Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Editorial | Everton Weekes, cricket and lives that matter

Published:Wednesday | July 8, 2020 | 6:52 AM

It’s a pity that life is “so urgent”.

For, were it not, suggested C.L.R. James in Beyond a Boundary, his classic study of history, race, class and colonialism in the West Indies through the lens of cricket, he would have spent a year talking to a great batsman, asking him questions of his life on and off the field.

Wrote James: “If he and I hit it off, the result would be a book as never been written, which physiologists, anthropologists and psychologists would read more eagerly than cricketers. Such an investigation of Worrell, Walcott and Weekes would tell us as much about our past and future of the people of the West Indies as about cricket. But it will not be done. Late and soon, the world is too much with us.”

Our preferred candidate for these long chats would have been Everton Weekes – the greatest and latest-surviving of the legendary three Ws – who died last week in his native Barbados, more than a half a century after James salivated at the idea of the book. He was 95.

Frank Worrell, the first cemented black captain of the West Indies cricket team, died in 1967. Clyde Walcott followed in 2006.

Weekes’ death is coincidental with a series of contemporary developments relevant to the task James would have set himself. The West Indies are on a tour of England on another of their missions to revive their long, lagging fortunes as a cricketing power. That is happening with the world in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic that has shattered West Indian economies. The Tests, the first since the outbreak of the disease, will be played in bio-secure stadia, with no, or few, spectators.

Then there is the global Black Lives Matter demonstration against racism, which emanated in the United States following the death of a black man, George Floyd, upon whose neck a white policeman knelt for nearly nine minutes. The West Indies team represents countries, the majority of whose citizens are either black or brown. In an unprecedented political action, the team will wear Black Lives Matter logos on their kits.

These provide important context for placing Weekes, whose political or ideological disposition we don’t know. It was never a public matter.

What is known is that – like Mathew Bondman, who, in every other respect, James’ puritanical aunts, in their Tunapuna, Trinidad, village, at the turn of the last century, found objectionable – Everton Weekes “could bat”.

Rather, Everton Weekes was a great batsman. His statistics attest to this. In 48 Test matches, he scored 4,455 runs, including 15 centuries and 19 half-centuries, for an average of 58.61. In 152 first-class matches, Weekes scored 12,010 runs, including 36 centuries, one of which was a triple, for an average of 55.34. Although this says nothing definitive by way of comparison with other players, only the great George Headley, of a generation earlier, with 60.83, had a better average in Tests.

It is significant that while Weekes hit the ball notoriously hard, he was a stylist who didn’t go over the top. He hit only two sixes in Test matches. And he was good under pressure. It was an opportunity, he said, to prove his excellence as a player – not as a boast, but as fact in execution.

It is more than passing curiosity that Weekes, Worrell and Walcott came of age around the same time in a small West Indian island, to become, through their sport, transformative heroes to black populations, whose status in their colonial societies was decidedly second class. Indeed, Weekes was a poor boy who left school early, but, happily, was gifted with sublime skills.

ACTED WITH PURPOSE

Talent apart, Weekes and company would also have been shaped by the social ferment of the West Indies of the 1930s – like the Frome sugar riots in Jamaica, strikes in Trinidad’s oilfields and unrest among port and sugar labourers in Barbados. He would have turned 14 and leaving school when the British government dispatched the Moyne Commission to the West Indies to examine social and economic conditions in the island, leading to some of the constitutional and other changes that eventually took place in the region. Yet, it was approximately a quarter-century after Moyne that a black man, Worrell, would, with permanency, succeed to the captaincy of the West Indies team. And after political agitation.

In that sense, Weekes and his colleagues succeeded with the decks stacked against them. Yet, they acted with purpose, without bitterness. For as the Barbadian prime minister, Mia Mottley, said. Everton Weekes was “committed and confident, stylish and classy, dignified and urbane to the very end”.

On and off the field, he was proof of a Caribbean civilisation and that Black Lives Matter. It is an obligation that Jason Holder’s men in England should embrace, without the signal of C.L.R. James’ imagined study. But that assumes that they really appreciate the continuum between themselves and Everton Weekes, for whom, as a mark of respect, they stood in a minute’s silence.