Tony Becca, Contributor
When the West Indies gathered in Kingston to host New Zealand for the first time in February 1972, not many cricket fans outside the West Indies, including the visitors themselves, had ever heard the name of Lawrence Rowe, the one Jamaicans called "Yagga".
By the time the Test match was over, however, Lawrence Rowe was not only the toast of his teammates, he was not only the king of the Caribbean, and he was not only on first name terms with every New Zealand cricketer, his name also was known around the world, flashed to all corners of the world with the urgency and the speed of an SOS message during desperate times.
Rowe had suddenly become a household name in the West Indies, a feared name to the New Zealanders, and a name spoken with reverence all around the world.
Playing in his first Test match at age 23 and on his home ground of Sabina Park, Rowe shocked the New Zealanders and the world of cricket with something that had never happened before in Test cricket, with something that was more connected with dreams before then: he scored runs, hundreds of them. He reeled off strokes - dozens of them - and the strokes, twinkling in the sunlight and racing effortlessly across the turf, were fit for an audience of emperors.
Roy Fredericks, the happy opening batsman, scored 163 in the West Indies first innings of that memorable Test match. Glen Turner, the correct, sound, and resolute opening batsman, batted through the innings and scored 223 not out in New Zealand's first innings, the first of his two double centuries (259) in the series. Mark Burgess scored 101 in New Zealand's second innings.
Rowe, in the greatest entrance into Test cricket of all time, based on the statistics, and in the most exciting debut in Test cricket based on the response of the crowd on the occasion, scored 214 and 100 not out.
And a feast it was, from beginning to end, in both innings.
Turner's 223, which included 26 fours, was scored in 572 minutes, and that was good. Burgess' 101, which included 15 fours and one six, was scored in 185 minutes, and that was very good. And Fredericks' 163, which included 20 fours, was scored in 408 minutes, and that was excellent!
Compare Rowe's 214, with 19 fours and one six in 427 minutes, and his 100 not out, 13 fours in 153 minutes, with those innings and you will see that Rowe was going great guns.
Rowe, or Lawrence of Jamaica as he was called in those days, was more than batting at a brisk pace. His stroke play was scintillating and awesome, including his flowing offside strokes, particularly his square drive and his shots off his legs, through the mid-wicket/square-leg region.
And when he started to whistle, when he started to entertain, his stroke play knew no bounds.
The Kiwis, as the tourists were called then, the Black Caps, as they are called now, represented by master batsmen Turner and Graham Dowling, brilliant all-rounder Bev Congdon, champion pace bowler Bob Clunis, and left-arm spin bowler Hedly Howarth; batsmen Terry Jarvis, Burgess and Brian Hastings, wicketkeeper Ken Wadsworth and fast bowler Murray Webb and right-arm leg-spinner John Alabaster, had front row seats to the batting masterpiece.
Bruce Taylor, the right-arm pace bowler, was missing in action in that first Test due to injury, and New Zealand obviously missed him. The Jamaicans, however, and the other West Indians on the ground in the Test match, believed he was a lucky man and should have counted his blessings.
With the scoreboard reading West Indies 508 for four declared and 218 for four declared, New Zealand 386 and 236 for six, the first Test ended in a draw. And with each of the remaining four ending in a draw, with Alvin Kallicharran scoring two hundreds - 100 not out and 101, one each in the fourth and fifth Test matches in his first two Test matches - the Test series finished in a tame draw.
It mattered little to the fans, however, for they had seen what they wanted to see.
The fans had witnessed one of the game's great batting artists in action, the same batsman of whom a sick Barbadian, resting on his bed one afternoon, said after Rowe had scored a magnificent 302 versus England at Kensington Oval two years later: "When Rowe was born, the good Lord must have placed His hand on his head and said, 'Go thou son and bat'."