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FAZEER MOHAMMED: Celebrating Sir Frank Worrell


FAZEER MOHAMMED: Celebrating Sir Frank Worrell

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WHY IS Sir Frank Worrell not recognised officially as a National Hero of Barbados?

As the nation celebrates 50 years of Independence, reflecting on the first half-century and speculating about what lies ahead, it should also be worthwhile to consider adding Sir Frank’s name to that illustrious list of individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the island’s development.

Maybe that’s where Sir Frank fell short, given that he occasionally incurred the wrath of his countrymen in refusing to be party to the insularity that almost defines the cricketing experience in every single territory of the Caribbean, bar none.

Indeed, it was that celebrated occasion at the height of the West Indies’ first decade of dominance in the 1960s, when he spoke out against the Barbados vs Rest of the World match to celebrate the island’s Independence, which is often cited as evidence of a lack of patriotism.

Surely now, though, he should be seen as a man of great vision, who rejected the narrow-minded parochialism of our tiny nations and harboured dreams of real Caribbean unity, not just on the cricket field but in academia and politics.

He would have seen the rise and fall of the Federation, but championed the development of the University of the West Indies. And of course, as the first appointed black captain of these diverse and disparate countries, he moulded a squad of supremely talented men who brought glory to the region and honour, dignity and respect to people of colour.

Nowhere was that more evident than on his very first assignment as leader, where he played a pivotal role in arguably the greatest Test series ever played. The West Indies rose to the occasion against the might of Australia in 1960/61, with both sides playing a brand of cricket that revived interest in the game at a time when turgid, defensive play was strangling the highest level of the sport as a spectacle.

Sir Frank’s charm offensive in a land with an institutionalised system of racism, known colloquially as the “White Australia Policy”, was such an outstanding success that hundreds of thousands lined the streets of Melbourne to see the team off after the home side had sneaked victory in the final Test at the MCG to claim the series 2-1.

Unbelievably, this historic moment was disgracefully dismissed and belittled in that shameless piece of shabby propaganda known as Fire In Babylon. Yet long before that warped representation of West Indies cricket turned up it seemed many had already forgotten, conveniently or otherwise, Sir Frank’s pivotal role in developing the regional side from a collection of individual talents to a consistently dominant force.

There is no need to underscore Sir Frank’s ability as an elegant, almost languid batsman or to take note of the occasionally effective use of his medium-pacers. As a leader of men, though, at a time of political transformation and social upheaval within and outside the region, he shouldered the responsibility with the poise of a statesman well beyond his years.

We often talk glibly about so-and-so “pressure” situation in contemporary sport, where the eyes of the world are focused on a major event. Yet Sir Frank, by breaking new ground with the start of that first series as captain, was always in the spotlight as critics waited for the opportunity to pounce and reinforce the bigoted perspective that black people were not meant to lead but merely follow instructions.

As a primary schoolboy in Trinidad of the early 1970s, it was fascinating for me to be introduced to Worrell via a comic book depiction of his life and times, including the brushes with authority and the sense of alienation he felt from his own people. But through it all, it was his role as a leader which stood out, which suggested that he was a man destined for greatness.

Nothing since that introduction has altered the view that even if he is not ranked among the greatest ever West Indian cricketers, as a captain, as a leader, as an inspiration to the men who followed him onto the field of play, Sir Frank must be worthy of consideration as the most influential person to represent the region.

From the trophy that bears his name for Test series between West Indies and Australia, to the blood donation day in India in remembrance of his contribution to save the life of Indian captain Nari Contractor at Kensington Oval in 1962, to the facilities at the three main campuses of UWI that pay tribute to his commitment as both a sportsman and educator, Sir Frank Worrell is beyond compare for his huge impact on the game and the ripples that extend well beyond the boundary and long after he has passed on.

Barbados should be honoured to call him a son of the soil . . . and a hero.

Fazeer Mohammed is a regional cricket journalist and broadcaster who has been covering the game at all levels since 1987.