Big, powerful and imposing at the wicket, Clyde Walcott, born January 17, 1926, was one of the greatest and hardest-hitting batsmen of all time. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the youngest of the Three Ws who formed the backbone of the West Indies side of the 1950s.
The three Bajan babies were born within a square mile of the Kensington Oval ground in Bridgetown, within two years of each other, delivered by the same midwife.
Little more than a couple of decades down the line, they formed a trio of batsmen – a three-pronged run-machine seldom witnessed in the history of the game. Coincidentally, all three boasted family names that started with the letter W.
The youngest of the three was born on January 17, 1926, and was christened Clyde Leopold Walcott. And he grew to be the biggest of them, standing six feet and two inches tall, weighing 15 stones at his peak.
Frank Worrell was slim, graceful and elegant, who never quite hit the ball, but rather persuaded it on its way. Everton Weekes was small, compact, stylish and had a square cut that had erupted like the crack of a whip and raced away at the speed of a bullet.
In contrast, Walcott was all power. Anything overpitched would disappear through the covers or straight, with the sound of thunder and speed of lightning. “Raw power was his trademark,” wrote Ted Dexter.
At Sabina Park, he once straight drove Brian Statham with a force that saw the ball ricochet off the concrete base of the sight-screen and roll back to the bowling mark.
Alec Bedser described him as the heavyweight champion of great batsmen, adding: “I would rate Clyde as the hardest hitter of the three Ws. He drove with more strength off the back-foot than some crack batsmen were able to do off the front foot, an asset which led him to go back and force the ball away more than most and to assault the overpitched half-volley with particular savagery.”
Yet, the power was backed by majesty and technique. It was said to be an unforgettable mix of silk and gently rolling thunder. And when required, he could defend as stoutly as the best.
Batting was Walcott’s sole mode of self-expression. Unlike the smiling Worrell and grinning Weekes, he was less extroverted, more reticent. Hence, when he flashed his wide willow, the message was heard far and wide.
Early start and batting heroics
At the age of 12, Walcott played with Worrell for the first time, for Combermere School. At 16 he made his debut for Barbados.
In February 1946, he scored 314 not out, adding 574 for the unbroken fourth wicket with Frank Worrell. It was during this innings that a spectator was moved enough to present Worrell with a chicken.
Walcott, in spite of his towering height, doubled up as a wicketkeeper, and it was this skill that catapulted him into the West Indian team.
When Gubby Allen’s men visited the Caribbean Islands, Walcott scored 120 for Barbados against the tourists. Drafted into the Test team and pushed to open, he managed just eight and 16. That series, in five Tests, he scored just 173 runs with a highest of 45. At that stage of his career, he was viewed as a wicket-keeper who could bat.
However, when the West Indians visited India, Walcott amassed 452 runs in five Tests with two hundreds, the same series in which Weekes scored four tons and a 90.
Next came the series in England in 1950 that changed the face of West Indian cricket forever. Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine spun the tourists to their first win over England, a landmark in the socio-political landscape.
Walcott stood behind the stumps for all the overs that 231 overs that the two spinners bowled in the match. When he switchedto take his place in front of the stumps, he cracked a remarkable 168 not outin the second innings. EW Swanton considered it the most memorable innings in his many years of cricket watching. Egbert Moore (Lord Beginner) signed off Cricket, Lovely Cricketwith the chorus “with those two little pals of mine – Ramadhin and Valentine”, but the batting feats of Walcott and Gerry Gomez along with the exasperation of English skipper
Norman Yardley were quaintly captured in the middle lines:
“But Gomez broke him down,
While Walcott licked them around;
He was not out for one-hundred and sixty-eight,
Leaving Yardley to contemplate.”
West Indies won the series 3-1, and the three Ws managed 1106 runs between them.
However, when the merry men travelled Down Under, they were rudely halted by the searing pace of Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall. Walcott managed just 87 runs in the series. It was also the last time he played as a wicket keeper, handing over the gloves to Sammy Guillen halfway into the tour after developing back problems. For the rest of his career, he remained a safe pair of hands in the slips while occasionally he also helped out with his medium paced leg-cutters.
The magical run and retirement
Free from the burden of the stumper, Walcott returned to West Indies and for the next three years ruled the land with colossal feats of run making. A 98 followed by two hundreds were plundered off India. And during a keenly fought 2-2 series against a strong English side, Walcott hammered 220 at Barbados, 124 at Trinidad and 116 at Kingston, ending with 698 runs in the series at 87.25. Finally, when Australia visited with Lindwall, Miller, Richie Benaud, Ian Johnson and Bill Johnston, and routed the home side 3-0, Walcott stood like an imperial tower amidst the destruction all around, hitting five centuries, two apiece in the Tests at Trinidad and Kingston, finishing with 827 runs at 82.70.
By the end of the series against Australia, Walcott had 10 centuries from the last 12 Tests.
It was too good to last. His form deserted him as the team travelled to England and he was never the same batsman again. He still managed 385 runs at 96.25 in a tall scoring home series against Pakistan, and had the pleasure of chaperoning young Garfield Sobers to his record score of 365 not out at Kingston.
He soon announced his retirement, at the youthful age of 34, after two rather unremarkable home Tests against England. It was suggested by the left-wing cricket writer CLR James that Walcott’s retirement was because of the discrimination against black cricketers in Barbados. But the batsman himself later clarified that it was more to do with financial matters. The West Indies Board insisted he played for nothing after he took a paid coaching job in British Guiana. This was unacceptable to Walcott.
Walcott gave up competitive cricket, but in his new job as a coach, he nurtured young Guyanese players of the stature of Rohan Kanhai and Clive Lloyd.
His final figures of 3798 runs from 44 Tests at 56.68 with 15 hundreds establish him as one of the greatest batsmen to have ever played the game. And along with Viv Richards, he remains one of the best and hardest hitters of the cricket ball. In 25 Tests at home, he scored 2584 runs at a tottering average of nearly 70.
In 1966, Walcott was awarded an OBE for his services to cricket. He remained associated to the game through various administrative posts – managing several West Indian sides.
In 1993 he was knighted for his services to the game. That same year, he was also elected the Chairman of International Cricket Council (ICC) – and remained so for six years, the first black and non-English person to hold the office.
Walcott was as brutal in his attitude towards match-fixing as he was towards half volleys in his prime. He maintained that anyone guilty of fixing games should be banned for life. But, in spite of his imposing presence and strict views, he did have a side that rippled with laughter. Once Sir Clyde Walcott telephoned to enquire about books on cricket jokes, as he wanted to lighten up some of his more austere speeches.
Till his final days, he remained close to the game – voicing “Cricket has done so much for me that I can’t do enough for cricket.”
Walcott passed away in 2006 in Bridgetown at the age of 80.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)