“I am very happy that we can honour him (Sir Wes), while he is still with us.” Former West Indies batting coach, Floyd Reifer
Well deserved, Sir Wes!
In Running Away (and that’s what I choose to call it), one of Bob Marley’s lines is “Every man thinks that his burden is the heaviest.” Looking back on my life these days, I’ve created my own line – “Ray Ford, you’re the luckiest.”
I first met Wes Hall through L. D. ‘Strebor’ Roberts’ Cricket’s Brightest Summer. Early in the book, there’s Sir Wes, pictured among five of his other team-mates aboard the ‘Strathaird’, as the boat docked in Fremantle, Western Australia. Later on in the same book, is a picture of the big fast bowler holding on to one end of an outstretched crab, flanking a young Miss Marie Traves while sight-seeing in Bunbury, before the West Indies’ first engagement against a Combined Country Australia XI, on that famous 1960-61 tour.
In March of 1962, I’d see Sir Wes in the flesh for the first time – pushing-off the southern sightscreen in that Second Test against India at Sabina Park – Roy Lawrence above him in that rickety Press Box. One year later, I was glued to my transistor radio, as Wes Hall bounded in to bowl that final dramatic last over at Lord’s, with Colin Cowdrey and his broken arm, standing at the non-striker’s end.
That fifth-day spell at Lord’s – similar to the fifth-day one he bowled in the first tied Test in Brisbane – was so typical and symbolic of Sir Wes – giving his heart to his beloved West Indies. In talking to him, Sir Wes rates the latter as his greatest on-field cricketing feat. And it had to be self-inspiring in lending to him the title Answering The Call, for his forthcoming second book.
To me though, as an impressionable youngster, was his fiery bowling in the first Test against Australia in March of 1965. Those were the days when the rock-hard Sabina pitch, was as shiny as a mirror, and nervous visiting batsmen could be heard pounding their bats on it, from as far away as Gore Terrace.
The Australians visited several years later in 2008. And as a cricket fan, I ran into Sir Wes at the bar behind Cricket Legends, as he hung out with Seymour Nurse. “Charlie (Griffith) is here too yuh know,” I remembered him telling me, as I reminded him of some of his cricket exploits in Jamaica. He wanted me to meet his ‘Sparing-partner-in-Chief’.
I discovered first-hand though, that there’s more to Sir Wes, than cricket. And that was when – through the auspices of Fortis H. G. Helps – I heard one of the most eloquent and inspiring speeches of my life – the one Sir Wes delivered at Kingston College Old Boys Association banquet in November 2009 in New Kingston, Jamaica. “Do something for ‘Collie’ (Smith),” was his parting shot.
So, so inspired I was on hearing him speak, that a few years later, I took his advice. On the advice of Easton ‘Bull’ McMorris, I was – through Andrew Mason – put in touch with Sir Wes. I told him what I was about. And, the rest is history. Since then, I feel like I’m drinking from a fire-hose of history. Because, anyone who knows Sir Wes would know that once the big former fast bowler gets on a roll, it’s virtually impossible to stop him.
Sir Wes to me, has so far lived a fascinating life. And the thing about that life, is that he’s so willing to teach worthwhile lessons to virtual strangers like me, who show interest in learning.
I consider myself a lifelong student of life. And so, for the last four years or so, not long goes by, without Sir Wes and myself, being in touch by phone.
If there ever was a model of what a great Caribbean man should look like, I’d pick Sir Wes. No wonder his native land of Barbados, will this coming weekend (on November 29th to be exact) unveil a statue of the great man https://www.caribbeanlifenews.com/statue-for-wes-hall/ not far from that of Sir Gary Sobers – another great Caribbean ambassador. Both are well deserved.
(Ray Ford is a Jamaican who lives in the United States, is a freelance journalist and retired mechanical engineer. For over two decades, his articles appeared in the Caribbean Cricket Quarterly, The Cricket International, The Jamaica Gleaner, Sky Writings, The Carib Cricket Circle and The Sagicor West Indies Cricket Quarterly.)