The Television promos for India’s tour of West Indies are largely misleading. I seriously doubt if anyone is chilling on a hammock with the occasional sip of coconut water of an umbrella straw while watching an absolute miss match. Historically, everything about the brand of cricket West Indies have played was exciting. Now there is hardly any excitement. A bit like the rock and roll; once termed as hair rising and beer can-smashing form of popular music is now lost in oblivion.
Cricket just like all other sports has always thrived on heroes. Heroes, who with their performances transpire hope. Heroes, who with their conduct on and off the field inspire many. Clearly, one of the reasons Cricket in West Indies is dull and boring because of the lack of such on-field heroics. The counter argument to that is, isn’t Carlos Braithwaite, the man who hit four consecutive sixes to win a World T20, a hero? Or for that matter Chris Gayle, Dwane Bravo, Darren Sammy?
No, they aren’t.
Like the song suggests they are all champions, yes, but not heroes. A supreme execution of a particular skill for a short span of time in the shortest format of the game might make you a champion. But a hero is one who savors the challenges of patience, persistence and builds a legacy through which it lifts the sports itself.
Thus, we look back at a Test Match played exactly 78 years ago on this day at the Mecca of cricket that pays tribute to one such hero of West Indies cricket. It was the summer of 1939. A young and inexperienced West Indies had arrived on the English shores for a three-match series. Out of the 16 players in the squad, eight were yet to make their International debut. The side, however, featured a man called George Alphonso Headley. The only world class batsman in that lineup. And as fate would have it, this was his last series as a great batsman.
Born in Panama and brought up in Jamaica, post the First World War, Headly took to cricket as fish to water. In 1928, he was picked for a Jamaican side that toured England. A Double hundred, two fifty-plus scores, a 40 and the only failure with 16 were numbers that made headlines. This 18-year-old batting prodigy had made his mark on the English soil. So after 11 years when Headly played that 1st Test at Lords he had already been termed as one of the West Indie’s best.
The Headley show
The visitors captained by RS Grant won the toss and elected to bat first. English new ball bowler and debutant Bill Copson drew first blood when removed opener Grant with the team’s total on 29. Headley walked into bat at number three. West Indies needed a partnership and they were expecting something special from their only hope. Headly looked solid from the word go. A hallmark of a good batsman is the effect he has on the non-striker. Headley’s confidence soon rubbed off onto his partner and debutant Jeffery Stolemeyer. Both stitched a crucial partnership of 118 runs, the best stand for the visitors in the entire match. Even after the departure of Stolemeyer, Headley continued his exhibition of class and brilliance, as he went to score a fine 106 that included 13 glorious fours. Once he was dismissed West Indies were all out for 277.
After the rest day, England in replay scored a mammoth 404 that included a marathon innings of 196 from Len Hutton. The English batting giant in a way overshadowed Headley brilliance from 1st innings during his flawless stroke play against a meek and tired West Indies bowling lineup.
Back to the concept of hero again and George Headley by this time was a national icon back home. People’s hero. The kind of which, who becomes a part of the folklore with stories, sonnets, and songs written about him. Guyana, Barbados, Port of Spain or just anywhere in West Indies, George Headley was loved and respected. Dubbed often as the “Chocolate baby” of the crowd, he represented the hopes and aspirations of many.
So West Indies were trailing by 127 runs with the English bowlers Copson, Bowes, and Wright in tremendous rhythm and a batting line that was hardly capable of scoring big runs. In the second innings, it was Stolemeyer who left early and Headley walked in with no runs on the board. Copson, in particular, was bowling with exceptional accuracy and was causing a lot of trouble for the batsmen. Headley’s defensive play allowed him to get settled. He battled for 230 minutes against a disciplined bowling attack and displayed batting of highest order. It was an innings filled with tight stroke making with the occasional magic that crafted boundaries out of no -where. Headley was eventually dismissed for a 107. He became the first ever cricketer to register a hundred in each innings at Lords. However, Headley had achieved a similar feat against England earlier in 1930 when he scored 114 and 112 at Georgetown. The next highest score in the innings was 29 and West Indies were all out for just 225. With 98 runs to victory England won the game by eight wickets.
With his highest score of an unbeaten 234 made at Trent Bridge and 227 against Middlesex, Headley had accumulated 1,745 runs, and his average, 72.70, was the best of the season. In his 22 International matched he had 2190 runs at an average of 60.83.
Quite fittingly known as the “The Black Bradman”, Headley was stylish, skill full and above all was a supreme ambassador for the sport. His hundreds in each innings at Lords were one of his many heroics on the field. West Indies if they want to survive in International cricket have to adapt themselves to the fast changing landscape of the game and produce such cricketers who can deliver performers that aren’t short lived. Headley-like instead. Performances, which are strong, patient, powerful and the one that adds value to the game.
Written by Babasish Nanda