Stirring address by Sir Wes at World Understanding Dinner
By Avenash Ramzan
In his prime he terrified batsmen the world over. Towering at 6’2” he was as good as they came- fast and accurate with a classical action.
Today at 80, he walks with the support of a cane; his strapping structure clearly weakened by the rigours of bowling at high speed against the finest batsmen, in the most intense of conditions.
“The human body was not designed for fast bowling,” Sir Wesley Winfield Hall told a gathering at the Pegasus Hotel on Friday evening.
“We either die early or we walk with a cane or with two mock knees, but we don’t do very well after bowling for a long time,” he continued.
His feature remarks at the World Understanding Dinner put on by the Rotary Club of Georgetown evoked varying emotions from the packed Savannah Suite, wit and an excellent memory being the hub of his presentation under the theme ‘Lessons learnt from the noble game of cricket.”
“As far as I’m concerned West Indian people love their cricket. I want you to know that whenever we win a Test match there is joy in the land, but when we lose people can’t even go to work,” he told the gathering of Rotarians, cricket aficionados and administrators, former players and special invitees.
“But I want to say to you that we have a special brand of cricket, just like the Brazilians (at football). We may not win; the Brazilians any time they go to the Olympics or indeed to the World Cup you may find that they may not be the top team, but they will the team most people like- they like their type of play. So cricket in the West Indies is not a new development; its logic, its values, artistry, morality and spirit are very different from other cricket cultures. That is so true.”
Sir Wes, who played 48 Tests between 1958 and 1969, claiming 192 wickets at 26.38, said West Indian people must “recognise and understand the significance” of cricket to the region.
“Cricket in the West Indies is about building a sensibility for all. It is a social space that is community at its most refined; that is why we fought against prejudice, race and class. That is why we fought that our women of the Caribbean will play cricket and play well enough to beat the world and we are so proud of the ladies of the West Indies. And even though our men may not be doing so well, I don’t think you can say the same thing for the ladies,” the former West Indies Cricket Board president pointed out.
“When the Ws, in 1950 and beyond, became the greatest triumvirate of cricketing batsmanship the world loved them. But when they returned to Barbados, Worrell, Weekes and Walcott- none of them could vote. They could not vote because you had to own land to vote in Barbados, but thank God in 1951 the Adult Suffrage Act was passed and all Barbadians could go to the polls and vote. So it is important to know our history.”
Reminiscing on a stellar career, which yielded 546 wickets at 26.14 from 170 First-Class game between 1955 and 1971, Sir Wes told the audience of a little Bajan boy, who became infatuated with the gentleman’s game from a very tender age.
He would later represent Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Queensland and West Indies.
“As a little boy I used to walk around with a bat and a ball in my hand and tell everybody that I would play for the West Indies- well they used to laugh at me. Why? I’m from a little village; nobody from my street had ever gone to high school; nobody from my district had ever played for Barbados, much less West Indies, and there is this little brat walking about telling people that he is going to the best high school in Barbados and that he is also going to play for the West Indies,” he reflected.
“They laughed at me; they said I was mad, but I want to tell you ladies and gentlemen, I went to Combermere School simply because I knew everything; I knew everything I should know about getting to a high school. I joined the library, I was loquacious, I read voraciously and therefore I thought I knew enough.”
Now an ordained Minister and former Minister of Tourism and Sport in Barbados, Sir Wes spoke of the tremendous influence of his mother and the role she played in his cricket career and life in general.
“In 1953, I was selected in the Elite First Division Combermere side which was playing against Test players. Just as I was going to catch the bus, my mother, sensing that I was very nervous, said to me ‘hold on Wesley, I have a present for you.’ Then she placed a package in my hand and she said ‘open it’. When I open it, it was a gold chain and crucifix. I was so happy, tears came down my cheeks. Then she said to me ‘Wesley, wherever you go and whatever you do, let God the maker that you will always depend on,” he divulged.
“I placed the chain on my neck and it has never left me. That chain has been written about by countless journalists. They couldn’t understand what was the magic of this man running into bowl with a chain bouncing on his- they didn’t want to call me black, so they say the chain bouncing on his ebony chest.”
Initially a wicketkeeper/batsman before he switched to fast bowling, Sir Wes still brandishes that chain and he was proud to give the gathering a glimpse of it during his stirring presentation.
“The 10,000 balls that I bowled in Test cricket, the 35,000 balls I bowled in First-Class cricket and another 10,000 or so in informal cricket I have never been injured by this chain coming up and hitting me. It came very close to my eye in Australia, but that was the only time, so I thank God for this. The men that you see wearing six chains nowadays it is because they have entered into the oasis of prosperity, but Wes was bowling for one pound a day and I want to tell you there is nothing in the world that I would like more than playing for my country, so the idea is that was the greatest gift anyone has given me and that was the first thing that my mother had given me- a cross to make sure that whenever you go out there you will know that God is your maker,” the International Cricket Council’s Hall of Famer shared.
After remarkably standing throughout his 73 minutes presentation, Sir Wes was more than accommodating to the audience, who gathered to take a selfie or secure an autograph.