God was on my side. Because my first “citatee” was none other than the Right Excellent Sir Garfield Sobers, not yet our living National Hero, but soon to be.
And I really went to town – with his two biographies, everything Tony Cozier could share with me, and then I was ready to interview Sir Gary. Two wonderful interviews and many hours later, I wrote my opening sentence: “Chancellor, I present to you the man who has done more than anyone else in (blank) years of recorded history to bring Barbados to the attention of the rest of the world.” I then subtracted 1627 from the year 1992, and the answer was 365 – his world record! I almost fainted – spine tingling is an under-statement!
So to celebrate National Heroes Day on Thursday, April 28, here are some extracts from that citation for Sir Gary, and some extracts from my citation for our other living cricket hero – the great, the legendary, the incomparable superstar Sir Everton Weekes.
“Sir Gary has done more to bring Barbados to the attention of the world’s thinking population than any other born Bajan: Sir Gary, the greatest all-rounder in the history of cricket, and for everyone in the cricket world (except, perhaps, some Australians but perhaps even for many of those hero worshippers of Sir Donald Bradman) widely regarded as the greatest cricketer ever.
Garfield Sobers was born on July 28, 1936, last but one of seven children. His father, a merchant seaman, died when young Gary was six, but family unity was strong, and he was “God-fathered” by another icon of Barbados, the legendary cabinet maker the late Lionel Daniel of Culloden Road. The story goes that he was spotted at 14 by Captain Wilfred Farmer, who recruited him into the Police Band, so that he could play for the Police Boys Club and then the Police. After two years of club cricket he was chosen for Barbados against India in February 1953 (aged 16) as a spinner, taking seven wickets and bowling 40 maiden overs! In 1954, at 17, he played his first test at Sabina Park, taking four wickets and scoring 40 runs, signalling the start of an era – the Sobers era of West Indian World Cricket dominance!
His extraordinary career was a celebration of world records. His 365-run Test record, the highest aggregate of runs ever in his 93 tests (exceeded later only by those playing many more matches), 109 catches, 235 wickets, and his “impossible” feat of six sixes in one over!
The great C.L.R.James wrote: “Sobers is the greatest of living batsmen” and John Arlott, doyen of cricket writers, described him as the finest all-rounder in the history of cricket. Sobers is not only the greatest cricketer ever, and the consummate sportsman, he is the embodiment of the West Indian dream. And he lacks the one common characteristic of superstars and celebrities – conceit. He is modest to a fault, and the nicest, most generous person in the world. As our only living National Hero, and the most loved and admired living Barbadian, Sir Gary is a legend in his own lifetime, and fills us all with pride.”
“Everton DeCourcey Weekes was born on February 26, 1925, one year after Frank Worrell and one year before Clyde Walcott – West Indian cricket’s Holy Trinity. They were all birthed in Bridgetown, within a mile of each other and a mile of the sacred ground of Kensington Oval. Sir Everton was the most prolific run-machine of the immortal 3 Ws, and for 20 years this triumphant trio – the greatest batting trio in cricket history – inspired the once and future Nation of the West Indies. After 40 years the Cave Hill Campus repays in part the debt of all West Indians to the boy from St. Leonard’s Boys.
At St. Leonard’s young Everton was a member of the cub pack, the scout troop and the school choir, all good grounding for a team player and for recruitment into the army at age 18. He played for Westshire in Barbados Cricket League as a child prodigy of 13, next for the Garrison Sports Club and then Empire in 1947. He teamed up with the other Ws for the first time against Trinidad and Tobago in 1945, and scored his first class century against our Guyanese cousins in 1946.
His first test was against the MCC in 1948, and his first century in the final test was followed by four more in India, creating the most enduring record in cricket history of five consecutive test hundreds. And his test average of 58.6, the highest West Indian average, has endured for almost as long, while his 8,000 runs in the Lancashire league were scored with an average of 91...
Hear the poetic words for poetic strokes, by the great English batsman George Gunn, of his 279 in 235 minutes at Trent Bridge, in 1950: “I have seen them all since Victor Trumper and including Bradman; I have never seen a more brilliant array of strokes nor heard the ball so sweetly struck”. The great English batsman George Gunn. Poetic words for poetic strokes!
And John Arlott: “Everton Weekes was the most explosive cricketer of all. He had incredible speed of footwork and strokemaking. He was like Bradman but more extravagant”. And finally: “Weekes was described after the 1950 tour as having batted with a hammer”, quoted by Hilary Beckles in Liberation Cricket. Poetry and power!
Power, poetry, precision, speed, extravagance, inventiveness, aggression, explosiveness: a plethora of superlatives describing the many parts of a magician with the bat – all governed by a cerebral and disciplined approach, which could apply those talents to any sport he chose – football, cricket and bridge, and he is as legendary at bridge, to this day. Central to the legends and lore of West Indies cricket, forever, will be Sir Everton DeCourcey Weekes.”
Every Barbadian knows our ten National Heroes. But along the way to the final announcements on April 28th, 1998, the birthday of the Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams, others were proposed by the two committees I served on. The first selection of seven by the Heritage Committee of the NCF, 10 years earlier, included Sir Frank Worrell, while the second committee included Clennell Wickham and “TT” Lewis. I live in hope that they will be added to our pantheon.
The home of Sir Grantley Adams, Tyrol Cot, is the only National Hero’s home open to the public, as efforts to have the Garden (Mr. Barrow’s birthplace, and Culloden Farm restored have failed. Tyrol Cot will be a special Open House on National Heroes Day, Thursday 28th, from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The mansion house will be open for guided tours, with the antiques, collections and memorabilia of the Adams, and with the Lively Lecture and all the usual attractions PLUS classic cars on display, a tuk band, Mother Sally, donkey man and stilt walkers – a full traditional “Bank Holiday” performance of “the olden days! Don’t miss it!
Professor Fraser is past Dean of Medical Sciences, UWI and Professor Emeritus of Medicine. Website: profhenryfraser.com