(Letter To The Editor) 1st National Hero of Independent Barbados, Sir Frank Worrell
Sir Frank Worrell has fulfilled the necessary requirements for hero status, and throughout his life represented Barbados “when this fair land was young and sowed the seed from which our pride is sprung. A pride that makes no wanton boast of what it has withstood, that binds our hearts from coast to coast, the pride of nationhood.” He also made it known that “these fields and hills beyond recall are now our very own” when he became the first black captain of the West Indies cricket team for an entire series as was being requested by the majority of West Indians and therefore wrote “his name on history’s page with expectations great” along with the knowledge that he had to be a “strict guardian of our heritage and a firm craft man of our fate”. Historically, he had an illustrious career while being an ideal representative of Barbados which boasts of 96% literacy along with our prowess in our national sport of cricket. He represented Barbados locally, regionally and internationally and this has been acknowledged in many countries where his name is enshrined. With all these assets, I hope that he would be formally recognised as one of our heroes.
Sir Learie Constantine gave a tribute to Sir Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell in 1968 when his body was returned to Barbados for burial and referred to him as the first Barbadian Hero of our post independent Barbados. Sir Frank Worrell was born in Barbados on August 1, 1924 and died in Jamaica on March 13, 1967. His body was returned to Barbados and interred at the 3W’s Oval located on the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI).
His achievements depict many of our island’s ideals, especially discipline and his desire to have racial equality with unification of the English-speaking Caribbean countries. This was being encouraged by CLR James who was vociferous on the inequality created by consistently having white captains of a majority black team. It depicted the stigma and prejudice that prevailed during slavery when the white master was treated as being more superior as was perceived by some players when on tour. CLR James voiced his disapproval and wanted to arrest the consistent decision for the leadership of the team being given to a white man. He wanted racial equity. The people also wanted to have a black man become the captain of the West Indies Cricket team. This change occurred when the selectors chose Frank Worrell to lead the team on the 1960-61 series against Australia. Sir Frank took over from Gerry Alexander who had previously led the West Indies team during the England 1960 winter tour. His captaincy came at a time when he had just completed his degree in economics at Manchester University. The Caribbean saw the return of this great man who was away from cricket during his university studies. He was aged in the mid-thirty’s and looked a little plump. He did not disappoint and batted for approximately ten and a half hours to score 197 against England not out in January 1960 while adding 399 runs with (now Sir) Garfield Sobers at Kensington Oval. Being away from cricket for such a long period proved a challenge but his contributions to our national sport created history by this Barbadian.
The fact that he took a break from cricket to do his degree speaks volumes as his objective was always to better himself. That philosophy was instilled in many Barbadians during that period of our history when immigration to England to better themselves by working in menial jobs, like London Transport, while using the opportunity to improve their already derived educational qualities from Barbados to further better themselves while assisting their families back home financially. Sir Learie went on to summarise Sir Frank’s achievements by stating “Sir Frank was a man of strong convictions, a brave man and it goes without saying, a great cricketer. Though he made his name as a player, his greatest contribution was to destroy forever the myth that a coloured cricketer was not fit to lead a team. For such services to our national sport (cricket), he was then knighted in 1964. He was a man who had done more than any other of their countrymen to bind together the new nations of the Caribbean. Sir Frank did not only unify the English-speaking Caribbean with his leadership as a captain of cricket but he was vocal in his call for Caribbean unity which culminated with the West Indies Federation that was inaugurated on 3rd January 1958 but terminated on 31st May 1962. I believe that being a leader of our West Indies cricket team made him extremely conscious of the similarities that existed within the people of the region and subsequently resulted in him being so vocal in his call for the West Indies Federation. He was a firm believer in the unification of the West Indies. This dissolution of the Federation was replaced with the implementation of a Caribbean Free Trade Agreement in 1968 which developed into CARICOM in 1974 with The Treaty of Chaguaramas. We can say that Sir Frank’s vision is now realised with the unification of the Caribbean Community which is known to be essential for our personal, national, and regional development. His true contribution in politics occurred later when he was appointed to the senate of Jamaica by Sir Alexander Bustamante.
Sir Frank must be seen as a role model for future generations as his story will enlighten and encourage our youth with the knowledge that a disadvantaged situation should never deter anyone’s personal elevation within Barbados. He was born in a house only a few yards away from the Empire cricket ground and the game came naturally to him as it did to most youngsters in that era. He and his friends used to set up stumps on the outfield and play nearly all day during the school holidays and this normally concluded with him ‘hogging’ the crease much to the annoyance of his playmates who did not get an opportunity to bat. His mastery of the game gave him the confidence to speak out but it often got him into trouble. That attitude continued during his secondary school days at Combermere secondary school where he modelled his style as a cricketer from one of the teachers, Mr. Derek Sealy, a former West indies test cricketer who made his debut at 17 years of age and had played in 11 tests from 1930 to 1939. Sir Frank’s natural ability resulted in him falling foul of a schoolmaster who accused him of not giving his colleagues an opportunity to bat. As a result, he was to write later: “I was unfortunate enough to have been under an endemic psychological and mental strain throughout my school days. So much so that by the time I reached the fourth form I was suffering from a persecution complex. These were the days when child psychology was not a subject demanded of applicants to teachers’ posts. Indeed, the majority of masters did not have the experience of raising families of their own and there was no allowance for the original point of view.” He started his schoolboy cricket career as a left arm spin bowler but with due diligence, discipline, persistence, and comprehension, he improved through hard work to become a reliable right-handed batsman. His bowling also improved as a left arm seamer in later life. This resulted in him becoming an all-rounder of great repute. His best bowling figures were against Harrison’s College when he took seven wickets for eighteen runs. Sir Frank was a pupil who always had an original point of view especially since it was becoming clear at this time that he was a naturally talented cricketer who could easily garner an audience. He soon made the Barbados team and records began to flow from his bat as he moved up the order from number eleven. He shared a partnership of 502 with John Goddard in 1943-4 and an unfinished 574 with Clyde Walcott in 1945-6. When discussed, he typically dismissed both events with modesty by saying “The conditions were loaded in our favour. I wasn’t all that delighted about it.” Sir Learie Constantine stated “In 1947 he tired of living in Barbados. His mother had moved to New York and his father was away at sea for most of the time so he eventually moved to Jamaica”. His fellow Bajans would have liked him to stay in Barbados and some did not forgive him for that relocation.
His cricketing qualities were not only recognised in Barbados and the wider Caribbean region but the rest of the world. Youngsters who play with such determination would place our country in an enviable position in sports once his quest is followed. He was also cognizant that education was essential and after his retirement from test cricket in 1963 (after the England tour), he joined the University of The West Indies (UWI) staff as warden of Irvine Hall in Jamaica where he pioneered the development of cricket at the Mona Campus in conjunction with Professor Gladstone Mills. At Mona, a memorial depicts the appreciation given to him. He also acted as Director of Sport at the St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad where the grass sport ground, The Sir Frank Worrell Field, is named after him. It is on that field that Cricket, Rugby, Hockey and Track & Field events take place. His manner was representative of Barbados ideals in displaying generosity in helping youth development whenever possible and hopefully would encourage younger Barbadians. His role model status was again displayed when he took a break from international cricket to pursue his degree in economics. This was only another aspect of a man who yearned for knowledge and wanted to better himself.
In his tribute, Sir Learie Constantine stated “Sir Frank Worrell once wrote that the island of Barbados, his birthplace, lacked a hero. As usual, he was under-playing himself. Frank Maglinne Worrell was the first hero of the new nation of Barbados and anyone who doubted that had only to be in the island when his body was brought home in mid-March of 1967. Or in Westminster Abbey when West Indians of all backgrounds and shades of opinion paid their last respects to a man who had done more than any other of their countrymen to bind together the new nations of the Caribbean and establish a reputation for fair play throughout the world. Never before had a cricketer been honoured with a memorial service in Westminster Abbey. Once appointed captain of the West Indies cricket team, he ended the cliques and rivalries between the players of various islands to weld together a team which in the space of five years became the champions of the world.” (end of quote). Persons would have little idea of the problems of West Indian cricket encountered during that era due to national pride that led to insularity within the countries from which the team was comprised but it must be acknowledged that Worrell cut across all that to soon produce one unified team. It was not a question of all the players coming from a single country but the team was chosen from individuals coming together as a joint team that originated from different countries separated by many miles of sea.
The tour to Australia in 1951-2 was not as successful as the 1950 tour of England. Worrell himself said this was because there were too many factions in the side and the captain, John Goddard, previously showered with advice, was not helped this time by the seniors. When Worrell took over the captaincy nine years later, he was to heed the lessons of unity from that dismal tour. The return series in the West Indies in 1955 was again a disappointment for Worrell who only scored 206 runs. The 1957 tour of England was a further let down. Clearly the West Indies authorities had to change their policy of always appointing a white man to captain the side. The break was made when the only candidate with outstanding qualities to do this gigantic repair job was Sir Frank Worrell.
He was asked to lead the side in 1960 series to Australia. Everyone knows the story of that historical tour that resulted in the first tied test in cricket. It occurred at Brisbane and it did a lot to restore the good name of West Indies cricket after the ‘bumper’ rows, ‘slow over rates’ disputes and other ills which had been afflicting the international game. With the scores levelled, Sir Frank Worrell approached Wes (now Sir Wes) Hall who was preparing to make the final delivery that could have won or lost the Test Match. Worrell said calmly: “Make sure you don’t give it to them by bowling a no-ball otherwise you can’t go back to Barbados.” Worrell was the calmest man on that day and trust him to think of a highly pertinent point which Hall, in his excitement, may have overlooked! One memory that will not recede from that historic and wonderful Australia 1960-61 tour resulted in half a million Australians lining the streets of Melbourne in their ticker tape farewell to Worrell and his men. The Australians were not only paying a final tribute to the team’s great achievements but they were recognising the captaincy and potential of equals both on and off the field. It was the first time a black man had been captain of the West Indies for a full series. He was a stern disciplinarian who told his batsmen to walk if they were given out and when Gary (now Sir Gary) Sobers appeared to show his dissent with a decision, he reprimanded him. After that, everyone walked as soon as the umpire’s finger went up. He reinstated that cricket was a “gentleman’s game” and fair play must be encouraged. That example was followed by the Australian team and gained enough respect that future games between the two teams led to them playing for a trophy that was thereafter named after him, The Sir Frank Worrell Trophy.
Because he was a federalist wanting Caribbean unity, a man of true political sense and feelings who was aware of the past events of slavery, it is believed that his sentiments transcended to the team by creating awareness of their singular history regardless of their colour. Such comprehension made it easier for Sir Frank to bring unity within the team which previously demonstrated dissent when the previous white leadership displayed similar attitudes as prevailed during slavery. He surely would have made even greater contributions to the history of the West Indies had he not died so tragically in hospital of leukaemia at the early age of 42, a month after returning from a tour of India. He was indeed a Caribbean individual who started his life in Barbados, worked and lived in Trinidad and died in Jamaica after doing much useful work at the University of the West Indies Campuses. He incurred enmity by leaving his birthplace because he did not care much for insularity but saw the people as one. He saw the many diverse elements of the West Indies as a whole, a common culture and outlook separated only by the Caribbean Sea. It is believed that this is why he upset certain people in Barbados when he wrote to a newspaper criticising the island for challenging the rest of the world to celebrate independence. He felt the Federation would have been more successful. He was bitterly criticised for that action in some quarters, but being attacked did not seem to worry him, because he had the courage to say what he felt about every issue he thought vital to the well-being of the West Indies. Sir Frank demonstrated no rancour against his homeland for the sentiments displayed and this was demonstrated when he bought a piece of land in Barbados with the intention of retiring there eventually. Sir Frank was not just living for the present but he was thinking of the future and again this was also demonstrated when he took a break from international cricket to attend Manchester University and qualified in economics, his chosen subject.
The sentiments displayed at that time by some Barbadians seem to make him stronger and he went on to establish an international reputation against the 1947-8 England touring side by scoring 131 not out. At the end of that tour, he took the step that made him a batsman for all seasons and all wickets when he signed as a professional for the Central Lancashire League side, Radcliffe, for a fee of £500 a year. That proved beneficial as the League became a cricket academy for young, talented players to gain experience by playing neighbouring clubs that included Bill Alley, Jock Livingston, Ray Lindwall, Cecil Pepper, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes, Vinoo Mankad and Dattu Phadkar. League cricket not only made cricketers but made a player a man. There was much to learn in the field of human relations from the kind, friendly and warm people of the North of England and Sir Frank brought his fiancée, Velda, from Barbados to England for their marriage which had another settling influence on him. They got married at Radcliffe, and their daughter was born there. Such was the esteem in which he was held by Radcliffe that in 1964 a street near the cricket ground was named Worrell Close.
The 1950 tour of England was a triumph for him and he topped the Test batting averages with 539 runs at an average of 89.83. His best Test score of 261 was made in this season, at Trent Bridge. Norman Yardley, the England captain of the time, stated that it was impossible to set a field to him. Place the fieldsmen straight and he beat them on the wide. Place them wide and he would beat them straight. Analysts seemed more concerned about averages while Sir Frank was more concerned with how a batsman made his runs and not what his average was at the end of the series. Sir Learie stated that “Sir Neville Cardus has written of Sir Frank that he never made a crude or an ungrammatical stroke” and agreed by making the statement that “Worrell was poetry. While Walcott bludgeoned the bowlers and Weekes dominated them, the stylist Worrell waved them away. There was none of the savage aggression of a Sobers in his batting. He was the artist. All three “Ws” were geniuses but Worrell was my favourite because he had more style and elegance. He had all the strokes and the time and capacity to use them without offence to the eye, without ever being hurried. He was never seen playing across the line. That is why he never hooked. Players and Pressmen agreed that even when he ducked beneath a bouncer, he did so with a lack of panic and great dignity, and remember he had Lindwall and Miller to contend with!”
The Indian tour to the West Indies followed in 1962 but there was a tragic moment when their captain, Nari Contractor, was left critically ill by a blow on the head from a bouncer from Charles (now Sir Charles) Griffith. It was a serious situation and Sir Frank Worrell was empathetic and volunteered to be one of the first donors of blood which saved his life. Such was the typical foreboding of Sir Frank who was aware that such an injury to the captain of the Indian team might have created international controversy and place Barbados in an embarrassing light.
His finest hours in England came in 1963 when he led the West Indies to more glory, although he had slowed up in the field and his figure was excessive at 38 years of age, he was no longer the player he had been. He was a tired man but his influence over the side as captain was such that it was unthinkable to rest him in any of the Tests. He bowled a few shrewd medium pacers with his deceptively easy delivery and when the crisis was on in the Lord’s Test, the greatest Test of all time as it was called by the critics, he helped Butcher to add 110 on the Saturday afternoon. The following Monday morning the second innings collapsed. Asked if Worrell was worried about this, another player replied: “No, he is asleep.” Sir Frank had this ability to drop off at any time, particularly when there was a batting collapse. In retrospect, we wondered whether this had something to do with the onset of his illness which was obviously affecting him at this time, though no one would have diadnosed that he was not a fit man. He announced his retirement at the end of that tour which was hailed as a triumph of leadership, technical skill, and adaptability. The following year Her Majesty the Queen knighted this complete Cricketer, Philosopher and Captain. It was a fitting end to an unforgettable career but there was one more job for him to do — manage the West Indies side against the 1965 Australian tourists.
Throughout his life, Sir Frank was loved and respected for his Barbadian ideals internationally.
He never lost his sense of humour or his sense of dignity. Some nasty things were said and written during that 1965 tour as manager but Sir Frank was ever the diplomat. He lost no friends, made no enemies yet won lots more respect. Sir Learie stated “West Indians really laugh their laughs and Sir Frank laughed louder than most of us. He was a happy man, a good man, and a great man. The tragic thing about his death at the age of 42 was that it cut him off from life when he still had plenty to offer the islands he loved. He was only at the beginning or was it that the opportunity came to him a bit too late? The news of his death brought much sadness within the UWI campuses; the islands of the Caribbean and Radcliffe where the flag on Radcliffe Town Hall was lowered at half-mast”. Sadly, the news that he was dying came when his beloved Barbados were playing the Rest of the World XI. He had however groomed his successor, Sir Garfield Sobers well for the captaincy and theirs was an unbeatable partnership. At last. the West Indies were the undisputed champions in their truly national sport.
There are many quotes on the internet and videos on ‘YouTube’ which demonstrate his ability to represent both Barbados and the West Indies. It was CLR James who stated, “There was no memory of anyone scoring runs in every class of cricket with such grace and power.” There were also many tributes after his death but the three most poignant were by Sir Donald Bradman who stated: “His name is forever enshrined on the Frank Worrell Trophy which Australia is proud to have created for permanent competition between our two countries (West Indies and Australia). Players of his calibre are rare. Not only was he a truly great and stylish batsman but he was also a fine thinker with a broad outlook. Richie Benaud’s tribute made it known that “He was a great leader of men and one of the finest cricketers on and off the field in the history of the game. It is difficult to realise that the indolent drawl, the feline grace known all over the world are no more. Few men have had a better influence on cricket.” Peter May, a former captain of the English Cricket team, paid his respects by stating “The game has lost a personality we all admired. He was one of the greatest of the long line of Barbadian cricketers. One associated him with his two colleagues, Weekes and Walcott, but I regard him as the most accomplished of the trio.”
Conclusion. His achievements are numerous as a cricketer where his astute leadership as captain, encouraged and gelled the West Indies cricket team to be elevated to the top of our major sport internationally. He became known as “Cricket’s Nelson Mandela” for his success with racial equality. Although the team was previously captained for one game by George Headley, he became the first black person to captain the West Indies team into a full series against the formidable Australian team. His values of humility, bravery, leadership, teamwork, batsman, seam bowler and statesman. It is believed that Sir Garfield Sobers, his successor as West Indies captain, modelled himself with similar attributes. Because of his attributes of diplomacy, statesmanship, leadership, gentlemanly behavior, and friendly nature, he became one of the most likeable cricketers on the international circuit and these qualities must be added to those mentioned by other authors. He is remembered to be analytical, tactical, a grand sportsman and a respected captain who created a formidable West Indies team but at the same time he was an inspiration to Barbados and the Caribbean. Sir Frank Worrell received many accolades. He has a memorial at the Mona Campus to commemorates his achievements on that campus; the playing field at the St Augustine Campus bears his name; and in Barbados, his gravesite overlooks the 3W’s Oval cricket ground that is named after two other Barbadians who represented Barbados and the West Indies in concert with Sir Frank during an era of West Indian cricket dominance. They are Sir Everton Weekes and Sir Clyde Walcott who bore the same first letter in their surnames as Sir Frank.
His photo is already placed on the Barbados five-dollar bill but is this an adequate reward for a man who advertised his country, Barbados, wherever he travelled? He was also most generous and this was displayed during the home series against the Indian cricket team to the West Indies, by his humanitarian gesture of donating blood to save the life of the opposing captain of the Indian cricket team (Nari Contractor) who received a head. One of the finest accolades is the Sir Frank Worrell Trophy which constitute the rivalry, respect and friendship that exists by opponents.
Although he died shortly after our independence, his life is synonymous with our National Pledge of allegiance to our country, Barbados and to its flag to uphold and defend its honour, and by his living, he did credit to his nation wherever he went.