Sat | Jul 24, 2021

Editorial | Seymour Nurse and the promise he offers

Published:Friday | May 10, 2019 | 12:00 AM

It’s among the many tragedies of West Indies cricket that its managers haven’t done a good job in keeping the names, but for a few, of the region’s past, great players alive. One of those players, Seymour Nurse, died on Monday, aged 85, and perhaps for his native Barbados, was probably more celebrated in the cricketing world outside the Caribbean than in the region.

Yet, if judged merely on statistics, Seymour Nurse was among the very best batsmen of any era, and on the cusp of greatness. In 29 Test matches, he scored 2,523 runs, including six centuries, for an average of 47.60. His first-class career spanned 141 matches, with 26 centuries and an average of 43.93.

But statistics weren’t all that defined Nurse. Even in a 1960s team that boasted batting talent of Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kamahi and Conrad Hunte, Nurse was an exciting and exquisite player, whose powerful build belied the rapier delicacy with which he wielded his bat. Deft, wristy turns off his legs, through mid wicket or backward of square, were executed with Pythagorean precision. His late cuts left wicketkeepers gaping and in wonder.

Nurse, compared to his peers, came to Test cricket relatively late, at the age of 26, in 1960. He debuted against England on a fast wicket at Sabina Park and an attack that included the great fast bowlers, Fred Truman and Brian Statham. He made 70 and 11, but wasn’t selected for the rest of the series.

Injuries, limited opportunities and inconsistency meant that, despite hitting a double century against Australia in the Caribbean in 1965, he didn’t cement his place on the team, until the West Indies tour of England in 1966. That summer, he scored 501 runs in five Tests, at an average of 62.62. His knocks included a century at Headingly and 93 at Trent Bridge. All doubts about his temperament for international cricket were put to rest.

Nurse left the game three years later, only 35, still at the peak of his powers and one of the world’s top batsmen. The West Indies had been through a torrid series in Australia. Their bowlers took at a battering and their batsmen, but for Sobers, produced modestly.

Bothered, perhaps, by those failures in Australia and dissension in the team, Nurse had disclosed his intention to retire at the end of the series and miss the next leg in New Zealand. But he was reportedly persuaded by Sobers, the captain, to make the trip. His performance in New Zealand was monumental.

In the first Test, he scored 95 and 168, had the modest of returns of 21 and 16 in the second, and then hit a grand 258 in his only innings in the third – a world record for a player’s final Test Innings. But even with assertion of his powers, Nurse wouldn’t be prevailed upon to stay in the game.

COACH AND MENTOR

He, however, wasn’t totally lost to cricket. Well into old age, he coached in Barbados and was an inspiration to generations of players, including Desmond Haynes, the great West Indian opener of the late ‘70s and 1980s.

“My coach, my mentor,” Haynes Tweeted at Nurse’s death. “We used to walk like Seymour, bat like Seymour and try to talk like Seymour.” Haynes’ remarks underline the organic continuity in West Indies cricket, just as Nurse’s performance in that purple summer of ‘66, and beating England in England, was part of cricket’s role in an unfinished psychic liberation of the West Indian islands and its people.

The individuals, players and administrators, who made first-hand contributions to this history shouldn’t be mere shadowy figures from the past, but fully-formed beings, easily accessible to all. Making this happen must be high among the mandates of Ricky Skerritt, the new president of Cricket West Indies.

As we noted at his election, the High Performance Centre at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, should be revived to share with young players “the history, historiography and sociology of West Indies cricket”. Additionally, the CWI headquarters in Antigua should host a living museum to West Indies cricket, with a traveling component periodically moving across the region.