Everton Weekes, born February 26, 1925, was a one of the great Three Ws who made up the bulwark of the West Indian side of the 1950s. Arunabha Sengupta recalls the life and career of the man who ended up with the seventh best average among all batsmen who have ever played the game.
A short, compact man with amazing artillery of strokes, he used to time the ball to perfection. He also had wonderful eyes and wrists. Blessed with the gift of getting into the ideal position for each stroke, he seemed to have several options for each ball — most of them attacking. Richie Benaud later recounted that according to many Australians who saw him bat, he was the closest in style to pre-World War 2 Don Bradman. When he called it a day, he was considered by many to be the most accomplished batsman amongst the hallowed trio — Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell being the other two — aptly named the Three Ws.
Yet, his first steps into Test cricket, against England in 1958, were tentative and inauspicious.
At Bridgetown, Port-of-Spain and Georgetown, he had been moved up and down the order, sent out at the fall of the first wicket, pushed to open the innings and then dropped down to number seven. He had been troubled by almost all the English bowlers, and with a highest score of 36 in five innings, he did not really seem to hold much promise.
Indeed, he was omitted from the final Test match at Kingston, and managed to play only when the great George Headley had to drop out at the last moment. During the English innings he was relentlessly booed on the field, because the Jamaican crowd wanted local boy John Holt in the team.
Everton Weekes came in to bat at 39 for one and was almost immediately dropped by Godfrey Evans off Dick Howorth. The catch, if taken, might have signalled the end of his career. He latched on to this piece of good fortune with a display of majestic driving that had seldom been witnessed in the islands. Fifteen boundaries etched his innings as he piled up 141 runs and performed the dizzying alchemy of converting baiters into devoted fans. West Indies won the final Test by 10 wickets and took the series 2-0.
Five hundreds on the trot
Seven months down the line, in November 1948, West Indies played their next Test match in Delhi. Weekes came in at No 7 and struck the ball delightfully against a hapless Indian attack to score 128.
In the second Test at the Brabourne Stadium, Bombay, Weekes was moved up to No 4. He essayed a long succession of spectacular hits, including a series of strokes off the backfoot to negate the guile of Vinoo Mankad. Two chances went down — the standard tale of the early Indian sides — but the blemishes could hardly dim the brilliance of his 194.
The party moved to Calcutta for the next Test. On a grassy wicket, the local fast bowler, Shute Banerjee, moved the ball around, dismissing Allan Rae and Dennis Atkinson early on the first morning to reduce the visitors to 28 for two. But, Clyde Walcott stuck around for a half century and Weekes played one of the best knocks of his career. Technique flawless and the driving immaculate — both off front foot and back — the Barbadian batted just over three hours to compile 162, with 24 hits to the fence.
West Indies took a 94-run lead, but with the pitch now helpful for Ghulam Ahmed and Mankad, they were in a spot of bother when Weekes walked in again on the third afternoon at 32 for two. By the end of the day, he had steadied the innings and was unbeaten on 62.
On the following morning, with reassuring calm punctuated by crisp and classy strokes, Weekes notched up his fifth Test hundred on the trot before driving one back to Ghulam Ahmed. His 101 was a determined effort with just five boundaries, and set the world record of consecutive hundreds in Tests.
The series was still locked 0-0 when the action shifted to Madras. When a murky run out decision ended his innings in the course of a huge total, Weekes walked back ten short of what would have been his sixth consecutive hundred. West Indies won by an innings to take the lead in the series and the newspaper reports ran: “Weekes finally fails — out for 90.”
By his sublime standards he did fail quite miserably in the thrilling final Test at Bombay, with scores of 56 and 48. Weekes ended the tour with 779 runs at an average of 111.29
A decade of domination
In the summer of 1950 West Indies travelled to England to conquer their colonial overlords in a historic 3-1 win. With Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine tying the Englishmen into knots with their vagaries of spin, the batting was powered by Worrell, Walcott and Weekes — forging a batting trinity the like of which the cricket world has seldom seen. The Three Ws had come to stay. Weekes could not repeat his supreme sequence as in India, but nevertheless managed 338 runs in four Tests at 56.33. This included a rollicking 129 at Trent Bridge, scored while adding 283 with Frank Worrell in an association combining grace and class at both ends in a heady cocktail.”He throws his bat at the ball with impudence to get four, any other batsman in the world would have left it alone, but not Weekes,” is how John Arlott described a crashing drive through the off-side during the Nottingham knock.
At that stage of his career, Weekes had 1471 runs from 13 Tests at 74.21
The oscillations of fortune caught up with him during the next tour in 1951-52. He suffered failure along with the rest of the West Indian batsmen in Australia, succumbing to the pace of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. Lindwall, in particular, targeted Weekes with continuous bumpers, a ploy to stop the phenomenal run-getter from playing his usual free scoring game. Weekes started strongly enough at Brisbane, but his form deserted him as the series proceeded.
Later, respected commentator Alan McGilvray wrote: “I remain convinced to this day the bumpers hurled at Weekes had a definite influence on charging up West Indian competitiveness in future series.”
A recurrent thigh injury did not help matters and neither did a thumb bruised by a slamming door as Weekes was helping an injured Walcott out of his room. He did not score too many in the New Zealand leg of the tour as well.
His return to form was spectacular. The victims were once again the hapless Indian bowlers. Weekes started the series with 207 at Queen’s Park Oval, followed it up with 161 in the third Test and 109 in the fifth. It was during the third Test of this series that Weekes overtook George Headley’s record aggregate of 2190 runs for West Indies. He remained at the top of the Caribbean list for a decade before Garry Sobers went past him in the summer of 1966. Weekes finished with 716 runs in the series, taking his tally against India to 1495 from 10 Tests at 106.78. At Sabina Park, for the first time, all the three Ws scored centuries in the same Test.
Another double hundred followed, once again at Queen’s Park Oval, this time against the English team under Len Hutton. It also marked the second and last occasion of the heavenly confluence of Worrell, Walcott and Weekes getting hundreds in the same innings. But, with West Indies requiring a draw to clinch the keenly-contested and largely acrimonious series, Weekes failed in the final Test scoring zero and three.
When Australia visited the islands, Weekes extracted a slice of revenge against Lindwall and Miller by scoring 139 and 87 not out at his favourite Queen’s Park Oval. But while he scored 469 runs in the series at 58 and Walcott was at his blistering best with as many as 827 runs at 82.70, their efforts could not stop Australia from winning 3-0.
Another feather in his congested cap was added during the same 1954-55 season, when he was appointed captain of the Barbados team — only the second black man to lead the island. It was a significant event during that period of socio-political turmoil and transition.
When West Indies visited New Zealand in 1955-56, Weekes resumed his modus operandi of scoring hundreds on the trot. This time he stopped with three, at Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington.
Weekes had a rather poor series when he returned to England — the ageing nucleus of the triumphant 1950 side unable to repeat their performance seven years later. He did play a brave innings at Lord’s with an injured hand that prompted Denis Compton to exclaim that it was an effort of genius. However, apart from that he did not do much of note in the tour.
His final century was an attractive 197, scored in the match made immortal by the 970-minutes vigil of Hanif Mohammad. Weekes followed it up useful scores through the series before retiring at the end of the last match. With the arrival of phenomenally-talented young batsmen like Garry Sobers, Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai and Collie Smith, his mantle passed into the hands of able men.
During the decade, the three Ws had shepherded a developing cricketing power and left them as a bunch of supreme talents capable of conquering the world.
The final figures of Weekes read 4455 runs in 48 Tests. His average of 58.61 stands seventh in the all-time list among batsmen with over 20 Test matches.
After moving away from the game, Weekes played a major role in the development and nurturing of batsmen like Hunte and Seymour Nurse. Apart from spending time in the commentary box as a witty broadcaster, he also played an aggressive brand of bridge and was good enough to represent Barbados in regional Bridge championships.
In 1995, Everton Weekes became the last of the great Ws to be knighted.
(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)