Bridgetown, Barbados, July 4 - (www.bcacricket.org) - In reflecting on the life of Sir Everton DeCourcy Weekes, the great Barbados and West Indies batsman, who died on Wednesday at the age of 95 after a lengthy illness, I have found so much to write about that it is fascinating.
And I don’t want to get carried away, having already written on his passing on Wednesday.
Apart from cherishing several interviews, which I count myself fortunate to have had with such a wonderful gentlemen, who was one of the famous Three Ws – the others were fellow Barbadians, Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Clyde Walcott, who both predeceased him – there are a couple touching stories which must be shared.
Worrell died at the age of 42 in 1967, while Walcott passed, aged 80, in 2006.
That Sir Everton died in the month of July will make this month even more memorable for me, as my dear wife, Dianne, passed six years ago on July 23. She was just a month short of her 52nd birthday and our 24th wedding anniversary, and 33 years of friendship during which she became a big cricket fan in a period of dominance by West Indies.
After leaving secondary school in her native Jamaica and moving to Barbados with her family, Dianne returned to Kingston as a student of history and political science at the Mona Campus of the University of West Indies. It extended to the Cave Hill Campus in Barbados. She also worked as a journalist, albeit for a short period, and knew how much I worshipped the great West Indies players with Sir Everton very special on the list.
There is a saying that sometimes the spirit moves you to do certain things. Learning of Sir Everton’s passing was astonishing. Why?
It was approximately 12.30 p.m. on Wednesday that I decided to call my friend Winston Stafford, a veteran Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Board member, on his landline for information relating to the preparation of clubs for the 2020 domestic season, which is scheduled to belatedly start August 2 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His wife Pat answered and immediately informed me that Winston was at the residence of Sir Everton at Chancery Lane, Christ Church - just a couple minutes drive down the hill from where they live - because Sir Everton was “not doing too well”.
I instantly called Winston on his mobile and told him that I only needed a couple minutes of his time in light of what his wife had related to me.
Without hesitation, Winston said: “Sir Everton is no longer with us. He left us about ten minutes ago, Keith.”
The conversation quickly ended but not before Winston, as one from the old school and a very close friend of Sir Everton for more than 60 years, suggested that I allow protocol to take its place and he would let me know when it was appropriate to release the information of Sir Everton’s passing on the BCA website. The rest is history.
While aware that Sir Everton was facing health challenges, the news of his death was still devastating.
Just over four months ago – in fact on February 27, one day after celebrating his 95th birthday – Sir Everton was at Kensington Oval on a two-fold mission.
The BCA treated him to a special birthday luncheon in the President’s Suite on the opening day of the sixth round regional first-class match between Barbados Pride, then the front-runners and eventually the champions, and Windward Islands Volcanoes.
Sir Everton looked relaxed and was no doubt happy as Barbados, paved by a second first-class century from all-rounder Kyle Mayers, recovered from 132 for five to reach 357 for seven off 85 overs at the close of play.
From an overnight 121, Mayers was eventually dismissed for 140 in the first session on the second day as Barbados were bowled out for 417 off 98.4 overs. They went on to win by 127 runs.
It was the last time Sir Everton watched cricket at Kensington Oval, which as is revealed later in this column, was his favourite ground.
Sir Everton played 48 Test matches between January 21, 1948 and March 31, 1958. He scored 4455 runs including 15 centuries and 19 half-centuries, at an average of 58.61. His highest score was 207. He also took 49 catches.
In 152 first-class matches, Weekes amassed 12010 runs with 36 hundreds and 54 half-centuries including a highest of 304 (ave: 55.34).
There was a witty side of Sir Everton.
But even in his very old age, his memory was still sharp and he remained a source of inspiration.
In February 2018 after attending a BCA members’ luncheon at Kensington Oval at which the then Cricket West Indies (CWI) president Whycliffe “Dave” Cameron delivered the feature address on “A way forward for West Indies cricket”, Sir Everton was on his way home with Stafford as his chauffeur when Stafford’s car was struck in the back by another vehicle at the junction of Country Road and Roebuck Street in Bridgetown.
It led to a delay in traffic. I happened to be travelling in the same direction just a few vehicles behind. Not wanting to keep Sir Everton waiting while attending to the accident, Stafford, who represented the Barbados Colts against Colin Cowdrey’s England side in 1959 as a left-arm spinner and capable lower order batsman when Weekes was the captain, and who also played for the famous Empire Club in the BCA First division Championship, again under the captaincy of Weekes in 1960 and 1961, asked me to kindly take Sir Everton home. I did not hesitate.
Stafford also played professionally in the Central Lancashire and Northern Leagues for roughly a decade while living in England for 33 years.
It was an enlightening journey to Sir Everton’s home as we discussed a few topics on West Indies cricket including the presidency of Cameron and the presentation he had made at the BCA luncheon. But that’s another story.
On Wednesday, I wrote of an interview I did with Sir Everton for Cricket Life magazine in 1990.
It is now my pleasure to share another interview in a Sunday Sun Cricket Special, produced on October 6, 1996, titled “Salute to our stars” of which I was the editor, following a special banquet for all former West Indies players put on by then West Indies Board president Pat Rousseau at the Jamaica Pegasus in New Kingston. Again I was fortunate to attend the event.
Under the headline – “Weekes: A wizard at the wicket”, I wrote:
For the modesty, which Everton Weekes displays, anyone who does not know him would tend to wonder what were the qualities that made him such an outstanding batsman.
One of the famous 3Ws, Sir Everton would unquestionably find a place in any all-time West Indies Test team.
He still holds the world record for the most consecutive Test hundreds – five – and was well on his way to a sixth before he was denied the chance by a dubious run out decision.
But Sir Everton hardly goes into the nitty gritty of his feats, saying he prefers someone else to talk about them.
“I don’t particularly like to talk about myself. I don’t get a lot of fun talking about me,” he said. “My modesty doesn’t go as far as to say I did not recognise myself as a great player and I prefer one of the players to talk about me.”
Weekes’ five centuries on the trot started in the fourth and final Test of the 1948 series against England at Sabina Park, Jamaica. He made 141, and on the 1948-49 tour of India he hit 128 in the first Test at Delhi; 194 in the second at Bombay; 162 and 101 in the third at Calcutta before he was run out for 90 in the fourth at Madras.
He described the pitches on the Indian tour during which he amassed 779 runs (average 111.28) in the five-Test series as “uncovered but very good for batting”.
“At the time India only had one recognised fast bowler, (Dattu) Phadkar, and the others were sort of medium-fast,” Weekes asserted.
“The run out was unfortunate. I was batting with Gerry Gomez and I played a ball behind square and started running and Gerry stopped. I got back into the crease and watched it all happen.
“I was in the crease when the umpire gave me out but that’s the name of the game. Some days you get a let-off. You may get dropped or you may hit a ball and the umpire not give you out.”
Weekes considers Australians Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller and England’s Freddie Trueman as the leading fastest bowlers he encountered, but he also had some praise for medium fast bowlers Alec Bedser and Trevor Bailey of England.
Of spinners, he gave top marks to India’s (Subhash) Gupte, Jim Laker of England and Australian Richie Benaud.
Kensington Oval was his favourite ground.
“I always preferred to bat at Kensington and I was able to get a hundred against every touring team there,” he said, adding: “I think I spoiled the Bajans.”
It may be somewhat of a surprise that Weekes never saw Sir Frank Worrell captain a Test team, but he never doubted his leadership qualities.
“When he led the team in Australia in 1960-61, apparently he had so much discipline in the team and was so much respected that they made quite an impact on the Australian public.
“And when the West Indies played India, the second time he captained I was in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).”
Weekes had a moving story to tell about Worrell in a match in which Worrell was the skipper.
“I saw him captain a Commonwealth team in England in which I was playing. And Frank opened the bowling with Bill Alley and bowled for about two hours and after lunch started bowling again. I asked him when he was going to change the attack and he said he forgot he was captain and he and Bill Alley continued to bowl.”
But what was the relationship like between the 3Ws?
“We got on beautifully together. We were great friends. Whenever it was possible for us to room together, we did so. There was no friction,” Sir Everton said.
Weekes had the honour of managing the West Indies team against England in the five-Test series in the Caribbean in 1968 when England won 1-0 through what was termed an “odd” declaration by Garry Sobers in the fourth match in Trinidad. He also served on the West Indies Board.
Asked about that defeat by seven wickets at the Queen’s Park Oval, Weekes said: “I wouldn’t want to go through that again. There was no conversation. The decision was made by one person.”
He reckons that the 1950 West Indies team, led by fellow Barbadian John Goddard, was the strongest he played in.
“That team did not have to be led. It led itself, like Worrell’s, Sobers’ and Lloyd’s. I think you will recognise that all the great captains had strong teams. I can’t think of a great captain who did not have top class players,” he said.
On the banquet, Weekes said: “It’s a good thing for West Indies cricket and a lot of consideration must have been given to get these players back together.”
In a profile on Weekes in the book “100 Years of Organised Cricket in Barbados 1892-1992” published by the BCA, it was stated that Weekes was born in the low-income village centred around Pickwick Gap, and lived there until he was 17 years old, attending St. Leonard’s Primary School until he was 14.
There was one advantage in his birthplace for Everton. It was within a six-hit of Kensington Oval, and, as a boy, he would help with the preparation of the ground and the pitch. No pay was involved, but his exertions gained him free admission to The Oval on match days.
He witnessed his first Test match there in 1935 and all big matches thereafter. He learned and grew to love cricket as a youthful spectator and, by the age of 13, was playing BCL cricket for Westshire Club in which he gained practical experience of match play.
Everton’s chance to make it into the big time came when Barbados established a permanent army unit during the Second World War with headquarters at the Garrison and good cricketing facilities for the army’s team, called the Garrison Sports Club. Everton was only a lance corporal in the army, but he soon showed that as a batsman and slip fieldsman he was a commanding general.
There was no BCA Competition in 1945 due to a shortage of cricket balls caused by the war, but friendly matches were played, and in them the Barbados selectors saw a youngster, not yet 20 years old, batting in the grand manner of George Challenor. As a result Weekes was selected to play for Barbados against Trinidad in Trinidad in 1945. He started badly with a duck, but in the second match of the tournament made 53 and was on his way.
Everton’s Test match career started in 1948 against England and after a mediocre performance in the first three Tests, he finished with his first Test century in Jamaica followed by four consecutive Test centuries in India later in the same year and then 90 run out, when only the umpire thought that he was run out.
In England in 1950, and in all subsequent Test match series in which he played in the West Indies, Weekes batted as one would expect one of the greatest batsmen in the history of cricket to do, and in New Zealand in 1956 he scored three consecutive Test centuries, failing only in the last Test which, significantly, West Indies lost.
He failed as a batsman in two Test series, in Australia in 1951 and in England in 1957. On both occasions the cause of failure was ill health. In Australia there was a serious thigh muscle problem. In England a bad sinus condition caused him to have five sinus operations during the tour.
After the Pakistan tour of the West Indies in 1958, Everton retired from Test cricket. He was appointed a Barbados Government Sports Officer in the same year and continued to play for Barbados until 1964. In 1960 he became the first black Barbados captain since Herman Griffith (1941) and the first in a continuous line of black Barbados captains from 1960 until the present.
In 1965, at age 40, Weekes captained a Barbados Colts team against the touring Australians and scored a scintillating century on which one Australian, Bob Cowper, commented: “If he can play like that at 40 what was he like at 30”.
Weekes played in the Lancashire League for Bacup Cricket Club from 1949-1958. He broke all batting records both for Bacup and for the League as a whole.
Over the last 100 years (1892-1992), only five Barbadian batsmen have scored first-class triple centuries. Everton Weekes is one of that small and select band, the others being Tim Tarilton, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott and Garry Sobers.
Everton’s triple was scored in England in 1950 against Cambridge University, 304 not out.
Since 1947, when so advised by George Headley, Everton had obeyed a self-imposed rule never to play the cut stroke when his score was in the 90s. At one point in his innings at Cambridge he played a cut, missed and, talking aloud to himself, said, “Never cut in the 90s”. At the end of the day’s play, when the two teams were socialising in the dressing room, the Cambridge wicketkeeper spoke to the gathering as follows: “Out there today this man said, ‘don’t cut in the 90s’. Can you imagine that the s.o.b was 292 when he said it?”
Farewell Sir Everton!
Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and International cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (now Elite) Championship for over three-and-a-half decades and is responsible for editing the BCA website (www.bcacricket.org). Email: Keithfholder@gmail.com
NB: This feature first appeared in his column, Hitting Out, in the online paper, Barbados Today