While playing 44 Tests for the West Indies, Clyde Walcott became one of the finest batsmen the game has known, forever linked with a triumvirate of batsmen, born within a year and a mile of each other in Barbados' capital, Bridgetown, writes TONY COZIER.

PLAYER, coach, captain, selector, manager, administrator and unwavering defender of the game's great values, Sir Clyde Walcott, who has died in his native Barbados, aged 80, was a cricketing giant in every way.

He was an imposing figure of a man, six feet, two inches tall and, in his pomp, with the physique of a champion boxer.

His active participation in the sport in which he excelled lasted for more than half a century, from 1942 when he first represented Barbados, aged 16, while still at Barbados' leading school, Harrison College, to 1999 when he relinquished his post as head of the cricket committee of the International Cricket Council (ICC), of which he had been the first non-English chairman. While playing 44 Tests for the West Indies, he became one of the finest batsmen the game has known, forever linked with a triumvirate of batsmen, born within a year and a mile of each other in Barbados' capital, Bridgetown, and everlastingly known as the Three Ws through the coincidence of the first letter of their surnames.

Walcott, the youngest of the three, and his mates, Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes, were at the forefront of the West Indies' emergence as a genuine force when Test cricket resumed in 1948 after the hiatus of the second World War.

At a time when the former British colonies of the Caribbean were approaching full independence, success in cricket, an obsession of the people, was psychologically vital. The deeds of the Ws were as significant as those of the political leaders.

Walcott's roles off the field in maintaining the strength and eminence of West Indies cricket were as substantial as his performances on it.

He spent 16 years in what was then British Guiana (now Guyana), from 1954 to 1970, with the specific remit of improving the organisation and facilities in the rural areas of that vast South American country. He described the time as "one of the most satisfying periods of my life" and was deservedly credited with quickly discovering a new pool of talent on the sugar estates. Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon were the first of his prot�g�s, a flood has followed.

He became president of the British Guiana Cricket Board and captained the team with distinction before returning to his native Barbados where he combined his work for cricket with a directorship of the island's biggest company.

He was Vice-President of the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) and, more visibly and importantly, a West Indies selector and strong, insightful, manager several times over of the teams led by Clive Lloyd in the decade of virtual invincibility in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

With such a background, his rise to the presidency of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) was all but inevitable. In 1993 came the crowning glory of his career when he was elected to succeed Sir Colin Cowdrey as chairman of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the game's most exalted position. In the same year, he received the ultimate honour of the knighthood for his "contribution to cricket and cricket administration in the West Indies and internationally". Before his untimely death in 1967, aged 42, Worrell had also been so acclaimed. Weekes' accolade completed the set within a few years.

Of late, age had begun to take its toll on Sir Clyde's once robust body and there was much unreasonable sadness. He had to cope with the deaths before their time of Lana, Worrell's daughter and wife of his eldest son, Michael (a short marriage that yielded no children), and of Ian, his youngest son. Only three weeks before his own passing, he was predeceased by his elder brother, Keith, also a Barbados cricketer and tireless administrator.

Born on January 17, 1926, into a family with a strong feeling for sport and its benefits, especially cricket, Walcott's ability was evident at the secondary schools he attended. Before entering Harrison College, he played alongside Worrell at Combermere. It was an association that would carry on throughout their careers and feature many famed partnerships. The most enduring is the 574, ended only by declaration, they amassed for Barbados against Trinidad in Port-of-Spain in 1946, still the West Indies' record for any wicket. Walcott's contribution was 314 not out, his highest score. Weekes was out for a duck in the same innings but he would make good with consistent heavy-scoring of his own as, in the words of a well-known calypso, "the Ws worked wonders with the willow". Such prolific scoring confirmed Walcott as a certainty for the West Indies when Test cricket resumed after the second World War with the home series against England in 1948. He had a modest series but showed his true worth in his first overseas tour to India, later that year, compiling the first of his 15 Test hundreds (152 run out at Delhi) and averaging 64.57. His proficiency as a wicket-keeper enhanced his value and, even though back problems limited him to 'keeping in just 15 Tests, he turned himself into a useful, if occasional, medium-pacer.

With the exception of injuries that kept him out of two Tests on the difficult tour of Australia in 1951-52 and one against Pakistan at home in 1958, Walcott was an automatic choice thereafter. His Test career ended in the Caribbean in 1960 when he was recalled for two Tests against England. Only George Headley, Weekes and Sir Garry Sobers among West Indians of similar longevity average better than his 56.71.

None of his hundreds was more satisfying than the unbeaten 168 in the first West Indies victory over England in England, at Lord's in 1950. It was a famous match, immortalised in calypso, that firmly established the West Indies' credentials.

But his apogee came when he compiled 10 hundreds (and a 98) in 15 Tests in successive home series in 1953 against India, 1954 against England and 1955 against Australia. In the last, he compiled five hundreds, one in each innings of two Tests, an unprecedented feat. Yet the West Indies lost the series 3-0.

Among the opposing bowlers were legends of the game — Subhash Gupte and Vinoo Mankad of India, Fred Trueman, Brian Statham, Jim Laker and Tony Lock of England, Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Richie Benaud of Australia. It was a remarkable record. Weekes recalls that his friend and teammate's batting "was based on power and strength.

"He hit the ball harder than any of us," was his assessment. "He had a unique style, a double backlift that encouraged some bowlers early in his career to believe that they had a chance of bowling him before his bat came down. They were to be disappointed". Yet, for all his aggression on the field, Walcott was soft spoken, thoughtful and non-controversial , the consequence of his upbringing. An uncle, Harold, was an eminent umpire who gave him out lbw for 98 in a Test against India at Kensington. It was a decision that would have surprised no one at the time, not least the batsman himself. Disappointed, yes, but not surprised.

Nothing upset or embarrassed him more during his WICB presidency than the boycott of South Africa's inaugural Test against the West Indies in his native Barbados in 1992, ostensibly over the omission of the local player, Andy Cummins, an ordinary fast bowler. There were wider issues that led to it but his stance was based on his strong sense of the accepted principle that the selectors' decision, like the umpires', is final.

Not that he was in any way an anachronism. He embraced one-day cricket when others of his vintage tut-tutted. Even before they were introduced, he recognized the need for independent umpires and, as WICB president, stressed that television and sponsors were necessary to help finance the game. He was, as all West Indians are, hurt by the present, prolonged West Indies' decline and by the controversies that continue to plague all aspects of the game in these parts.

His legacy deserved better.