A record of historical value
by Frank Birbalsingh
September 15, 2002
(Clyde Walcott Sixty Years on the Backfoot: The Cricketing Life of Sir Clyde Walcott (London: Victor Gollancz, 1999))
Along with Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott is a member (the youngest) of the three Ws - the most fabled trio of batsmen in the history of West Indian cricket. He is also the author of a previous book, Island Cricketers, which appeared as long ago as 1958, and described the author's career up to that time. If some readers are puzzled by this second title they cannot have seen Clyde Walcott bat, for his favourite strokes were played on the back foot, usually with such immense power that the ensuing, blistering back drive became a trademark of his batting.
During his career Walcott represented Barbados and Guyana in First Class matches, and West Indies in Test matches. In Tests, he scored 3,798 runs for an average of 56.68; he also made 11 stumpings and took 11 wickets.
Walcott's career as a Test player started in 1947 and ended in 1960 when he was only thirty-four years old. Although he began as a wicket-keeper/batsman, back strain forced him to give up wicket-keeping and concentrate on batting and bowling. But as the title of his second book suggests, Walcott stayed close to cricket long after his playing days were over, and in 1993, reached the summit of the game when he became Chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the controlling body of world cricket.
In 1966 he was awarded the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) medal by the British government for his contribution to cricket in Barbados, Guyana and the West Indies; in 1970 he received the Golden Arrow of Achievement from the Government of Guyana for his contribution to cricket in Guyana; in 1991 the Barbados government awarded him the Golden Crown of Merit for cricket and cricket administration in the Caribbean; and in 1993 he was knighted for his contribution to cricket and cricket administration both in the West Indies and abroad. He was also honoured by CARICOM as one of twenty-five distinguished sportsmen. This is as star-studded a career as anyone could wish for. It is interesting, by the way, that Barbados has produced five cricketing knights so far - Garfield Sobers and Conrad Hunte, as well as the Ws - more than any other West Indian territory.
Although Sixty Years was written with the co-operation of the English journalist Brian Scovell, the narrator's voice carries the authentic ring of Walcott himself: it is the measured tone of someone who has weathered the most divisive controversies and crises in West Indian and world cricket, and has reached a secure plateau of assurance from which he can confidently express seasoned and impartial views about the past, present and future of the game.
To begin with, Sixty Years offers a succinct record of the author's life - a kind of summing up at the very end of his career. The record has enormous historical value for, in addition to personal details about the author, it surveys West Indian cricket, and some issues of world cricket from the 1940s to the 1990s. The book opens with Walcott's early days in a middle class, Methodist, Barbadian family. He appears not to have had much academic promise, although he attended both Combermere School and Harrison College.
But he excelled at sports - cricket, as well as soccer, tennis, table tennis and all round athletics. Walcott's career is documented in chronological fashion in Sixty Years giving the author's impressions of each West Indian cricket tour in which he was involved, firstly as a player, and later as manager or selector. His first series was the English tour of West Indies in 1947/48; then West Indies in India in 1948/49; the historic West Indian tour of England in 1950; the ill-fated tour of Australia (and New Zealand) in 1951/52; India again in West Indies in 1952/53; and what Walcott calls the "ill-disciplined tour" of England to the West Indies in 1953/54. In between, he devotes a chapter to his experience in English League cricket; and the title tells all - "Happy Days at Enfield." He also devotes a chapter to his stint in Guyana where he lived, from 1954 to 1970, trying "to develop cricket in the sugar plantations and improve the quality of Guyanese cricket." His last full tour was in England in 1957 when West Indies were bulldozed 3:1. Later, we hear about World Cup cricket and the Packer affair, the introduction of helmets to counter the danger of fast bowling, and the bitter quarrels over playing against South Africa during the apartheid era. On these and other matters Walcott is a model of reason, moderation and good sense.
In a chapter titled simply "Best" Walcott gives his selection of top performers in cricket: the South African Jonty Rhodes is "by far the best fielder I have ever seen"; the Australian Lindsay Hassett the best captain; and another Australian, Shane Warne, the best leg-break and googly bowler of all time.
Altogether Sixty Years is notable for the authority, candour and scope of its record, particularly of West Indian cricket, during the second half of the twentieth century. It is also notable for personal details, insightful opinions and nostalgic memories of cricketers, especially of the other Ws. In recalling that all three Ws were born within a few hundred yards of Kensington Oval, the Barbados Test ground, Walcott writes with glowing charm and affection: "no three cricketers who went on to great things in the game have ever come from such a small speck of land." It is enough to swell the hearts, not only of Bajans, but of all West Indians, with unbounded pride.