It has become a morning ritual to search Google for all the latest cricket news of the day. August 27, however, was different. The first news item that got me transfixed read, "Sir Clyde Walcott dies aged 80." Immediately my mind went back to May 2005, when I had the fortune of meeting and then dining with Sir Clyde at his Barbados home. Finding the house was initially an ordeal. Chandradev, my producer at
Ten Sports, was hurrying up for we had been allotted a sixty minute slot for an interview. Puneet, one of the world’s best slow motion cameraman and who incidentally was driving our hired Nissan, was doing his best to negotiate the Barbados alleyways. Finally, it was in a bizarre fashion that we found the house. Having looked for it for near an hour, Puneet just raced into a villa on top of a mound and got off with a huff
saying, "Let us go in and ask". In we go, and find out that we have indeed reached the house of Sir Clyde Leopold Walcott.
It is routine for us all to conjure up visual imageries. The image of Clyde Walcott that I had conjured in my mind was that of a lean 6' 2", standing tall and dismissing the ball past midwicket with utter disdain. Unfortunately, I was still in the 1950s and time had moved forward by more than half a century. The Clyde Walcott who appeared before us was a frail legend who had very little interest left in life. "I am very sick and can’t walk properly", he said walking on crutches. And what had affected him even more was his son’s fall to polio. That he could still somewhat paint was a glimmer of hope. The first thing we were shown was a portrait of Sir Clyde batting, drawn by his son.
When we went about our interview, we could barely hear him speak. Let me introduce a caveat here. For most of my questions he gave me routine answers in a rather soft voice-"Yes, West Indies has a chance in World Cup 2007. After all we will have home advantage. I feel sad that talented youngsters are not talking to cricket in the Caribbean in the way we used to in our days. With football and basketball making an inroad, there are a lot more options these days for kids." Even when I prodded him about the legendary 3Ws, he remains subdued. "The three Ws thing was just an accident. It so happened that we were born within a mile of each other and all our surnames began with a W. Had our surnames been a Smith, King and Walcott there would be no legend."
However, when asked how he rates a Tendulkar or a Lara in comparison to a Weekes, his eyes lit up. "Tendulkar and Lara are both world class batsmen. But Everton was different. The way he batted, the way he got on top of any situation and the way he could demoralize any opposition had little parallel." Interestingly, while Everton Weekes believed Clyde Walcott hit the ball harder than anyone else in cricket (he had mentioned this to me the day before), Walcott attributed this mastery to Weekes. "He was an illegitimate child and only had cricket to make his mark in life. Cricket was more than a game for
Everton -- and we could see that every time he hit the ball. It would be harder than anyone else in contemporary cricket. Each such hit would be a mockery of his birth." When speaking about the revered Worrel, Waclott was eulogistic. "He was a born leader. There was none who could have led the West Indies better in those troubled times. Frank Worrel was the best thing to happen to West Indies cricket in the troubled decade of the 1950s."
When asked whether he had retired in frustration, a victim of racial discrimination, Sir Clyde looked rather agitated for the second question in a row. "However well we performed, we could never captain the West Indies. Our very existence was political -- cricket was our only means of liberation. And when Frankie captained the West Indies to Australia in 1959, the blacks had won their liberation. You must also remember that we were all poor and needed to earn money to sustain families. Continuing as an amateur was just not possible anymore." It was essentially to earn a living that he moved to Guyana and took up the assignment of coaching the Guyanese cricket team. He later became the President of the Guyanese cricket board before coming back to Barbados in 1971. In one of the best ever cricket books of all time, which interestingly is hardly about action in the middle, Beyond a Boundary, CLR James touches on the reasons that forced Walcott to retire early. It was the Board’s insistence that a white player would lead the side. Such racial arrogance forcibly cut short the career of a batsmen whose statistics read a staggering 44 Tests, 15 hundreds, 3798 runs at an average of 56.68.
When asked what he remembered of India and Indians, a series in which Walcott is believed to have come of age as a cricketer, he was candid is saying, "You must realize I am not a twenty-year old and my memories of playing in India go back to well over half a century. India had just achieved independence and we were all very excited about undertaking this tour. It was the first ever between the two countries and it was perhaps the best of my life. What pleases me a great deal is that my cricketing accomplishments, which I had managed on that tour, are recorded in books and newspapers of the time and no one can take these away from me." Interestingly, these words were an exact echo of what Weekes had said the day before. Walcott had faint memories of the meeting with the Indian Prime Minister, Pandit Nehru. "Soon after our arrival in India we met PM Nehru who seemed very interested in cricket. He was a statesman all of us were in awe of. It was a very special meeting."
A man who had seen an entire cricketing era unfold before his eyes would inevitably be invaluable source for a historian. And I could not but help ask whether he had an extra copy of Sixty Years on the Backfoot, his autobiography and second authored book published in 1999. His initial reaction was that cricket books don’t sell and he was rather disheartened at the lukewarm response the book had evoked. But that did not deter him from wandering off into his room and coming out with a copy of the book, which he inscribed for me. While the ‘Boria’ is barely legible -- his hand was shaking vigorously -- the signature is very much the trademark Walcott. Needless to say, it has been a treasured addition to my library.
So how will one remember Sir Clyde Walcott who had achieved almost everything a cricketer aspires to achieve - he was President of the West Indies Cricekt Board and also Chairman of the ICC before finally being knighted in 1994? Simply put: as a passionate human being who looked at the jungle of concrete outside his house, which had blocked his view of the road and the sea at a distance, and lamented, "I built this house to look at nature and fade away into sunset thinking I have done my best for the game that has given me much more than I could ever give it back. With this concrete my sunset is near."
It is perhaps fitting to let Sir Everton Weekes, friend and companion for more than half a century, have the final say, "He was a great man, a great friend, and a great cricketer. We have lost a great man . . . I have lost a great friend."