Seventy six years ago, Sir Wes Hall, one of the finest fast bowlers Barbados and West Indies have produced, was born. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the career of one of the earliest from the pantheon of West Indian fast bowlers who bowled one of the most memorable over in the history of Test cricket.
It’s the last - eight-ball - over of the Test. Australia need six runs to score with three wickets in hand. West Indies captain Frank Worrell brought on his talisman, Wes Hall.
The new batsman, Wally Grout, was on strike after Joe Solomon’s direct throw had packed off Alan Davidson, the hero of the match. Hall steamed in for the final assault, having bowled 17 relentless overs earlier that afternoon. His eyes almost bulged out of their sockets; his crucifix glistened in the fading Brisbane Sun as his athletic legs took long, intimidating, decisive strides to reach the stumps from an unbelievably long run up. Hall had already spells of four for 140 and four for 60 to go with his breezy 50 in the first innings. And here, he ran in for one final time.
The first ball was too fast for any batsman; doubly so for a new batsman in fading light. It hit Grout straight in his solar plexus. Before the ball could hit the ground, captain Richie Benaud, unbeaten on a valiant 52, called for a leg-bye and made it. Grout had no option but to respond to his skipper’s call. The batsmen had somehow exchanged places.
Hall went back to his mark, fuming at Grout’s getting away. Worrell had categorically mentioned him not to bounce at the batsmen in the last over; especially Benaud. Hall had possibly forgotten Worrell’s instructions and responded with a vicious bouncer. Benaud tried to hook, couldn’t time, and edged it to ‘keeper Gerry Alexander.
Ian Meckiff walked out. Hall pitched one up and Meckiff managed to keep it out. He missed the next one completely, and Grout ran for a very perilous bye. Alexander under-armed the ball to Hall, who tried to bring down the stumps at the non-striker’s end with a throw and missed completely. Alf Valentine saved the overthrows with some effort.
Grout then had an ugly hoick. The ball went high up in the air, stayed there for an eternity and descended into the safe hands of Rohan Kanhai at square-leg – well, almost! Hall emerged out of nowhere, covering an improbable distance and pounced on Kanhai in an attempt to claim the catch himself. The chance went abegging.
Three balls, three to score. Hall steamed in. Meckiff was prepared. He closed his eyes - by his own admission - and had a blind slog. The curator had neglected to trim the grass that morning; otherwise that stroke would have won the Test for Australia. The long blades of the grass slowed the ball considerably. Conrad Hunte swooped in and threw so accurately from a distance of 80 yards that Alexander did not have to move at all. As he whipped off the bails, Grout was caught a foot short attempting a third run.
As Lindsay Kline strode out, Worrell accompanied Hall to his bowling mark. He told his bowler, in his characteristic nonchalant tone: “Remember, Wes, if you bowl a no-ball you'll never be able to go back to Barbados.”
The Barbadian rain in. The left-handed Kline managed to place the ball between Peter Lashley at square-leg and Solomon at mid-wicket. As Lashley made a dash for the ball, Solomon beat him to it, picked it up with his “wrong” (left) hand and threw the stumps down at the striker’s end to effect the first tied Test in over eight decades of the game.
The West Indians thought they had won! The fact that it was a tie was revealed later to them.
In his school days, Hall used to be a wicket-keeper who could bat a bit. However, the regular opening bowler’s absence meant that Wes was asked to bowl with the new ball. He rose through the strata of Barbadian cricket, and soon found himself representing the country against EW Swanton’s team consisting of Colin Cowdrey, Mickey Stewart, Tom Graveney, Gamini Goonasena and Frank Tyson, Hall got the new ball and flayed across the ground in both innings. The fact that Kenneth Branker dropped Colin Cowdrey at first slip did not help him: he went wicketless in the match.
Swanton, however, showered him with immense praise, mentioning that he had shown immense promise. Possibly based on that, Hall was picked to represent West Indians for another match against the same team. Once again he had a nondescript outing, but Swanton’s recommendation meant that Hall made it to the England trip that followed.
The England tour was a disastrous one for Hall. He did not get any sort of control on the line, and could manage only 27 wickets at 33.55 apiece with a best of three for 44. Not only was he not picked for any of the Tests, he was dropped for all the subsequent home series against Pakistan. However, a successful home series for Barbados and the withdrawals of Worrell meant that he was picked for the tour of India.
In the tour match against Baroda, Hall took seven wickets and thus made it to the first Test. He shared the new ball with the fearsome Roy Gilchrist and bowled a penetrating opening spell in which he removed Nari Contractor, Pankaj Roy and Vijay Manjrekar to make early inroads into the Indian batting line-up. However, Roy’s seven-and-a-half-hours second innings defiance meant that India managed to save the Test.
In the second Test, Roy and Contractor resisted again, putting up opening partnerships of 90 and 99 in the two Tests to frustrate the West Indian bowlers in the absence of the suspended Gilchrist. However, Hall persisted, and unlike the England tour, he managed to find his rhythm going: a return of six 50 and five for 76 meant that he now became a permanent member of the West Indies side.
Gilchrist’s return in the subsequent Test meant that the hapless Indians did not have a chance to fight back. They went down 0-3 in the series, managing to draw the fifth Test marginally thanks to Chandu Borde’s heroics. Hall ended with 30 wickets at 17.66 to go with Gilchrist’s 26 at 16.11. Between them they outplayed India, who had four different captains in the series!
West Indies toured Pakistan next, and lost the first Test rather easily. In the second Test at Dacca, Hall bowled an inspired first spell to leave Pakistan reeling at 22 for five. However, Wallis Mathias helped them recover and Fazal Mahmood bowled them out for 76. Hall, after taking four 28 in the first innings, went on to take four for 49, but West Indies lost the Test.
In the dead rubber Test at Lahore, Kanhai helped West Indies to 469. And then, bowling with fearsome pace, Hall removed debutant Mushtaq Mohammad (the youngest Test cricketer ever at that point of time), Fazal Mahmood and Nasim-ul-Ghani in successive deliveries to become the first West Indian to take a Test hat-trick. He took five for 87, and with the spinners coming good in the second innings, Pakistan faced their first defeat ever at home. Hall ended the series with 16 wickets at 17.93, and after an eight-test career, was being considered as one of the leading fast bowlers of the game.
In the home series against England, Hall took seven 69 at Kingston and six for 90 at Georgetown; the English batsmen were better players of fast bowling than their Asian counterparts, and Hall had to bowl excruciatingly long spells in the Caribbean heat. In a stunning display of stamina, Hall took 22 wickets in the series.
West Indies headed for Australia next in what turned out to be arguably the greatest Test series ever. Hall scored his maiden fifty and took nine wickets in the aforementioned tied Test at The Gabba. However, the rest of the series was a rather quiet one, and he ended the series with 21 wickets.
He crushed India in the home series that followed. The West Indians dominated the series, crushing India by a margin of 5-0. Hall was the spearhead of the bowling attack; he took 27 wickets from five Tests at an average of 15.74, and with the rest of the team supporting him ably, it was a cakewalk for the Caribbeans. This was a spectacular performance, given the fact that the Indian side was a stronger outfit than the previous one. His finest performance probably came at Port-of-Spain. After West Indies scored 444 on a placid wicket (Hall scored 50 not out himself), Hall removed the top five Indian batsmen (Dilip Sardesai, Rusi Surti, Vijay Manjrekar, ML Jaisimha and Vijay Mehra) in a fast, hostile spell to reduce India to 30 for five.
West Indies toured England next. Though Hall decimated the county sides, his performance in the Tests, though competitive, was not outstanding: he had to be content with playing a support role to Charlie Griffith, thus forming the most feared fast bowling pair of contemporary cricket. In an astonishing display of stamina at the second Test at Lord’s, Hall bowled unchanged for over three hours on either side of the tea interval, and got to bowl the last over again, just like he had been entrusted with the responsibilities at The Gabba a few years back. Cowdrey’s courage meant that England could draw the match, but Griffith and Hall’s aggressive bowling meant that West Indies took the Wisden Trophy 3-1. On this tour Hall also picked up his only First-class hundred – batting at No 9, he scored 102 not out against Cambridge University.
Hall came back to his self against the Australians in the home series that followed. Hall bowled a furious, accurate spells of five 60 and four for 45 at Port-of-Spain to rout Australia, with the chucking controversy following Griffith, Hall took the role of the leading bowler himself and played a crucial role in West Indies’ first series victory (2-1) over Australia.
Back in England again, Hall and Griffith continued to torment England again, though the 1966 series belonged almost entirely to the legendary Garry Sobers. Hall played his part and chipped in with valuable wickets, but it was in this series that he showed the first signs of decline.
He picked up a knee injury just ahead of the Tests in India, but decided to play in the Tests. The Indians had prepared slower, flatter tracks to counter the pace of the West Indians, and this, doubled with his injury, meant that Hall was not effective against the Indians as he used to be. He had indifferent outings against England at home and against Australia at their den, but things were never the same.
Finally, on his first tour to New Zealand, he removed Glenn Turner for a duck in the first Test at Auckland, but broke down during the Test, never being able to complete it. This turned out to be the last Test of his career spanning 48 Tests: Hall took 192 wickets at 26.38, taking five or more wickets in an innings on nine occasions.
Playing for Accrington, he was also a success in the Lancashire League, capturing over a hundred wickets in three successive seasons (1960 – 1962) and taking ten wickets in an innings twice.
While still playing Tests, Hall, on a mission for West Indian Tobacco to promote cricket in Trinidad and Tobago, set up the Wes Hall Youth Cricket League in 1966. He went on to lead the Board of Selectors for West Indies; managed the Test side for several tours; was elected President of West Indies Cricket Board in 2001. He was elected to the Senator as a representative of the Democratic Labour Party of Barbados. He also attended Bible school and later became a minister in the Christian Pentecostal Church. Between them, the two fierce fast bowlers have the Hall and Griffith Stand named after them at Kensington Oval.
He was made a Knight for his services to cricket and community in 2012.
(A hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket)