A strict disciplinarian

The voices of Frank Worrell's closest friends, the men he led, the people he touched build an audible hologram. An account of the celebration of the life of the legend by S. Ram Mahesh.

Recent happenings have shaken the diary out of its comfortable format as a daily chronicle. Those of you interested in Virender Sehwag's quick nip to a temple by the sea or his stint as a rock guitarist need not despair. The diary promises to revert to its time-honoured — and the diary seeks to be modest here — much appreciated format next week.

But, recent events have been far too serious for the diary to maintain its endearingly flippant turn of phrase. Bob Woolmer's death has forced the cricketing world into introspection. The show, it has been deemed, will go on. The diary hopes the significance of Woolmer's death isn't lost in the numbing pile-on of one-day cricket. There are serious issues at stake here, and the ICC must address them.

The diary realises, however, this isn't the forum to talk down to the game's administrators. It will leave rants against the ICC to older, cynical heads with a history of condescension and spleen to vent. The diary will instead attempt what sniffy academics derive much joy from: understanding an idea through the lens of another. The passing away of a man of cricket will be seen in the light of another, a man who left the world poorer by his death 40 years ago.

****

Brian Camacho picks us up at 5 p.m. He informs us that our navigator for the trip, Charlie Davis, isn't coming.

Charlie played 15 Tests for the West Indies between 1968 and 1973 and averaged 54.20. Sunil Gavaskar remembers him as an exceptional player of spin and a caring host. A freak accident ended Charlie's career. While doting on his daughter, a stray fingernail ruptured his retina. He has suffered from paralysis since, but he desperately wanted to make it tonight, says Brian.

"Charlie knows all the short cuts around here," says Brian. "I'm like an Englishman with no sense of direction. I know a few, but I don't want to risk getting lost and ruining your night boys. I think we'll stick to the highway."

Brian moonlights as a cricket photographer — has since 1959 — whenever he can convince his architecture firm to give him time off. He decides on the scenic route. Around the sprawling Queen's Park Savannah with its cricket and football games, its earnest joggers, its ambitious gymnasts, and through the narrow two-lane road over the hill — "There you see Lara's house boys, did a bit of the interiors myself" — we travel, cut off from the sounds outside.

The pluming smoke from the valleys below confirms Port of Spain, unlike many of its brother and sister Caribbean cities, is industrial. Brian says the hills have been taken over by immigrants from Grenada. Squatters, he says — prime real estate, in a city of reclaimed land, possessed by its marginal citizens.

Soon — by the standards of time in the Caribbean that is — we are at the University of the West Indies. Brian leads us to the amphitheatre. Front row seats. On the stage, back-dropped in black satin, sit Andy Ganteaume, Deryck Murray, His Excellency John Mitchell, and Dr. Ian McDonald.

Ganteaume played one Test. He made 112, and was dropped for slow scoring. Murray was wicketkeeper when the West Indies won the World Cup in 1975 and 1979. Mitchell is the Australian ambassador to Trinidad. McDonald is among the best writers in the West Indies on cricket and history.

They're here to celebrate the life of Sir Frank Worrell. The diary has read of the great man. Of the crucial, pioneering, social role he fulfilled as a black captain of the West Indies in race-riven times. Of his moulding a great West Indian side in skill and thought.

But the written word rarely — if ever — captures the essence of a man. But, the voices of his closest friends, the men he led, the people he touched build an audible hologram.

Unfortunately, the diary doesn't record the first three speakers, so the reader will have to make do with the gist. But, the best presentation of the night, Deryck Murray's, finds the diary, ready and prepared.

Ganteaume, a sprightly 86 years old, hasn't forgotten the time he was dropped, but remarkably there is little rancour. He made his debut in the same Test as Worrell. He reads out an extract from his autobiography, which is expected to be published soon. The microphones struggle to distribute his faltering voice, but the import is clear.

Ganteaume recounts when he batted with Worrell during their debuts. Gerry Gomez, the captain, sent out a note, asking both to "get on with it" as they were behind the clock. Ganteaume got out soon after; Worrell made 97. Yet, one career faded into a statistical oddity, an average greater than Bradman's. The other made a legend.

Mitchell speaks of how Australia in the 1960s, isolated, cut-off, provincial, began its embrace of multiculturalism after Worrell's West Indians toured for the famous series featuring the Tied Test. McDonald says Worrell was a man of Caribbean thought. He draws from C. L. R. James's portrait of him: adaptable, intelligent, and West Indian not Bajan in identity.

Murray made his debut under Worrell. "Frank taught me the meaning of partnerships. We were playing at this county ground in England. That was where I saw a green top, a real green top. The grass was so thick you couldn't tell the outfield from the wicket.

"Frank walked up to me and said, `It's doing a bit boy. Don't swing too hard, keep the bat ready, we'll take singles.' I did that, and a little later he came over. `You might want to try this: I'm batting out of my crease to counter the bowlers' movement.' We continued playing, and they brought a spinner on. `This guy can't bowl,' he told me. `But whatever you do, don't hit him for four. That'll make the captain take him off.'

"A few overs later, he came over again, `I'm going to play and miss a lot to encourage the captain to keep him on, you might want to do the same.' This was what Frank did. My greatest education was one night when he called me into his room. He was on his bed, his sheets to a side. Imagine me just out of college, `What's up Frankie boy?' But we talked. He spoke of his vision for West Indies cricket, his vision for West Indies, and he asked me about my ambitions. We spoke of religion, philosophy, everything.

"Frank as a captain was a strict disciplinarian. But, he never shouted. Just the feeling of having disappointed him was enough to keep you from straying out of line. The feeling of disappointing his expectations was unbearable.

"But, Frank showed he was only human by dying early. He never should have died early and left us alone. He owes us 40 years. If he had been around in charge of our cricket, we would have never slipped."