Frank Worrell: the face of West Indian cricket © Getty Images
Sir Frank Worrell, born on August 1, 1924, was perhaps the greatest ambassador of the sport. Abhishek Mukherjee showcases a list of little-known facts about the legend.
Of all Knighted cricketers — and the list includes Don Bradman, no less — the title was perhaps the most befitting to Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell. Bradman outshone, and continues to outshine, batsmen throughout the history of the sport; Garry Sobers had the world in awe with his multitude of talent; Jack Hobbs, of course, was The Master who combined grace and appetite for runs even in his late 40s; but Worrell?
Worrell was certainly not the greatest batsman West Indies had produced; he was not even the greatest Bajan; his Test numbers — 3,860 runs at 49.48 — were surpassed by the other two Ws (Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott); yet, he was the first of the three to be Knighted. Had Worrell not done anything else he would still have been remembered for being the first black man to be appointed captain for West Indies for a full series (George Headley had earlier led them in a single Test). That impact of the incident went far beyond the cricket boundary. However, his contributions stretched beyond the borders of the islands. He served cricket the way few others have.
Let us have a list of ten little-known things about the legend.
1) The trinity
Most people are aware of the fact that Worrell, Weekes, and Walcott were born within 18 months and one mile of each other, and went on to form perhaps the most famous trinity in world cricket. What is relatively unknown is the fact that they were delivered by the same midwife.
2) The bighead and the betrayer
It is almost impossible to believe, but Worrell, one of the gentlest and most amicable characters one could come across, was called obnoxious bighead at school and was subject to beatings and canings. He was even suspended from playing cricket — a punishment that was, as he wrote in Cricket Punch, “like a death sentence”.
Worrell’s mother had moved to New York when he was young. His father was often away on sea. Not quite happy with the idea of staying alone, he moved to Jamaica at an early age. For some reasons a chunk of Bajans never forgave him for this: it was nothing short of “betrayal” in their eyes.
3) The 500-run man
Playing for Barbados against Trinidad at Kensington Oval, Frank Worrell (308 not out) and John Goddard (218 not out) put up the first First-Class 500-run partnership on West Indian soil. They added an unbroken 502 in a mere 404 minutes.
Two seasons later against the same opposition, Worrell (255 not out) was at it again, adding a humongous unbroken 574 in a mere 335 minutes with Walcott (314 not out). It remains the only other 500-run (and obviously the highest) First-Class partnership on West Indian soil.
Worrell also became the first player to be involved in two First-Class 500-run partnerships (Ravindra Jadeja is the only other one to have achieved this till date). Worrell and Walcott were also the youngest to put up a 500-stand (they were 20 and 21 respectively), but Jadeja (19) and Cheteshwar Pujara (20) did it when they were a year younger.
4) The donor
It is well-known that The Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) organises a blood donation camp every year on February; hundreds donate blood at the Eden Gardens on the day; CAB also calls it the Frank Worrell Day. The lesser known Frank Worrell Memorial Blood Drive had started in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009; it was inaugurated by — most fittingly — Nari Contractor.
Worrell was extremely popular in the islands —because of his stature as well as his batsmanship — and they often went ballistic when he reached a milestone. On one occasion, Worrell raised his bat when he reached a double-hundred, when he saw a spectator running on the ground to congratulate him — with a live chicken as a gift!
Avoiding rum is not the easiest option for a man born in Barbados and settled in Jamaica. Worrell was a connoisseur, and (by all sources of information) preferred Barbadian rum over its Jamaican counterpart despite the popularity of the latter. In fact, he described the recipe of his favourite cocktail in his autobiography.
It goes like this: “No one expects me to produce a cookery book or a book on Cocktails, and How to Make Them, but in Barbados there is a famous drink that you might like to make for yourself. All you need is Barbados rum, condensed milk (sweet) and ice. You just mix equal parts of the rum (and it must be Barbados rum!) and the milk, add lots of ice and stir the mixture well — it is best to make the drink in a large jug if there is a crowd to serve.”
7) The man who wanted results
One of the reasons for Worrell’s popularity as captain was his willingness to reach a result. Worrell led West Indies in 15 Tests: they won nine of these and lost three. In two of the remaining three, the Tests ended with the sides batting in the fourth innings nine wickets down. As for the other, as we all know, it had ended in the first ever tie.
8) Handing over the Trophy
Controlling Garry Sobers — a person who seldom allowed himself to be dictated by others —was often a captain’s nightmare. On the historic 1960-61 series at Australia Sobers showed dissent after an umpire’s decision, following which he was reprimanded by Worrell. The team learnt a lesson: nobody questioned the umpire’s decision for the rest of the series.
The West Indians under Worrell had won the hearts of the locals that Australian summer through positive cricket and excellent demeanour through the series. Richie Benaud was booed when he did not recall Joe Solomon after he was given out hit wicket when his cap fell on the stumps in the second Test at Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG); several thousands of people* gathered to accompany them in Melbourne during their trip from the team hotel to the reception hosted by The Mayor of Melbourne; but the greatest honour for Worrell had come after the fourth Test with the series levelled 1-1.
*A count of 500,000, though quoted time and again (probably due to LD Roberts’ Cricket’s Brightest Summer), is almost certainly an exaggeration. Tony Cozier mentioned 200,000. In a conversation with Charlie Davis, Ray Webster mentioned that nobody has managed to come up with a proper estimate regarding this figure. The Age mentions a turnover of “a few thousands”. One must remember that Melbourne’s population at that time was about 1.85 million. Over a quarter of the population turning over for the day is probably unreal. It would have also led to severe traffic issues, nothing of which finds a mention.
By the time the fifth Test had started at MCG, it had already been decided that the contest between Australia and West Indies would be subsequently called the Frank Worrell Trophy. Australia scraped home by two wickets, but the crowd cheered for the tourists — especially their captain, who brushed the Trophy with the sleeve of his blazer before handing it over to Benaud.
9) The Bollywood connection
Worrell made a cameo (and utterly irrelevant) appearance in Raj Kapoor’s Around the World, where the protagonist makes random questions and our man corrects them.
It was a forgettable role, but an appearance nevertheless.
10) Westminster Abbey
Worrell passed away of leukaemia at a mere 42. A memorial service was held at Westminster Abbey in his honour. Wisden later wrote: “West Indians of all backgrounds and shades of opinion paid their last respects to a man (Worrell) who had done more than any other of their countrymen to bind together the new nations of the Caribbean and establish a reputation for fair play throughout the world.”
There was a reason for Worrell being the first sportsperson to be thus commemorated.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)