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Lawrence Rowe : What could have been?

Lawrence Rowe : What could have been?

“From Tony Cozier, through the cab driver in Barbados to the man in the stands at Sabina Park, they all said the same – “The maan could bat”. Another guy in the stands said “Yagga plays the on-drive – not a man move!!”.

For a good 28 years since he made the decision to tour South Africa, Lawrence Rowe was considered a pariah and was ostracized from West Indies cricket – that was until on the first day of the recent Test match between India and West Indies, when Rowe, Michael Holding and Courtney Walsh were honored in Sabina Park, in his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. The George Headley stand end was named after Holding, the Northern stand end named after Walsh and, to show that all was forgiven, they named the player’s pavilion after Lawrence Rowe.

“Yagga”, as he is fondly called in these parts, after unveiling the player’s pavilion went on to make a prepared press statement in which he apologized for the rebel South African tour all those years ago. Heralded in his early career as a most elegant batsman, Rowe could play any stroke and was even dubbed as the “Right-handed Gary Sobers”. He had a spectacular debut when he scored 214 and 100 against New Zealand at Sabina Park during the first Test of the 1972-73 series.

His watershed moment came during the third Test between England and West Indies at Bridgetown, My cab driver from Bridgetown said that there was a sparse crowd in Bridgetown at close of play on day two with Rowe unbeaten on 48. After the rest day, people were scrambling to get into the ground as early as six AM for the next two days, and there were no seats left vacant when he reached his triple hundred. Rowe himself recalled that he had to be escorted in to the ground because of the commotion.

However it is a surprise that he does not rate any of those knocks as his best but rated the 175 in the Packer series as his most dominant knock, and a 67 in a losing cause against Dennis Lillee , Max Walker and Jeff Thompson as his best Test knock. Since that 67 things went downhill for him, he was troubled by eye-problems and could only score just one hundred during the rest of his career; then came the rebel south African tour which changed the lives of not only Rowe but also the 17 other West Indians who made history for the wrong reasons. Following the rebel tour to to “Apartheid” South Africa to play a series Rowe was banned for life from all forms of cricket. People back home loathed him for being an “Honorary white” and he decided to migrate to the united States – it was certainly tough times after that tour, but with 28 years passing since the tour he feels accepted now.

To an interview question from me asking if he was still playing cricket in the States, pat came the reply “Yeah Maan!! I even scored a 22 not out last week” amidst laughter from everyone. In hindsight it was sad to see the case of a cricketer who could have scaled greater heights but reduced to a Villain because of making the wrong choice at the wrong time. It was a personal decision made by those 18 cricketers to ensure their future – they went to South Africa and were frowned upon.

I personally felt all the more happy for I have heard stories about Rowe from my dad. As a cricket lover it was pleasing to see Rowe honored for what he had done for West Indies cricket and not being judged just for that ill-fated tour. From being the darling of the crowd, To becoming a pariah in his own land and then being accepted and honored in the land he loved, life had indeed come a full circle for Yagga in every sense of the word.”


Viv told the story of his coming out to join Rowe at the crease facing Thomson in 75-76 and Rowe wasn’t whistling.

Viv asked him why and he said “You don’t have time to whistle with this man bowling to you”.

Comment by Burgey | 12:00am BST 3 July 2011

A nice feature….

However, I do feel that Rowe had already made his decision to move to the US by the time he accepted the invite to apartheid South Africa. A string of low scores with the Windies side had resulted in him being dropped, and in addition to his curious allergy to grass, he had developed serious eye problems, which naturally affected his ability to bat as well as he used to. He had just completed a season for Jamaica, and while his scores were okay, they weren’t anywhere near good enough to force himself back into the side.

Rowe knew what he was doing, to the point where even in his self-imposed exile in the US, he planned a second tour of South Africa a year or so later. I’m not going to kill him for trying to earn as much money as possible from his name, but at the same time I’m not going to feel sorry for him for making these flawed decisions. He was a truly outstanding batsman in his youth, and old-timers still talk about that innings at Kensington Oval, but by the time he went to South Africa, his WI career was already over.

Comment by shivfan | 12:00am BST 4 July 2011

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