Sun | Feb 23, 2020

Orville Higgins | The story of sad Septembers

Published:Saturday | September 22, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this picture taken on February 8 1996, Laurie Williams, who took six wickets in the match, suffers a first-ball duck with the bat. Stuart Williams does the honours at slip.

I am going to deviate from the norm this week of writing about a topical sports issue. I hope my readers will allow me just this one chance to express something publicly that has bothered me for a long while.

The American journalist and writer Christopher Hitchens once famously said "Everyone has at least one book in them," suggesting that everyone's life experiences, if written properly, may well be interesting to a reading audience. I may one day get around to the tedious process of writing a book, but until that day comes, I will settle, every now and then, to share snippets of my life, especially my association with sports personalities going back two and a half decades now.

Anyway, now to my story.

Most people who know me, know that I am a really slow driver. I hardly go beyond 80 km per hour, and my heart goes into palpitations if anyone drives with me much faster than that. My friends know that and I have been the butt of many jokes over the years. What many don't know is why I have this chronic fear of speeding.

Every September my mind goes back to a conversation I had with now deceased Jamaica and West Indies One Day cricketer Laurie Williams. Laurie and I were good friends. I was a big fan of Laurie the all-rounder and for some reason, he always had good words to say whenever we ran into each other.

When he got runs, he was always a joy to watch and his bristling medium pace accounted for many regional scalps. In addition to that, he was a most easy going and affable dude, who always had a smile on his face. In 2002 Laurie Williams was dropped from the Jamaica One Day team for the semi-finals of the then Red Stripe Bowl, his place going to a young David Bernard JR I believe. His drop did generate much discussion in cricket circles for a while.


Emotionally distraught


Two days before Laurie's tragic passing, I was at the Dunrobin gas station filling up the tank, when I saw him. We exchanged pleasantries as we always do, but that night we did more, much more. What would normally be a quick two or three minute conversation, became a two hour reasoning. He was doing most of the talking, I was just providing a listening ear. He was emotionally distraught over getting dropped, he took it hard.

He told me that night that he was harbouring thoughts of migrating to England because he felt Jamaica cricket had betrayed him. In all the years I knew him, I never saw him like that. I'm not exaggerating when I say, he was a broken man.

Sunday, September 2002, I was at work at CVM TV when the news came in that Laurie had died in a car crash on his way to Portmore. Reports were that he was speeding and had swerved from pot holes in the road and then went right into an incoming bus. He had zero chance of surviving. I was numb.

Our conversation a couple nights before kept playing back in my head. I remember feeling sick to the stomach. I called an "iconic" cricketer that same night. He too was so shaken up that I remember him saying he was going to get off the road and go home straight away.

That whole thing has stayed with me and has rattled me severely. As the years have advanced, I have coped with it a little better, but every time September rolls around, memories of our conversation and his subsequent death comes back to me vividly. I still ask myself whether his drop from the Jamaica team had so bothered Laurie that he was mentally and emotionally not in the best state of mind.

I still wonder whether that could have led to his death. That of course is impossible to tell. I still wonder about our long conversation where he poured out his soul. I'm not for one minute suggesting that the selectors should be blamed. Laurie was 33 by then and may well have seen his best years. It wouldn't be the first time that an aging star player gets replaced by a youngster full of potential.

I didn't go to his funeral, I couldn't. Funerals generally are not my thing, but that day I bawled.

From that September night in 2002, I have not driven fast. Every time the needle looks to be headed to 90 all I see is Laurie's car ending up under a bus on the Portmore road with his life snuffed out. I hope cricket is played in heaven and that I may see my friend hustling in again to let one go that could seam either way or to watch him punching elegantly through the covers. I'm hoping he is resting in peace.