Tough going in Test cricket

Tough going in Test cricket

…But McMorris celebrates Independence at Sabina Park

Editor at Large, South Central Bureau

Sunday, June 14, 2020

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This is the second segment of a series on the former Jamaica and West Indies opener Easton McMorris. The first segment was published on Sunday, June 7, 2020

EASTON McMorris insists that it was Barbadian John Goddard, the man who led the West Indies team to England in 1957, who ensured his Test match debut against Pakistan at the Queen's Park Oval, in February, 1958.

“It was Goddard who made me get a game,” McMorris told the Jamaica Observer.

Goddard had been taken with the technique and talent of the defensive-minded, right-handed Jamaican opener who made a half century during a practice game in Jamaica in '57 as the West Indies team prepared for the tour of England.

“This is a future West Indies opener,” Goddard said then.

Back in those days, before the annual regional first class tournament, first class games between Caribbean territories, all colonies of Britain, came few and far between.

But McMorris had already firmly established his first class credentials, including a century against a strong Duke of Norfolk's X1 from England in 1957.

So the coming of the Pakistan team in early '58, saw the 22-year-old McMorris's departure from Jamaica to join the Franz Alexander-led West Indies team in Barbados for the first Test.

He didn't play that first Test, which was drawn. Rohan Kanhai, the up and coming Guyanese star, was asked to open the innings with accustomed opener Conrad Hunte. McMorris watched as Hunte made 142 and the legendary Everton Weekes stroked a masterful 197.

But for the second Test in Port of Spain, Trinidad, McMorris got his chance in the absence of the great Clyde Walcott.

However, it wasn't a pleasant debut for the young Jamaican, although West Indies won the game.

McMorris opening with Hunte, lost his partner early, to the outstanding seamer, Fazal Mahmood.

McMorris stayed to see off the new ball, but on 16 he was bowled by the left arm spin of Pakistan captain, Abdul Kardar, as the West Indies went on to make 325 in their first innings.

Then to his horror he found out while fielding that the local crowd was hostile to him for being selected ahead of local favourite Nyron Asgarali. Much older, and more experienced, than the youthful McMorris, Asgarali had played two Test matches in England the previous year.

“Every time the ball came to me in the field, the crowd booed,” McMorris recalled. He described it as a “frightening” experience.

He failed again in the second innings, given out LBW to Fazal. The hurtful part for McMorris was that he knew he shouldn't have been given out. He had inside edged the ball on to his pad.

McMorris recalls that journalist JS Barker, writing for a Trinidadian newspaper, said everyone in the ground heard the bat hitting the ball “except the umpire”. McMorris tells how on his return to the pavilion, Alexander observed “you hit that ball”.

The return of Walcott meant McMorris missed the third Test at Sabina Park as well as the remainder of the series, with Kanhai and Garfield Sobers alternating as opening partners for Hunte.

The Sabina Test is remembered most for Sobers's then world record, an unbeaten 365, as West Indies piled up 790 for three wickets declared to win by an innings. Sobers shared 446 for the second wicket, with fellow Barbadian, Hunte, who made 260, run out. Walcott made an unbeaten 88.

Though everyone knew that McMorris had been at the wrong end of an umpiring decision in his lone Test, he was left out of the West Indies tour of India and Pakistan lasting from November to March. The veteran Jamaican opener JK Holt and the young Barbadian opener Robin Bynoe were preferred to McMorris.

That was a decision criticised by many at the time. To this day, McMorris's contemporary Jackie Hendriks, who toured as the backup wicketkeeper to Alexander, believes it was not only an error, but “unjust”.

Undeterred, McMorris, now in his prime as a batsman, begun a purple patch that would see him score five first class centuries in successive games for Jamaica between 1959 and 1962 against Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, the touring England cricket team, Barbados and touring India.

His heavy scoring meant the West Indies selectors had no choice but to recall McMorris for the England tour of the Caribbean in '60.

This was a powerful England side including batsmen the calibre of captain Peter May, Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdrey, Ken Barrington. Their bowling was led by the famous pace merchants Fred Trueman and Brian Statham, then coming towards the end of their careers.

Again McMorris was hit by misfortune, run out at the non-striker's end without facing a ball in the first innings of the first Test at Kensington Oval in Barbados.

The game would end in a draw with Sobers stroking 226 and West Indies captain Frank Worrell, 197, in a fourth-wicket partnership of 399 as West Indies made a first innings 563 for eight declared in reply to England's 482.

McMorris was dropped for the second Test. But after making a half century and a century for Jamaica in the tour game at Melbourne Park, he would play the rest of the series -- his highest score, 73, coming at Sabina Park in a drawn game. Batting well, with West Indies at 189 for two, and his own score, 65, McMorris was hit under the heart by a rising delivery from Statham.

Batting with Sobers at the time, McMorris recalls that he felt no great discomfort as a result of the blow but found that he was spitting blood. Out of an abundance of caution, he retired hurt and was taken to hospital for an X-ray as Sobers went on to make 147.

McMorris returned to the crease the next day, but added only eight runs before falling to Barrington's leg spin. The episode remains a source of annoyance.

“It was ridiculous, I should never have retired,” McMorris said. He followed up with scores of 1, 35, 13 run out, and two.

Again the West Indies selectors, perhaps influenced by an embarrassment of riches in the batting department, bypassed McMorris for the celebrated 1960-61 tour of Australia.

He was also ignored for the first Test against India in '62 at Port of Spain. But then he scored a century for Jamaica in the tour game against India at Melbourne Park, fulfilling a promise he had made to Jamaica's cricket administrators that he would appropriately make a mark for the country's upcoming formal Independence from Britain.

Now, the selectors had no choice but to pick him and McMorris rewarded them with a chanceless 125. Sobers and Kanhai also made centuries as West Indies won by an innings and 18 runs.

“I was in a zone for practically the whole of that Test match innings,” recalled McMorris, “concentration was paramount. I was totally 'sapped' up by the fact that I wanted to make a century at Sabina Park”.

He followed up with scores of 39, 50, 56, 37 and 42. His place at the top of the order in partnership with the established Hunte for the tour of England in '63 with Frank Worrell's West Indies seemed secure.

But again he would be met by bitter disappointment. Early on the tour of England he suffered a groin strain and ended up missing early games. Those were the days when a five-Test tour of England lasted from June to late August with preparation games against County teams starting in April/May.

McMorris recovered from the muscle strain to play a “couple games” before the first Test in early June, getting good starts without going on to a big score. But along with Hunte, he was the only specialist opener in the touring squad and felt confident of his place in the team for the first Test, especially after his success against India a year earlier. He felt he was the incumbent opener.

But during his absence due to injury, Joey Carew, who was not an accustomed opener at that time, had been pressed into the role. The Trinidadian left-hand batsman responded with a century.

Notwithstanding that, McMorris recalled that even “Joey was surprised” when he was selected as Hunte's partner for the first Test ahead of his Jamaican teammate.

McMorris's remembers it as a demoralising blow. “I couldn't believe it,” he said, “I felt cheated”.

Carew made 16 and 0 not out in the Test match. And, McMorris was back for the second Test making 16 and 8, falling both times to Trueman.

The tendency towards impatience by selectors of that time, meant McMorris was again dropped for the third Test, then brought back for the fourth making 11 and 1. In between, the selectors also tried Carew for the third Test and Willy Rodriquez for the fifth, as West Indies, showing superior all-round strength, won the series 3-1.

McMorris's positon had significantly weakened in the eyes of the selectors, approaching the tour of the Caribbean by Bobby Simpson's Australians in 1965.

Yet, he could have grabbed a place as Hunte's opening partner for the first Test at Sabina Park had he made a substantial score for Jamaica in the tour game against the Australians.

That was when McMorris got his first taste of 'sledging'. The way he tells it, his opening partner Teddy Griffith – Barbadian-born but playing for Jamaica – was struggling to cope with the Australian wrist spinner Peter Philpott. They decided that for the good of the team, McMorris would try to monopolise the strike against the spinner.

McMorris experienced something he said he had never before come across in cricket: As the bowler was running in to bowl, fielders around the bat were doing commentary.

“They were saying I couldn't play spin, I couldn't read the googly. I was amazed. Nobody had warned me about it and I had never before come across anything like that in cricket,” he said.

“The way I grew up, you showed respect for the opposition and for the umpire's decision even when it was wrong. We would clap when the opposing captain was walking to the wicket and then try like hell to get him out,” he said.

For all of that, the thing that annoyed McMorris most was that Philpott dismissed him cheaply. In the second innings he fell cheaply yet again - to the champion fastbowler Graeme McKenzie caught off the shoulder of the bat at slip.

That meant no Test cricket for McMorris against the '65 Australians. And at age 30, with many a young batsman knocking on the door, he may well have felt his Test-playing days were over.

But then came the inaugural Shell Shield tournament of 1966, the first of the regularly scheduled annual tournaments for first class cricket in the Caribbean. McMorris was next to unstoppable.

In five four-day games at home and abroad, he scored 553 runs with three centuries for an average of 92.16. McMorris had made himself a certain pick for the tour of England in '66.

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