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Cricket's perfect knight

india Updated: Sep 10, 2011 19:39 IST
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In 1976, 52 years after the great West Indian all-rounder Frank Worrell was born on August 1, 1924 - and nine years after his death on March 13, 1967 - I made my first trip to Barbados.

Worrell played for West Indies, Barbados and Jamaica as a right-hand batsman and left-arm bowler (both as a fast bowler and a spinner). In 58 Tests, he totalled 3,860 runs with an average of 49.48 that included nine centuries and 22 half centuries with 261 as his highest score (made against England in 1950). But these numbers don't tell the whole story about this great man.

Worrell was a visionary who saw the unity of the Caribbean islands and its people through their diversity. He was born in Barbados, worked and lived in Trinidad and died in Jamaica. Barbados reached the peak of West Indies cricket due to his brilliant batting. He provided the spirit of self-reliance to the islands of Trinidad and Tobago as it emerged as a major economic power in the Caribbean. And in his death, he bequeathed tolerance and tranquility to a volatile Jamaican society.

Upset when a match was organised between Barbados and the Rest of the World to celebrate the country's independence, he wrote, "The part can't be bigger than the region." Worrell was also the first 'coloured' captain in the history Caribbean cricket.

The West Indies visit to Australia in 1960-61 was historic for producing Test cricket's first tied match on December 14, 1960, in Brisbane. The fifth and final Test at Melbourne was a touch-and-go affair won by the home team who clinched the series 2-1. The next day as the motorcade carrying the Caribbean cricketers passed through Collins Street and reached its end, a choir struck up the tune, 'Come back soon'.

Years later, whenever Worrell was reminded of the touching ticker-tape farewell to the West Indians, it was always the words, 'Come back soon' which came to mind. "Every time I think of the words my heart grieves," he said.

The Australian Cricket Board donated a Frank Worrell Trophy for the perpetuation of the competition between the two nations - a tribute to Worrell who had won the admiration and affection of the Australian public for himself and his team.

The 1963 England-West Indies series, Worrell's final one, was a memorable event. The Windies demolished England 3-1 to earn the tag of champions. It was a befitting finale to Worrell's illustrious cricket career.

Worrell toured India with two Commonwealth teams and his unbeaten 223 at Kanpur in 1949-50 was the high point of the 'series' in which India clinched the rubber 2-1. He led the second side to a 2-0 win. During these sojourns to India, he appreciated the human touch and warmth showered on him in abundance. He became a hero for Indians.

During his last visit to India as a guest of the University Grants Commission in 1967, he played a pivotal role in the resurrection of the Calcutta Test that was marred by violence.

During Worrell's pilgrimage to Vishwabharati, the university established by Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan, he was touched by Tagore's ideal of education in the middle of nature with emphasis on literature and the arts.

After some students recited Tagore's poem 'Africa', Worrell remarked, "I have the same involvement as any good Indian about the human problems of that long exploited the continent." He took down two of Tagore's poems that dealt with death being a merger with the infinite - a poignant moment as Worrell was diagnosed with leukaemia during this visit to India. It was apt that Neville Cardus would describe Worrell's batting as 'poetry'.

A paper recovered from his drawer after his death read, "A good deed brings its own rewards to your soul." Obviously, there was a karma-yogi underneath the jolly personality of Frank Worrell when he died at the age of 42 on March 13, 1967.

Ravi Chaturvedi is a cricket commentator and author of World Cup Cricket: A Compendium. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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