Sat | Oct 21, 2017

Tony Becca | Remembering 'Lawrence of Jamaica'

Published:Sunday | February 12, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Lawrence Rowe
Lawrence Rowe in action at Sabina Park.
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For those who do not remember, this week marks the 45th anniversary of a magnificent deed by a gifted Jamaican.

It marks Lawrence Rowe's brilliant and historic entry into Test cricket.

It was the first match in the first series against New Zealand in the West Indies in 1972 at Sabina Park, and the man known for his whistling while batting, popularly referred to as 'Yagga Rowe', and, respectfully, almost with reverence, called, 'Lawrence of Jamaica', was playing in his first Test match.

And he covered himself in glory.

With his most avid supporters willing him towards a half-a-century or a few more in his bid to more to impress the selectors and to retain his place in the team when he walked out to the crease on the opening morning, Rowe stroked a few deliveries back down the pitch, settled in, started to whistle, as usual, and proceeded to parade his brilliance for all to see.

By the end of the match, he was the darling of not only of Jamaica, but also of the entire West Indies, as his name flashed around the world like wildfire after not only one, but two breath-taking performances and scores of 214 and 100 not out.

 

EPIC PERFORMANCE

 

Lawrence Rowe, in an epic performance, had surpassed all others, before and after and up to now, by becoming the only batsman to score separate hundreds in his first Test match, and in doing so, scored a double century and a century at that.

Rowe was immediately rated next to George Headley as the second greatest batsman to come out of Jamaica.

To some, however, while he justified the rating next to only the legendary Headley, and although it may seem blasphemous to say this when one looks at the performance of other batsmen, he is undoubtedly the best batsmen, bar none, ever produced, not only by Jamaica, but also by the West Indies.

And the same can be said also of the whole wide world.

When one compares a batsman like Everton Weekes, not to mention Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, and Brian Lara of the West Indies, or of men like Colin Cowdrey and Alastair Cook of England, or Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid of India, or of any other batsmen around the world, and their runs to Rowe and his runs, they dwarf Rowe's by a fairly long way.

Sobers, for instance, scored 8,032 runs and averaged 57.78 from 93 matches, Tendulkar scored 15,421 runs and averaged 53.78 from 200 matches, and Rowe scored only 2,047 runs and averaged 43.75 runs per innings from 30 matches.

Batting is more than making runs, however. Batting is also an art, and when it comes to artistical satisfaction, it sometimes leaves one as fulfilled as music a connoisseur after listening to a collection of Bach's or Beethoven's most treasured music.

 

HE HAD NO EQUAL

 

When it comes to elegance and class and style, and 'touch' and artistry, he probably had no equal in the world of cricket. He was, probably, barring one or two, second to none.

Years ago, Frank Woolley of England and Victor Trumper before that, are on record as two specially blessed and gifted stroke-makers, but of later generations of batsmen, only, and again probably, Frank Worrell of the famous 'Three W's' from the West Indies, or Tom Graveney, or Peter May of England, could match strides with Rowe.

His drives through the covers, on the front-foot or on the back-foot, or through mid-wicket, were strokes of beauty; his cuts, particularly off the back-foot, were precise and delicate and worthy of the efforts of a master surgeon; and his pulls and hooks were performed with the utmost ease and timing as the ball sped to the mid-wicket, the backward square-leg, or the long-leg boundary.

And almost every stroke, accompanied by his soft, almost inaudible whistle, suggested that he enjoyed whatever he was doing - generously parading his gift for all to see and to enjoy.

The best of Rowe was unfortunately limited to those flawless masterpieces at Sabina Park in 1972, to a memorable innings of 302 versus England at Kensington Oval in 1974, an innings described by men like Richie Benaud and Crawford White, among others, as possibly the best-ever played by a West Indian batsman in a Test match, and 107 versus Australia at Brisbane in 1975.

There was also an innings of 175 for the West Indies in Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket in Melbourne in 1978, and that was also an innings to remember, an innings out of the top drawer.

My one regret of Rowe's career was that during his time, he never doubled his scores. Not only would it have lifted his figures to enviable numbers, but it would have doubled the cricket world's enjoyment of his batting.

There were times when his batting bordered on the unbelievable, and for someone writing about its beauty, it was almost impossible, or difficult, so to do.

 

INJURY, TOO MUCH

 

Injury, however, too much for one man, especially one so talented and so gifted, affected his eyes and accounted for his short reign.

Despite its hills and valleys, however, his career was short, glittering, and glorious, and his stay at the mountain top will forever be remembered.

No one knows what really tempted his move, but a visit to apartheid South Africa in 1983 cut short his cricketing days in Jamaica when he became enemy number one, apparently never to be forgotten.

Since 1983, however, many things have happened in South Africa. Indians, Coloureds, and Blacks have represented South Africa, to the point that they almost took over South African cricket, and apartheid is now just about only a memory in South Africa.

Thirty-three years is a long time, and time heals. It is time for Jamaica, for Jamaicans and for the cricket especially to wave the 'olive branch', kill the 'fatted calf', and welcome home 'Lawrence of Jamaica'.