Wes Hall: Is he the right man for the job?

Colin Croft in Zimbabwe
Stabroek News
June 30, 2001

By now, all concerned, and there may not be as many as should be, will know that there has been only one nomination from the entire Caribbean, all seven and a half million of the English speaking region, for the vacant post of President of the West Indies Cricket Board. The sole recommendation, that of the representatives of Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados, is former West Indian fast bowler, (The Reverend) Wesley Winfield Hall.

Just thinking about that situation makes me cringe, maybe even angry. While I have tremendous respect for Wes Hall and his personage, are we in the cricketing arena in the Caribbean, and indeed the entire Caribbean itself, suggesting that there is only one person of the over seven million of us who is capable of being the President of the West Indies Cricket Board? What about Guyana, the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands and Jamaica? Do they not have any voice at all?

History will show that Rousseau and Joseph won handily, but there has been the open suggestion that had Hall run for the top post instead of accepting "second fiddle", he would have won hands down.

Are we to be led by our noses, again, blindly, up the useless blundering path that has been so evident these last several years in West Indies cricket? Are we as a people, which has produced persons such as Sir Shridath Ramphall, the former Commonwealth Secretary General, and Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, that severely limited in our abilities? I beg to disagree, strongly.

Or is it that the suitably qualified persons, those who could really make a difference, could not be too bothered at trying to lift the veil, despondency and autocracy, maybe even enveloping politics, of the most well known of Caribbean entities? Is our apathy so well developed?

It should be further noted that no Prime Minister nor President of their respective countries could be as important, collectively or individually, as the person who is chosen to lead the only truly

representative, sometimes cohesive West Indian institution, the West Indies Cricket Board. The supposedly Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM) does not even come close to its supposed purpose and runs a distant third to the WICB and the University of the West Indies for effectiveness.

The absolute fact is that noone of these politically appointed leaders represent more than a passing interest in their neighbouring country's situation. In the meantime, the West Indies Cricket Board encompasses all of the En-glish-speaking Caribbean, with one outright purpose, to hopefully produce the best cricket fraternity in the world, a situation that has so far been far from adequately achieved.

So what of the lone nominee, Wesley Winfield Hall.

Perhaps Herschell Gibbs, the effervescent South African opening batsman, puts it best. When asked whom he thought were the most well known and important persons to West Indies cricket ever, Gibbs, perhaps facetiously, maybe with more seriousness than he gets credit for, certainly not from ignorance, replied:

"Of course you are speaking about 'The Three W's' - (Sir) Frank Worrell, (Sir) Everton Weekes, (Sir) Clyde Walcott and Wes Hall!!"

Wes Hall is not, as Clint Eastwood suggested in "Dirty Harry", a "legend in his own mind". The man is definitely a legend in our cricketing time. One does not get 192 Test wickets from 48 Test matches, the first of that long line of tremendous West Indian fast bowlers, for no reason.

It was for Hall more than anyone else that the English commentator, John Arlott, perhaps the sport's best commentator ever, coined the term "Pace Like Fire". Hall and his Barbadian fast bowling counterpart, Charlie Griffith, had decimated England in 1963.

My own sighting of Wes Hall was, as a 11-year-old seeing my first Test match, at Bourda in 1965. Hall and off-spinner Lance Gibbs destroyed one of the greatest Australian cricket teams ever, with Bobby Simpson, Norman O'Neil, Wally Grout, Garth McKenzie and Neil Hawke among its ranks.

One particular incident in that game stands in the memory. The game was held up for about fifteen minutes when Hall, bowling flat out, lost his gold chain which carried a crucifix, and provided perfect contrast for his ebony body and milky white teeth, a standing colossus.

Eventually the chain was found at the top of his bowling mark, and Hall, annoyed, distressed and agitated, made Australia regret the moment forever. Of course, since then, Wes Hall has become "The

Reverend" Wes Hall, a fully ordained Minister, a highly spiritual man.

Most will also remember that Hall bowled that last over, all of eight balls, in the first tied Test ever, the game featuring the West Indies and Australia, at the Wooloongabba, in Brisbane, in 1961. A new legend was born then.

Hall has held several posts in the Barbadian Government, culminating in his being a Minister of the Government with two portfolios, Sport and Tourism. He has also been a senior executive of the "all-inclusive" tourism and travel conglomerate, Sandals International. Not for nothing is "The Rev" one of the more flamboyant personalities, cricketing or otherwise, of the Caribbean.

Ironically, when the West Indies Cricket Board had its most recent elections, when the then incumbents, the now-resigned president Patrick Rousseau and his deputy, Clarvis Joseph, were re-appointed, Wes Hall ran for the position of vice president. The President of the Trinidad & Tobago's Cricket Board, Alloy Lequay, sought the top post.

In my mind, the only real blot on Wes Hall resume, is his continued ability, maybe propensity, to sound and sometimes act like a consummate politician. West Indies cricket does not need that now.

Transparency is much more necessary, especially in these continuing turbulent times. The West Indies Cricket Board must be accountable to the people it represents, the seven and a half million people of the English-speaking Caribbean. In my lifetime, it has never been that. Depressingly, I must admit that I do not expect that to change. The head may change, but the body still rots.

Few who endured it would forget that extremely acrimonious West Indies cricket tour of the United Kingdom in 1995. That, in my mind, is the singular cricket tour that saw the West Indies cricket team start its sink, perhaps nose-dive, to being the lowly placed cricketing entity it is today.

The Manager of that team was West Hall.

Never before in the history of West Indies cricket was so much negatives brought out in a single cricket tour. It was like a locomotive at full tilt out of control. To highlight but a few incidents, Brian Lara left the team twice, Winston Benjamin was sent home and so undermined was his captaincy by the senior players that the 1995 tour of England effectively marked the beginning of the end of the reign of then captain Richie Richardson; a truly decent man, one who deserved better.

Yet, Hall, as the team's manager then, in my mind, did much more damage than good in trying to shove the team's problems under the table. Instead, he presented the wholly unacceptable thoughts that the team was a cohesive unit, especially useless when the entire world could see that the West Indies cricket team was imploding. Had a definite stand been taken by the team and WICB's management then, I am totally sure that the West Indies cricket team would not have deteriorated to the absolute rabble it had become by the turn of the new millennium.

We can only hope that the sameness and the closed shop of the West Indies Cricket Board of the last decade or so does not continue to exist, but I would not hold my breath. It has become perhaps the

most political body in the Caribbean, and, I am afraid, will be led by a politician, even if he is one with great credibility. I wish the Reverend Wes Hall all the luck in the world, but he will have his work cut out for him.