He was one of the most gifted Caribbean batsmen. His double century and hundred in either innings on Test debut is still unmatched.
But when Lawrence Rowe walked into the Sabina Park, where he scored 214 and 100 not out against New Zealand in 1972, during the lunch break in the India-West Indies first Test on Monday, it was to make amends for a massive mistake he made 28 years ago.
Invited to inaugurate the dressing room named after him, the Jamaican great tendered a public apology for leading a West Indies squad in 1983 on a “rebel” tour of South Africa, then isolated by the international sporting community due to its apartheid policy.
Although black players taking on whites as equals on a cricket field took South Africa by storm, the players had hell to pay on return, with Jamaican players facing the worst backlash.
Rowe shifted base to Miami, where he runs a business. But some of his fellow “rebels” from Jamaica like Herbert Chang and Richard Austin were left shattered by the backlash.
Rowe made the apology from a prepared statement and then said the tour was forced upon players, frustrated by the competition to get into the West Indies team and lack of money in domestic circuit. His own Test career had been thrown into doubt due to failing eyesight.
Rowe, once rated as high as Viv Richards, also hit a Test triple century against England in Barbados. He used to whistle while batting. “I just used to get into it, my way of focusing. But I was stopped a few times from whistling,” he jokes.
He played 30 Tests, scoring 2047 runs at 43.55 with seven centuries. “We knew of the (tour's) consequences but one has to understand that during that period we had a tremendous amount of talent in the Caribbean and it was very difficult to get into the national team. A lot of players knew the possible consequences but still went for the financial aspect of it.”
Rowe bemoaned the decline of cricket in West Indies and hoped the current player-board clash is settled through mediation. “I don't think you can just have a bunch of youngsters and produce a good Test team. If you look at India, there are great players like Tendulkar, Laxman, Dravid and Sehwag and younger ones like Rohit Sharma.”
Rowe, who made his debut under Gary Sobers's captaincy, also played under Clive Lloyd, who unleashed four fast bowlers in the 70s and 80s. “Every team tried to pattern on that, except India, who had four spinners, which was like the four fast bowlers,” he joked.