Sir Clyde WalcottMartin Chandler |
Barbados is not a big place, an island of 166 square miles or, for a reference point for anyone in the UK, about 10% bigger than the Isle of Wight. Statistically its population of around a quarter of a million souls has always produced a remarkable number of Test cricketers, more than 80 since 1930. To put that in context I believe I am right in saying that the entire English county of Cornwall, with its population of around double that of Barbados, has produced just two since 1876, Jack Crapp and Jack Richards, who have a total of 15 Test caps between them.
Between 1924 and 1926 an area of less than a square mile of the Barbadian capital, Bridgetown, produced the “Three Ws”. Frank Worrell was the oldest and Clyde Walcott was the youngest. In later life both were knighted. Both were from an essentially middle class background, attended the same school and made their First Class debut in the same match, in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Walcott’s sixteenth birthday in January 1942. It wasn’t a game the young Walcott ever had particularly fond memories of. He opened the batting in the first innings, but struggled to come to terms with his first experience of a jute matting wicket and the pace and movement that Test men Lance Pierre and Prior Jones produced. At least he got off the mark in the first innings with eight, but in the second, demoted to number six in the order, he scored his first duck. There was a second game that was scheduled for a few days later. Walcott was suffering from tonsilitis although he would probably have been dropped anyway.
Walcott’s omission from the Barbados side did however prove to be short-lived, and there was a much more satisfactory outcome later in 1942 when he played in both of the return matches at Kensington Oval. Barbados won both matches comfortably and Walcott, although he failed to go on to make a really big score, passed fifty on each of his three visits to the crease. It was to be another two years before the 18 year old Walcott made his first First Class century, in his ninth appearance, and to show that was no fluke he got another in the next game as well. It was this 1944/45 season when he first kept wicket for Barbados.
Wicketkeepers are rarely tall heavy men and Walcott was therefore the exception rather than the rule, and he did not extend his keeping much beyond the tour of England in 1950. At this time most Test sides were selected on the basis that the best wicketkeeper would be played, irrespective of his batting ability. The West Indian selectors were therefore perhaps ahead of their time in selecting Walcott to keep wicket, a job at which he was competent rather than outstanding, although a further factor would have been the comparitive infrequency with which the ball beat the bat in the Caribbean. It would have been interesting to see how a top class ‘keeper would have dealt with the problems presented by Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine at their brilliant best, as they were throughout that 1950 summer. Walcott conceded 65 byes in the four Tests, although there is no doubt that he read the mysterious wiles of Ramadhin much better than any of the England batsmen, and despite that relatively high count of byes teammate Jeff Stollmeyer, writing in 1983, expressed the view that As a wicketkeeper-batsman he must have ranked with the best of all time.
But first and foremost Walcott was a batsman, and a very powerful one at that. Former England all-rounder Trevor Bailey wrote of him in 1968 Clyde Walcott’s batting was in keeping with his build, massive and powerful ……He had the ability to hit good length deliveries with astonishing ferocity using a straight bat off both front and back foot. Drop the ball just a fraction short and back it would come so hard that, unless the bowler or fielder were unlucky enough to be in the way, it was inevitably a boundary. Exactly the same thing happened if the ball was slightly over-pitched, except that then Clyde would belt it off his front foot. His strongest shots by a distance were those punishing drives, which provided a perfect contrast with Weekes, whose signature shots were square of the wicket. In the days when captains were less inclined to tinker with their fields for individual batsmen, both benefitted from batting in tandem.
Big men sometimes struggle against spinners. Perhaps this is where the years of keeping wicket helped, but Walcott was remarkably light on his feet for a man of his build. He also, again unusually for a tall man, was a punishing hooker and puller. He was not however completely orthodox a very high backlift suggesting he ought to be vulnerable to a well delivered yorker , although in fact he wasn’t, and the only effect of the exaggerated swing of the bat was to hit the ball even harder.
As early in Walcott’s career as February 1946, by which time he had just turned 20, he recorded a six hour triple century, an unbeaten 314, in the course of which he added a then world record 574 with Worrell. His first Tests however were disappointing, and he failed to register even a half century in four attempts against Gubby Allen’s 1947/48 England tourists, and indeed had it not been for his glovework his place would surely have been in some jeopardy.
The following winter Walcott toured India. It was a batsman’s series, six of the West Indian batsmen averaging more than 40 in the Tests of whom Walcott was third on 64. On the tour as a whole he averaged 75 and was second in the final averages. Worrell missed the Indian tour so when the West Indies arrived in England for what was to prove to be a historic series in 1950, the soubriquet of the “Three Ws” had yet to be coined. Indeed in the Playfair published tour brochure Walcott was not even described as a batsman the editor preferring to describe him as a wicketkeeper who could also bat. Things had changed by the end of the tour though. The Ws recorded 20 centuries between them and on the tour as a whole were comfortably the dominant batsmen in the party. Walcott was less successful in the Tests, and five completed innings brought him just 61 runs. The sixth though was the one that made his name. England had won the first Test comfortably and were expected to win again at Lord’s in the second. Had a sharp chance that Walcott offered in the tourists’ second innings when he was just 9 been accepted they might just have gone on to do so. In the event the reprieved Walcott went on to an unbeaten 168, and took his side to an impregnable position. His failings in the final two Tests were of little consequence on both occasions the other batsmen having scored plenty of runs by the time he reached the wicket.
Walcott’s glory days were just around the corner but, having cemented his reputation in England in 1950, he had one personal disaster to deal with first. The 3-1 win in England caused Australia to hurriedly arrange a tour for 1951/52. The West Indians generally did not do themselves justice in their 4-1 defeat but Walcott had a particularly torrid time averaging just 14 in the three Tests in which he played. In fairness to him it needs to be pointed out that he suffered with back problems, and a broken nose during the tour but, as he did end up overall as the tourists leading batsman, making plenty of runs against Tasmania and in the fixtures in New Zealand, it has to be accepted that he had real problems against the pace of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, and indeed the leg spin of Doug Ring, and Ian Johnson’s off breaks. At least he would have his revenge back in the Caribbean in 1954/55.
The golden period was during three consecutive series in the Caribbean against India, England and Australia in the course of which Walcott, now fully fit and spared wicketkeeping duties, averaged 76, 87 and 82. He was second to Weekes against India, but comfortably his side’s leading batsman against the rather sterner opposition provided by England and Australia. There were three centuries against England, and an astonishing five against Australia. At the end of the England tour Alex Bannister, a journalist who watched the entire tour, wrote The English players considered Walcott the most difficult of the three Ws to dismiss and he went from strength to strength.
West Indies had won the first two Tests against England before being pegged back to 2-2. Against Australia it was another heavy defeat, 3-0, and Walcott’s 827 runs were in vain. Only Viv Richards has since pipped that total for the most runs by a West Indian in a series. Given that on 73 in the second innings of the third Test Walcott was given out hit wicket, he trod on his stumps by accident in the course of setting off for a run, he could easily have gone on to record a sixth century, and push that particular record out of the reach of even Sir Vivian.
For West Indies next tour, to New Zealand in 1955/56, the selectors sent a young and experimental side and neither Walcott nor Worrell took part. The next Test cricket in which all three Ws appeared was therefore the disastrous 1957 tour of England. Walcott averaged just 27 in the Tests, and the tourists were beaten 3-0 and were on their way to defeat in the two drawn matches. Walcott was 31 and should have been in his prime and indeed early in the tour played what he considered to be the best innings of his life. It happened in the West Indies game with MCC at Lord’s. The pitch was green and local boy Alan Moss knew just how to exploit it. He was partnered by Frank Tyson, then the fastest bowler in the world. Walcott scored 117, and followed it up with 49 in the second innings.
In the first Test West Indies got themselves into a winning position before Peter May and Colin Cowdrey recorded their famous partnership of 411 by cynically playing Ramadhin and Valentine with their pads. In the West Indies first innings Walcott scored 90, and batted well before pulling a muscle and needing a runner for the latter part of his innings. He should not have played in the next two Tests, but was prevailed upon to do so. By the time he was fit again England were in front and the tourists were riven by internal strife. Skipper John Goddard simply wasn’t worth his place, none of the Ws were functioning, and Walcott in particular was at loggerheads with the management with whom he was understandably livid when accused of not trying hard enough to get fit after his injury in the first Test.
The following year, 1958, saw what Walcott intended to be his last Test series, that being Pakistan’s first visit to the Caribbean. A recurrence of an old back injury prevented him playing in all five Tests, but in the remaining four he scored his fifteenth and final Test century and also recorded his highest series average, 96. Perhaps strangely he made virtually no mention of the series in his 1999 autobiography, Sixty Years on the Back Foot, disposing of it in just two short paragraphs.
Although Walcott played for his home island, Barbados, until 1954 at that point he moved to Guyana (then British Guiana) to take up a post with the British Guiana Sugar Producers Association. His role was to develop cricket in a country that had always been considered to be the weakest of the Caribbean nations. The measure of his success was in the bringing on of some of West Indies finest players of the 1960s. Men like Basil Butcher, Lance Gibbs, Joe Solomon, Clive Lloyd and, in particular, Rohan Kanhai, owed much to Walcott’s organisational and coaching skills. In addition in the nine years in which Walcott captained British Guiana none of the islands were able to defeat them.
In 1959/60 England visited the Caribbean again. They had never previously won a series there but took an early lead and, on promising to pay Walcott as a professional (he had been treated as an amateur in the series against Pakistan) he was lured out of retirement for the last two Tests. The rationale was that England were going to play defensively and that the West Indies would need to score their runs quickly. He had been in good form for British Guiana earlier in the season and was still only 34. Sadly there was no fairytale and both Tests were drawn and England were finally victorious in the Caribbean after thirty years of trying. Walcott would naturally have been disappointed but he did add one more to his tally of Test half-centuries, and if the big scores eluded him he did enough to secure an invitation from Worrell to make himself available for the 1960/61 trip to Australia. He decided however that he had been right to retire, and he politely declined his old friend’s offer.
Walcott remained in British Guiana after retiring from the First Class game in 1964. The country gained independence from the UK in 1966 and in 1970, as Guyana, became a republic within the Commonwealth. There was considerable political unrest in the country at that time and Walcott decided it was time to return to Barbados where he secured employment with the Barbados Shipping and Trading Company as its Chief Personnel Officer. The company was, by a distance, the biggest commercial organisation on the island, which gives an illustration of Walcott’s abilities and the respect that he had earned over his time in Guyana. In time he became one of the company’s first black directors, and until his retirement in 1991 was, for a number of years, the President of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation.
Despite his career in commerce Walcott remained closely involved with the game. He once said Cricket has done so much for me that I can’t do enough for cricket. He was Chairman of Selectors for many years during the pomp of the teams led by Clive Lloyd and Richards, and he managed a number of sides including the two that lifted the first two World Cups in 1975 and 1979. Moving onwards and upwards he was President of the West Indies board for years up to 1993 before he ended his active involvement in the game with the ICC. He was briefly a Match Referee but after leaving the Presidency of the WICB he took up the Chairmanship of the ICC, the first black person to hold that office, and indeed the first who was not English.
In 1994 Walcott was knighted for his services to cricket. He lived on into his 81st year before he passed away in 2006, just six weeks after his older brother Keith, who also played for Barbados leaving Everton Weekes as the sole survivor of the “Three Ws”. There were many tributes paid, one of the best known being that of Michael Holding, Another good man gone – he is not just a legend in the West Indies but a legend of the world.