A pall hangs over Australian cricket

As Australia and Australians reel over what has happened in South Africa, I cannot add anything new except to say that boys with their hands in their pants are usually up to no good.

But seriously, what were they thinking?

Sport produces heroes and villains. Sport brings out the best and sometimes the worst in people. Never in my lifetime would I have thought that the Australian Test Captain would be viewed (booed) as a villain.

The players have been penalised. They have apologised and acknowledged their errors. They will do their time and they and we, will move on.

At this grim time, I would like to reflect on something positive. I want to talk about my most admired cricketer of all time. He provides a stark contrast to the current generation of players.

This player is not Australian. He played before my time. He personifies everything that is good in cricket and everything that is great in humanity.

I speak of Frank Worrell.

Worrell played for the West Indies and debuted in England in 1948. He played 51 tests averaging 49.48 runs. He top scored 261 against England. He bowled slow left arm orthodox with a respectable 69 test wickets at an average of 38.72.

In 1951, he was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year after helping the West Indies beat the English in 1950.

In 1960, Worrell was named captain of the West Indies cricket team. He was the first black captain of the team and he was appointed in time for the 1960–1961 tour of Australia against Richie Benaud’s team.

At this time cricket stocks were low. Administrators were not confident that the test series would be successful or profitable. The West Indies team had notable players but no world beaters. The same could be said about the Australians.

Notwithstanding the pessimism at the beginning, many consider the 1960–1961 tour by the West Indies as the best Test series involving an Australian team. Let’s look at why.

The West Indies team is not a national team. It is a team drawn from many Caribbean nations and islands.

The West Indies team arrived in Australia on a number of different ships, at different times from different locations. The trips took several weeks. Worrell was their new captain. He had little time to unify and galvanise the team on foreign soil against the talented and experienced Australians.

As a new captain Worrell laid down two rules for his team.

The first was that each of his players had to display sportsmanship and fair play at all times. There was to be no sledging or questioning of umpire decisions or dubious behaviour either on or off the field.

In the practice game against West Australia, Garfield Sobers was given out LBW, even though he appeared to be standing wide of the stumps. Sobers lingered at the crease and turned to look at his stumps. Worrell was at the other end. He gave Sobers a severe look and Sobers marched off to the pavilion.

At the interval Worrell gave Sobers and the rest of the team a dressing down. “When you are given out you leave the wicket, whether you think you are out or not”.

The team embraced the message.

In fact, no batsman consciously waited for an umpire’s decision thereafter. If a player knew he was caught out, he walked before the umpire raised his finger.

In the practice match against South Australia, Kanhai dived to catch the ball but it touched the ground and flew off his fingers into the hands of the waiting Smith. The batsman turned to walk but Kanhai and Smith both shook their heads and explained that it was not out. The crowd erupted in a cheer at this sporting gesture.

This attitude would not have been easy to maintain given the fierce competition between the two teams and the many close results that followed.

However, it engendered a similar attitude among the Australians. In Sydney, during the practice match, Benaud heard that fellow spinner Valentine had injured his spinning finger. Benaud went across to the West Indies dressing room to examine his finger. He offered him him a balm and powder to apply to the finger, the same concoction Benaud used himself. It worked wonders.

The second rule was that the team and each player was to play attacking cricket or as Worrell described it “bright cricket”. No defensive fields were ever set. Declarations were made regularly. Batsman began playing their strokes from their first over.

The first test in Brisbane was a tie. The first in cricket history. After the match Benaud reported to the press “It was a match that had everything. I think it was the greatest game I have ever played in. It was played in a wonderful. spirit right through just the way cricket should be played. You could describe the finish as fabulous.”

The West Indies lost the second test at the MCG.

They won the next test in Sydney.

The fourth test in Adelaide was a draw.

It all came down to the final test at the MCG.

Worrell was given a deafening round of applause as he strode to the wicket in his last test in Australia. The match was close. Australia were given 258 runs for victory in their second innings. They struggled past 200 thanks to a valiant knock of 92 by Simpson. But as they neared their target, wickets began to fall. Time was running out.

In a nail biting finish, the Australians claimed victory by two wickets.

On the second day of this test, there was a world record attendance (for a single day) of 90,800 at the MCG.

During that summer Australia fell in love with Worrell and his team.

The Australian Board gave a dinner in honour of the West Indies team and they announced that the trophy awarded to the winner of this and future tests between these two nations would be called the Frank Worrell trophy.

The trophy features a ball used in the tied test.

Think about that. In what sport, anywhere around the world has the prize for a competition between two countries been named after the opposition captain.

The Lord Mayor of Melbourne held a civic reception in honour of Worrell and the West Indies team. This was followed by a ticker tape parade through the streets of Melbourne attended by tens of thousands.

Again imagine that!

In 1963, Worrell finished his test career in England.

Worrell later became a senator in the Jamaican parliament.

He was knighted in 1964 for his services to cricket.

He died at age 42 from leukaemia.

Whatever happened to leaders, men and cricketers like Frank Worrell?

Reference: Frank Worrell by Ernest Eytle The Sportsman’s Book Club (1965)

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