Remembering 'The 3 Ws'Sunday, July 19, 2020
The death of Sir Everton Weekes has stirred up a flood of memories of the great cricketing decade 1947-57, which saw the emergence of and domination by the famous 'three Ws' — Sir Frank Worrell, Weekes, and Sir Clyde Walcott, as the pillars of the West Indies cricket team.
The present generation will view the West Indies' greatest moments through the eyes of the Clive Lloyd years, 1976 to 1985, when the West Indies were the undisputed champions of international cricket. The earlier generations, like mine, however, grew up with a team that bridged the 1940s and 1950s, giving as good as they got against the mighty England and Australia, and a lesser India that merely showed promise, but not yet real accomplishment, of things to come.
Consider this: Three of the greatest batsmen that the world has ever known, Worrell, Weekes and Walcott, batting at three, four, and five, were as formidable a cricket trio as you could ever hope to find, with a consistency and a staying power in the middle that was the worst nightmare of the greatest bowlers of that time.
The 'three Ws' fitted snugly into their top-order positions, making their debuts in 1947-1948 with Worrell on 97 in his first Test against England, and 131 not out in the second; and Weekes, 141 in the fourth Test, followed by four consecutive centuries against India later that year, 128 in the first Test, 194 in the second, and 162 in the first innings of the third Test and 101 in the second. Not to be left out, Walcott's 152 run out against India in the first Test and another century, 108, in the third.
Following that, the historic 1950 Test series vs England was memorable; not only because we beat England for the first time in their backyard, but also for the brilliant partnership between two of the 'Ws', Worrell and Weekes, which lit up the third Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham.
With the series poised at one match all, the West Indies had entered the second day of that Test with Worrell taking charge of the proceedings in a manner that is possible to only the great masters. Joined by the second 'W', Everton Weekes, the pair put on a partnership of 283 runs — Worrell 261 and Weekes 129. Wisden, the Bible of cricket, described Worrell's innings as “batting in scintillating style…the bowlers and fieldsmen unable to check a wonderful array of fluent strokes”.
But allow me to direct your attention to the manner in which Weekes completed his first Test century in England on that rain cast afternoon. This is Michael Manley's running commentary on that event extracted from his seminal History of West Indies Cricket:
“Weekes was at 90 not out and a new ball was due. Alec Bedser had been rested in anticipation of the moment and came on to bowl from the Radcliffe Road end. As is often the case, Bedser took two deliveries with the old ball to loosen up and establish his line and length. Weekes greeted both balls with forward defensive strokes.
“Bedser then signalled the first delivery with the new ball. It was smashed just past Cyril Washbrook's left hand at cover with a square cut of awesome power. The ball hit the boundary rail and bounced back some 20 yards on to the field. Nobody moved. Bedser then came in with the fourth delivery, which Weekes drove off the back foot just out of reach of Washbrook's right hand. Again, nobody moved.
“Weekes was 98 and the entire ground alive with excitement. The fifth ball was just short of a length. Weekes leaned back and cut square once more to Washbrook's left. For a third time nobody really moved.
“In three strokes Weekes had made his first test century in England. The ground exploded.”
The legend of Everton Weekes was cemented. As for poor old Washbrook, I guess you could say it just wasn't his day. It wasn't England's either.
Earlier in the series, following a sensational WI victory at Lords, two calypsonians — Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner — had led the crowd around the hallowed Lords grounds singing and dancing to the now famous calypso, “Cricket, Lovely Cricket, at Lords where I saw it.”
But calypso aside, The West Indies' tour of England in 1950 proved to be a breakthrough for our Caribbean team, giving us equal ranking with England and Australia. Further, after winning the series 3-1, four of our players — Sonny Ramadhin, Alfred Valentine, Frank Worrell, and Everton Weekes — were named as Wisden Cricketers of the Year.
It was said that no batsman since Bradman had made such an impression on his first English tour as a ruthless compiler of big scores in county and Test cricket. A right-handed batsman, he was known as one of the hardest hitters in world cricket. He played in 48 Test matches for the West Indies cricket team from 1948 to 1958. He continued to play first-class cricket until 1964, surpassing 12,000 first-class runs in his final innings. And his Test batting average of 58.61 is the ninth highest of all players with 30 or more innings.
But there was another side, a darker side, to the games these people played. In those days race and colour played an unconscionable role in island (read colony here) and West Indies cricket. There are stories of earlier days in the 20s and 30s when black players walked through a certain gate, while the white players — who dominated the social order and everything else — had their own privileged entrance to the clubhouse. And, in 1955, when the Australians visited, it was reported that they were shocked at the degree of racial lines they observed existed in the Caribbean, and, in fact, took umbrage when they realised that Worrell, Weekes and Walcott had not been invited to a dinner party held as one of the social receptions for the two teams at an exclusive venue.
But the “three Ws” took such slights in their stride. They defined West Indies cricket, but devastating as their impact on the West Indian batting order was, it was faint compared with their impact on the West Indian social order. They used their cricket to make a powerful statement of racial equality. Like George Headley before them, their ability forced the ruling classes of their time to deal with them as equals.
Take, for example, our fallen icon, Everton DeCourcy Weekes. His first-class cricket career began three months before the end of World War II, a war against racial domination. A Barbados Today editorial reminds us that, as a youth, he could not play in his neighbourhood club, Pickwick, because it was closed to black players. Sections of that editorial which is tribute to Sir Everton bear repeating;
“He began to play Test cricket in 1948 — the year when the Empire Windrush bearing the first West Indian immigrants landed at Tilbury docks in London to help in the rebuilding of postwar Britain. They faced extraordinary segregation, discrimination and prejudice.
“But he was among the first to beat back that tide of prejudice with some of the most elegant strokes any cricketer had ever seen, at least since George Headley in the interwar years. It was his swashbuckling style that introduced the world to the grace, class, colour, competence, and majesty of playing cricket the West Indian way.
“But it is not only what Sir Everton did in cricket but how he lived his life that is an important lesson for us today. When West Indies men walk out to the middle for the first Test at Hampshire to begin cricket's post-pandemic era, whether with black armbands or slogans saying Black Lives Matter, they all will be taking with them a little bit of the cricketing DNA that Sir Everton Weekes helped to forge.
“Young men, growing up in the 1950s, wanted to walk like he did; for he was the first of a number of West Indian men who taught men how to walk.”
He and his two pals became household names in the 1950s throughout the Caribbean, England, Australia, India, and even in South Africa. My brothers and I, when playing backyard cricket with each other — in the coconut bough bat and cord ball days — would each take turns as Worrell, Weekes or Walcott. As the “washbelly” little one, I played Everton Weekes. I didn't mind it then, and I don't mind it now.
Lance Neita is a public relations consultant, writer, and historian. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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