We find very few public personalities who are loved by everybody and not one bad word said about them by anybody. It’s impossible to find one in politics. In the entertainment and sporting world, it is just a wee bit possible and the number of such personalities can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Obviously, I am talking about those in India as I wouldn’t know much about such personalities from overseas since I haven’t lived in those countries.
One name, though, comes to mind straightaway and that is of the just departed Sir Everton Weekes. Like any other country, the Caribbean islands with different nations have great pride in each other and don’t take too kindly to those from the other nations and invariably have a point or two to make against people from the neighbouring island nations.
The one exception that was observed on my many tours to the Caribbean was Sir Everton Weekes. Nobody had a bad word to say about this West Indian legend and in that fierce rivalry between the islands, that is truly remarkable. You just had to meet the amiable, humble legend who wore his greatness lightly to understand why he was so loved and revered all over the Caribbean islands.
Yes, there is a story of him coming in as a late replacement for the great George Headley for a Test match in Jamaica when the locals wanted to see J. K. Holt, another Jamaican like Headley, to replace the great man. Weekes was booed every time he touched the ball while fielding on the first day, but when he got a century the next day, the same crowd lustily cheered for him and some even ran onto the ground and lifted him on their shoulders. That is probably the only instance where he didn’t have everybody eating out of his hands. It was clearly not personal, but due to the mistaken belief that a local should have replaced a local. Holt, by the way, was an opening batsman unlike Headley who batted down the order, so it would not have been a like-for-like replacement.
I had the great privilege of meeting Sir Everton for the first time on my first tour at the party thrown by the late Tony Cozier at his beach property in Barbados. This was on the day we arrived in Barbados from Guyana, where I had scored my first Test century. When we looked around the party, there was seemingly a legend every couple of yards. There was Sir Everton, there was Sir Clyde Walcott, there were Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, there were Seymour Nurse and Conrad Hunte.
Wherever one turned, there was a cricketing giant around, not to mention the one and only Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai and Lance Gibbs. When ‘Coze’ introduced Vishy and me to Sir Everton, he looked at both of us, shook his head from side to side and asked who was the one that got a century on debut. When I pointed to Vishy, he shook Vishy’s hand and then said to him, “You have strong wrists, you must be a good cutter.” Then he turned to me and asked what number I batted, and when I said I opened the batting, he rocked back in mock surprise and shook his head and said, “Silly boy, why you want to do that? That cherry is hard and new, the bowler fresh and you don’t know what the pitch gonna do, so why you want to open the batting? Be like him and me, bat down the order.” He then winked at Vishy. That instantly endeared him to me and both Vishy and I stuck next to him for quite a while till Coze came and took him away to meet some other guests.
Before that happened, though, he was wonderful with some priceless nuggets as he pointed to Garfield Sobers who was surrounded by women and told us “don’t try to be like him, God made only one Garry.” Then he pointed to Wes Hall who was to play for Barbados in the four-day game before the Barbados Test match and was looking to make a comeback to the West Indies team and said that for the first five or six overs he was still the fastest bowler in the West Indies and not to try and hook him. Hall was recovering from a car accident where he had multiple stitches on his leg. A couple of days later when we played against Barbados, I faced up to the first ball and when I looked up I couldn’t believe my eyes. Wes Hall was almost near the sightscreen, starting his run up to bowl.
The first ball I barely saw as it flicked my leg guard and went down to fine leg for a leg bye. As I completed the run something felt odd and I looked down and saw the buckle of the leg-guard, where the ball had struck, was broken. There was another piece of advice he gave about ‘scoring’ and he did that with a twinkle in his eyes. Years later at Mukeshbhai Ambani’s party to celebrate Sachin Tendulkar’s career in 2013, I repeated the same to a young Virat Kohli who also quickly caught on and laughed heartily.
Thereafter, every time in the Caribbean I eagerly looked forward to spending some time with Sir Everton and his ‘gems’, sometimes with double entendre, were delightful as always. The last time I met him was in 2016 when I was the main speaker to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Queens Park Cricket Club in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Sir Everton was a special invitee with another ‘Bajan’, Sir Garfield Sobers. We were all at the same table with Brian Lara and Deryck Murray, the president of the club, and Sir Everton had us in splits straightaway by saying “there seems to be plenty of Test wickets at the table.”
God doesn’t make ’em like Sir Everton anymore.
RIP great cricketing legend and a human being extraordinaire.