Winston Davis: Yet another fast, unfortunate and forgotten bowler from West Indies

Winston Davis © Getty Images

Winston Davis, born September 18, 1958, was yet another bowler from West Indies who, despite being fast and fearsome, was often sidelined due to the presence of the already existing pace battery at the time. His performances for Glamorgan and Tasmania prove that he could have been a force to reckon with if he was from any other country, but for West Indies he could play just 15 Tests and 35 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Karthik Parimal looks back at the fast bowler’s life before and after cricket.

If a fast bowler can deliver with blinding pace and vacillate nonchalantly between aiming for a batsman’s toe and his throat, and if he chips in with scalps on a regular basis, he’d be an automatic choice on the sheet to take the field. While the rest of the world yearned for bowlers of that calibre, West Indies had the liberty to pick and choose from a plethora of such species from the 1970s to the early 1990s, for they churned out pacers at will. In the process, many an able bowler’s services were partially used in the region. None doubted these bowlers to be regular Test players elsewhere; but not in West Indies. Winston Walter Davis belonged to that bracket.

Early life

In 1976, at the age of 18, Davis played his first representative match for West Indies Young Cricketers (WIYC) against England Young Cricketers (EYC), where he bagged figures of 4 for 35, accounting for the wickets of David Gower, Mike Gatting, Ashok Patel and Paul Downton in the first innings before dismissing Bill Athey in the second. In the 1978 return tour, he was WIYC’s second highest wicket-taker.

In due course of time, his stature as a fast bowler began to rise locally and, in 1979, he made his First-Class debut for Windward Islands. A five-wicket haul against Trinidad and Tobago cushioned by other sporadic noteworthy performances earned him a berth at English county Glamorgan. The conditions he was subject to here would come in handy one year later during the 1983 Prudential World Cup.

Carnage at Headingley

If he is lucky, a player may once play a match that defines him; one he will be remembered for. June 12, 1983 was one such day for Davis. Having made his debut a few months earlier against India, both in Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODI), Davis was known as a pacer but was perceived to be less of a threat in comparison to his fellow team-mates Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall and Joel Garner. For the 1983 World Cup, he was named in the reserves. With four fast bowlers forming the crux of a bowling attack, physical strain to at least one was inevitable and sure enough, injuries to Garner and Marshall, just before the fixture against Australia at Headingley, paved way for Davis’s entry.

If the Australians breathed a sigh of relief learning the absence of Garner and Marshall before the commencement of the match, they certainly rued the same towards the end. Chasing 253 from 60 overs, they were bowled out for 151, Davis polishing off the line-up with astounding figures of 7 for 51 — the best at the time in ODIs. If Garner and Marshall were quick, Davis was a replica of the two; perhaps the two put together, on that fateful day for the Australians.

The shorter run-up must have put off the batsmen for a brief moment, but reality struck them quicker than the ball beating their bat on its way to the ‘keeper’s gloves that day, when the quick arm movement and uncomplicated action revealed his threatening pace.

Nerves were evident, for it was just his second ODI — two Australian batsmen smashed Davis in his initial spell — but he recuperated well to bag the last six wickets for just 14 runs. ”It was a pleasing day the way it ended but it didn’t begin very promising. Kim Hughes and David Hookes took a liking to me and were carting me all over the place. After I found my right length and line, things just clicked,” he humbly told the Sydney Morning Herald when reminiscing that special day at Headingley.

With that performance, one felt Davis’s career turned a corner, but after taking just one more wicket from the next four league matches, he was dropped for the semi-final and final of that tournament. Garner and Marshall’s return from injury didn’t help his cause either.

On a downward spiral

At Glamorgan, Davis continued to thrive. With 52 wickets at 26 runs each that season, he forced his way onto the selectors’ radar and was roped in for the tour of India in the October of 1983. However, just 14 wickets from six Tests in that series, with at an average of over 40, put him on probation. He travelled to Australia but featured in just one Test and one ODI, losing his place to a young seamer by the name of Courtney Walsh.

Despite not much going his way in the international circuit, Davis continued to deliver for Glamorgan. In the 1984 season, he took 62 wickets at an average of 27, but notwithstanding those figures, he wasn’t considered for West Indies’ tour of England later that year. Moreover, in a move that baffled many, Glamorgan decided to not renew Davis’s contract and roped in Javed Miandad as their new recruit instead. However, an injury to Milton Small soon put Davis on a plane to England and, despite not impressing as a bowler, scored a stoic 77 to help push West Indies’ first innings total at Old Trafford to 500.

For the next 10 months, he was not mentioned at the selectors’ table until. In the April of 1985, he returned to face New Zealand. In that series, he took 10 wickets in just two Tests at an average of 18.80, inclusive of a best of 4 for 19 at Kingston. Even that performance didn’t push him above the good bowlers already in the side and he duly signed to play for Tasmania in the Sheffield Shield — Australia’s First-Class competition. For two years, he only dwelled in the domestic arena.

In 1987, he made the jump from Glamorgan to Northamptonshire. That same year, he returned to tour India with the national side and, despite being amongst wickets, slipped off the radar thereafter. He donned the West Indian colours for the last time in the January of 1988 at Thiruvananthapuram and continued to represent Northamptonshire and Wellington in 1990. His cricketing career came to a halt after just 15 Tests (45 wickets) and 35 ODIs (39 wickets). He deserved to play more, and there is no doubt he’d have finished on a high, but such was West Indies’ repertoire at the time. Many who’d have been first-rate players in others sides were unfortunately left in the lurch.

Paralysis and life thereafter

After 181 First-Class games, Davis hung his boots from all forms of the sport in 1992. Five years later, he decided to become a Christian. Getting involved in religious work became a norm and all seemed fine until one day, in 1998, while helping to build a church at St Vincent, his place of birth, a freak accident paralysed him. He went up a tree to prune a branch, but failed to notice that the one he was cutting was entangled with another branch. When the original branch fell to the ground, it pulled with it the entangled one, which on its way down smashed into Davis’s head and threw him seven feet below, thereby breaking his neck.

After spending 15 months in the hospital, he moved to Bewdley, in Worcestershire, where he now resides. A tilting wheelchair and a personal assistant are his companions, but despite not being able to run a few errands on his own, there is, inspiringly, no dent in his confidence. “It’s not a life I would have chosen, not one I would wish on my worst enemy,” he says. ”But I still enjoy my life. Your family and your friends and above all your God is who is going to see you through. I need help to do things that’s the negative. The positive is my attitude and what I can contribute to society,” he stated to the Sydney Morning Herald.

The cricketing fraternity and lovers of the sport helped gather generous donations to fund for Davis’s treatment and, it’s now heartwarming that Davis himself is involved in helping the disabled. A Winston Davis Trust, that assists people with a disability in the UK, was later formed.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)