“We remember not the scores and the results in after years; it is the men who remain in our minds, in our imagination.” – Neville Cardus, legendary cricket writer
Everton Decourcy Weekes once opined that there’s a fine line between arrogance and excellence. Clearly, he was speaking from the experience of all too often having the latter mistaken for the former. He was, after all, a young black man of humble origin, growing up under the Union Jack in interwar Barbados, just as the British Empire was beginning to strike back.
For the exploits of the colonised had begun to trouble the colonisers with runs – and riots. This was an era in which an English batsman was overheard to exclaim disgust on receiving a pearl of a wristy slow left-arm spinning delivery from a Chinese West Indian named Ellis “Puss” Achong. “Fancy being done by a bloody Chinaman,” he exclaimed. So entered a racial slur into the cricket lexicon.
This was an era where black and brown men were expected to bowl with brawn and white men to bat with brains. Weekes was born three years before the West Indies gained Test status in 1928. The conventional wisdom of the age was a question: “How dare these black and brown cricketers challenge the assumed supremacy of white men in whites?
The events of June 1950, when Weekes, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott, Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine delivered the first-ever Test series win against world number one England in England, were not merely a watershed in the annals of cricket history but the sounding of colonialism’s death knell. The colonised were not to be treated as children of Empire but rather, as enfants terribles hell-bent on breaking it up. Many had already fought and bled for King and Country in the Great War of 1914-1918, only to return to a West Indies that still held a fierce colour bar over their heads.
The three W’s might have begun as a mere journalistic shorthand for Weekes, Walcott and Worrell but it became an emblem of excellence for three men who would not know their station. They resisted racist notions with aplomb and magisterial strokes. How dare a stocky and pugnacious black batsman stride out to the middle and dispatch Alec Bedser, Jim Laker and Johnny Wardle to all parts?
For Everton Weekes was cut from the same cloth of those who scaled the loftiest heights of cricket the hard way – by being better than the very best. The legend is that he never hit a six in his remarkable test career, just as Lance Gibbs never bowled a no-ball. Weekes was hemmed in by the low expectations inherent in racial bias, so he exceeded them beyond debate.
His first-class cricket career began three months before the end of the Second World War, a war against racial domination. And yet he could not play in his neighbourhood club Pickwick because it was closed to black players. He began to play Test cricket in 1948 – the year of the Empire Windrush bearing the first West Indian immigrants – ex-servicemen – landed at Tilbury docks in London to help in the rebuilding of postwar Britain. They faced extraordinary segregation, discrimination and prejudice.
But he was the among the first to beat back that tide of prejudice with some of the most elegant strokes any cricketer had ever seen, at least since George Headley in the interwar years. It was his swashbuckling style that introduced the world to the grace, class, colour, competence and majesty of playing cricket the West Indian way. Before Gary Sobers – his disciple – and Lawrence Rowe, Clive Lloyd and Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, Brian Lara and Carl Hooper, Chris Gayle and Kraigg Brathwaite – there was Everton Weekes. One of the most compact and complete players ever to grace the game, he cut, drove, caressed and blocked the red cherry with timing that seemed to stretch the space-time continuum itself.
No wonder that he became the fastest man to reach 1,000 test runs – 12 innings in nine matches – after Herbert Sutcliffe, who reached the milestone in the year Weekes was born.
His record is there for historians and the players of today and tomorrow to see. But what Sir Everton Weekes did off the field was no less significant, stellar and influential than his exploits on it. Cricket had done much for him, having made him a man and a global figure. He repaid cricket and Caribbean people many times over with service, dedication, commitment, generosity, wisdom, gentility and humility. His support to the cause of West Indies cricket was unwavering to the very end.
Here was no fair-weather friend of West Indies cricket. He held up the side because he knew that the impact of West Indies cricket travelled well beyond the boundary. It put these tiny islands on the map and helped a civilization of a few million souls punch above its weight class.
Never in the course of cricket history have so many owed so much to so small a band of brothers – Weekes, Walcott and Worrell. Three men with different temperaments, styles and worldviews who were united by more than just the letter W.
The great love affair that the entire world has with West Indies cricket began with these great men, the last of whom we now mourn, save Sonny Ramadhin.
But it is not only what Sir Everton did in cricket but how he lived his life that is an important lesson for us today. When West Indies men walk out to the middle for the first Test at Hampshire on Wednesday to begin cricket’s post-pandemic era, whether with black armbands or slogans saying Black Lives Matter, they all will be taking with them a little bit of the cricketing DNA that Sir Everton Weekes helped forged,
Young men, growing up in the 1950s, wanted to walk like he did, for he was the first of a number of West Indian men who taught men how to walk. Likewise, today’s West Indian men must stride out – positively and purposely, proudly but pragmatically, not with giddy anticipation but solemn purpose. For they will be walking the Everton Weekes Way.
Requiescat in pace.
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