Worrell's tortured path to West Indies' top job

Politics and racism kept captaincy in white hands until Trinidad journalist's campaign changed game 40 years ago
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There is a sad irony in the fact that the first man to voluntarily give up the West Indian captaincy should have been Brian Lara - the only black Trinidadian to have held the job. Because it was in Port of Spain 40 years ago that C L R James, then editor of Trinidad's left-wing weekly The Nation, orchestrated sporting journalism's most remarkable political campaign - to expose and denounce the racist assumption of the West Indian Cricket Board of Control that a black man could not lead, and to have Frank Worrell made captain.

There is a sad irony in the fact that the first man to voluntarily give up the West Indian captaincy should have been Brian Lara - the only black Trinidadian to have held the job. Because it was in Port of Spain 40 years ago that C L R James, then editor of Trinidad's left-wing weekly The Nation, orchestrated sporting journalism's most remarkable political campaign - to expose and denounce the racist assumption of the West Indian Cricket Board of Control that a black man could not lead, and to have Frank Worrell made captain.

When James wrote on 18 March 1960 that white captaincy had been "ruinous captaincy" he was making both a cricketing and a political point. The two, at the time, could not be separated.

The Nation was the voice of Eric Williams' socialist People's National Movement, and James had returned home from America to take up its editorship in December 1958 at Williams' personal request. The paper wore its politics on its sleeve; news came a poor second to campaigning - most insistently for a fully independent Trinidad within an independent West Indian Federation and for the removal of Trinidad's British-sanctioned United States military base at Changuaramas. These two issues were party line. But within months James had added a third - the captaincy.

James published his first editorial on the subject on 28 February 1959 under the unambiguous headline 'Frank Worrell Must Captain'. His argument was, on the face of it, entirely cricketing. The West Indies - captained by the only white player in the team, the Jamaican wicketkeeper Gerry Alexander - had just lost by 10 wickets to Pakistan in Karachi. The MCC were due in the Caribbean the following winter, after which the West Indian team faced the greatest challenge of all, a tour to Australia. For James it "would be sheer insanity" to send a Caribbean XI - as planned - under the captaincy of the inexperienced Alexander.

Though it is hard to imagine such a prolonged gap now, the West Indies played no Tests between March 1959 and January 1960. But James did his best to keep the politics of the game on the front pages of his paper. He condemned the Board of Control for the way in which it had disciplined and alienated the fiery young fast bowler Roy Gilchrist, and he pressed a controversial case for Worrell to take a team to apartheid South Africa to play against black sides. In late July Worrell returned the favour, sending James a pointedly political letter from Lancashire (where he was playing league cricket) when the editor of The Nation was formally honoured for his services to Trinidad.

"Greetings to you and your wife on this auspicious occasion," Worrell wrote, "may you long continue to serve the People's National Movement and the West Indies Federal Labour Party." The paper mentioned that letters of support and congratulation had also come from Kwame Nkrumah, Tom Mboya, Fenner Brockway and... E W Swanton.

It was in the build up to the arrival of Peter May's MCC team that James turned up the heat in his campaign for a captain who was both competent and black. The tour was a potent political event. Trinidad (now led by Eric Williams) had self-rule, but not independence, and James wrote in an editorial: "London is still the capital of the West Indies; and as long as West Indian politicians carry that millstone round their necks they will never be able to mobilise the full power of the West Indies to meet the grave problems that they have to overcome." And memories hadn't faded of the last MCC tour to the Caribbean five years earlier, led by Len Hutton. Worrell called that series "the unhappiest in which I have ever taken part," and Clyde Walcott described Hutton's team as "the most unpopular the game has ever known," adding: "I saw and heard enough to disgust me."

He was talking about the MCC party's open and evidently officially condoned racism. After all, when he published an account of the tour two years later Hutton showed no embarrassment at saying he had not enjoyed his Caribbean winter because of "the decreasing cricket activity of white people in the West Indies. My view is that the gradual exclusion of white folk is a bad thing for the future of West Indies' cricket." For James the continued exclusion of a black captain was a bad thing for West Indian life as a whole.

On 24 December James wrote that "if Frank Worrell was the captain I have not the slightest doubt that we would massacre the English team". He wasn't, and they didn't. The first Test in Barbados was drawn: in the one West Indian innings Alexander was caught off Trueman for three, Worrell scored 197 not out. Then England easily won the second Test at Port of Spain, with James watching from his old childhood position in the popular stands. The game finished on 3 February. When The Nation hit the news stands on the 5th its front page carried the banner headline 'Alexander Must Go, Make Worrell Captain.' James had obviously decided that he had got his eye in and the time had come for all-out attack. "It is bad captaincy that is causing us to be scrambled," he wrote, "everybody is whispering and shrugging shoulders. The Nation is going to speak out loud. In this campaign I shall spare nobody... I hereby give notice, I shall not let this question rest until it is corrected... this fooling with the West Indies captaincy has gone on too long. It has to stop and the time to stop is now."

In his next issue a week later James appealed for Worrell's Test colleagues, past and present, to put their heads above the parapet. A prominently boxed piece, headlined in capitals 'TEST CRICKETERS SAY SOMETHING', appealed to the consciences of the likes of Walcott, Weekes and Constantine. "Enlighten the public. They are deeply concerned, worried and angry at what they consider the deliberate rejection and humiliation of Frank Worrell. SAY SOMETHING. But that is putting you in the spot? That is exactly what The Nation is doing. Agree or disagree if you like, but say something."

The Board of Control was due to meet the next month to pick its captain for the tour of Australia. On 4 March, James reminded them what was at stake. In a front page article The Nation's editor delivered what was to be his last broadside of the campaign: "The Board should know that the eyes of the world are upon them. Yes, the eyes of the world. Not to select Worrell would be an act of war."

War was what James had been conducting for more than a year. And he won. When the team for Australia was announced at the beginning of April 1960 the West Indies had their first black captain. And the man who had done more than anyone to secure him the job wrote soberly in his paper that "we now have a fine captain who can exercise authority over his men and tell them what he wants done." Other wars, beyond the boundary, had still to be fought. On 22 April the front page of The Nation was dominated by a photograph of a "March for Freedom" through the streets of Port of Spain. Leading it was Eric Williams, linking arms with Learie Constantine - the man who, of course, should have been Trinidad's first black West Indian captain 60 years before Brian Lara.

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