Tuesday, September 28News That Matters

Sir Garfield Sobers: The Three Ws have all left us now, their legacy will never be forgotten

The year was 1950 and West Indies were in England on one of the most celebrated tours in cricket history.

I was 13 when it started, and would leave home at 7am to catch snatches of commentary on my way to Bay Street Boys’ School in Bridgetown.

My father had died during the war when I was five — he was a merchant seaman and his ship was torpedoed — and my mother did not have a radio, so I used to stop outside people’s houses and press my ear to their doors or windows to listen in until they shooed me away.

Frank Worrell (left) and Everton Weekes at Trent Bridge on West Indies’ triumphant 1950 tour

Frank Worrell (left) and Everton Weekes at Trent Bridge on West Indies’ triumphant 1950 tour

Frank Worrell (left) and Everton Weekes at Trent Bridge on West Indies’ triumphant 1950 tour

I remember that victory at Lord’s — West Indies’ first in England — when Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine were immortalised in calypso.

And I can still hear the voice of the English commentator describing the batting of my heroes, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes, as we went on to win the series.

Worrell, said the voice, batted so delicately that when he stroked the ball to the boundary, it got there just before the fielder, who tired himself out chasing it.

Walcott was the Bully Beef of the West Indies batting, because he hit the ball with such power that the fielder took his hands out the way.

And Weekes was so quick-footed and graceful, so neat and tidy, that the fielders could only stand and admire his strokeplay. That voice, I later discovered, belonged to John Arlott, and his words made a lasting impression.

Quick-footed and graceful Weekes was a key part of the great West Indies side of the 1950s

Quick-footed and graceful Weekes was a key part of the great West Indies side of the 1950s

Quick-footed and graceful Weekes was a key part of the great West Indies side of the 1950s

It was not long before I had the opportunity to tell him so.

The Three Ws were all born in the parish of St Michael in the south-west of Barbados. So was I, but I did not really get to know them until I was selected to play for West Indies less than four years later. As a boy, I used to put the numbers up on the scoreboard at Bay Pasture, the Wanderers ground, so I had the perfect vantage point to watch them when they were playing for their clubs.

I first appeared for Barbados against the Indian touring team at 16. But, little over a year later, I was still playing cricket in the street with my friends, as I did most evenings, when a message came to my home summoning me to Jamaica for the fifth Test against England. I was amazed.

I got to Sabina Park, where the players were practising, and saw Worrell, Walcott and Weekes in the dressing room. I said to myself: ‘Oh boy, you have really arrived.’

Because Valentine was sick, I had been selected as a left-arm spinner batting at No9, and I picked up four wickets in England’s first innings. Len Hutton got a double-hundred, and they won easily.

But everybody was kind and complimentary, although I don’t think they realised I had some ability as a batsman until I was asked to open in the third Test against Australia the following year. Jeff Stollmeyer, the captain, had trod on a ball and twisted his ankle.

I went in thinking I wasn’t really an opening batsman, so I wasn’t going to play like one. I took guard and looked around the field: no one in front of me except Keith Miller the bowler.

Powerful Clyde Walcott was the Bully Beef of the West Indies' batting due to his strength

Powerful Clyde Walcott was the Bully Beef of the West Indies' batting due to his strength

Powerful Clyde Walcott was the Bully Beef of the West Indies’ batting due to his strength

I said to myself: ‘Don’t look behind and, if you see red, just throw the bat.’ I hit him for four fours in his first over.

Ian Johnson came on to bowl his off-breaks. I had a sweep and was caught for 43. But I never batted at No 9 again.

I used to see a lot of Frank when I went to England to play for Radcliffe in the Central Lancashire League.

I used to go to his house and ask for advice about pitches I would play on and players I would face.

Frank also taught me how to supplement my income. I got £500 for the entire league season, and out of that I had to pay for my digs and keep myself tidy. You could make extra cash by scoring 50, at which point a collection box would go round the ground. The pennies, shillings and sometimes pounds would stop going in if you were out, and Frank drummed it into me: ‘Don’t get out until the last penny drops.’ He had a lasting influence on West Indies cricket when he became captain, and I was honoured to succeed him.

I was lucky to have Clyde at the other end when I was scoring the world-record 365 not out against Pakistan at Sabina Park in 1958. He said just what I wanted to hear: ‘You get the runs, and I’ll keep you going.’ He was as good as his word, finishing unbeaten on 88.

Everton became a lifelong friend. We had played a bit of dominoes and bridge together before we started travelling the world, and did so regularly back in Barbados. I enjoyed sitting on top of the pavilion at Kensington watching cricket with him. He was always such a cheerful person.

They have all gone now: Frank from leukaemia at the age of 42 in 1967, Clyde aged 80 in 2006, and Everton last year at 95. Yet they will never be forgotten.

They were great players and great ambassadors for West Indies cricket. They were also great people.

Sir Garfield Sobers was talking to Pat Gibson