For decades West Indian cricket was the jewel in the game’s crown. Admired, respected and feared wherever cricket was played to the highest level. The Magnificence that was West Indies lay in the characters that played the game. The splendour and sparkle that continue to delight our memories and the record-books.
GEORGE HEADLEY – WEST INDIES’ GREATEST BATSMAN
The Master in the Class
CaribCommx has invited specialists, fans and admirers to tell us about their favourite players. To start the series Clayton Goodwin asks
Why he has such a high regard for George Headley whose career dominated the 1930s (and briefly into the post-war era)?
Greetings, Eric. Thank you for agreeing to open the batting in this series features. Please can you tell me –
How (and when) did you first become aware of George Headley?
I first became aware of George Headley back in the 1980s when I heard a radio conversation by the late Tony Cozier who described Headley as the Rolls Royce of West Indies Batsmanship. Although others would follow of similar flair, Headley was heads and shoulders above the rest of batsmen in terms of his contributions to supporting the side with his batting prowess.
What do you consider to be his greatest attributes?
Compact and beautifully balanced he was predominantly a back foot player and had an unlimited range of strokes which he placed precisely. He mastered the uncovered wickets – but to me his desire to succeed was no more evident than on the 1931 tour to Australia where he encountered Clarrie Grimmett, Bert Ironmonger, Alan Fairfax and Ron Oxenham. That was a very potent Australia attack and he scored two hundreds against them at Brisbane and Sydney, The Brisbane ton was one of the best innings he ever played, an unbeaten 102 out of 193.
Which were his most memorable and important innings?
So many to choose from but the ones below highlight his batting skills. There was –
His 344 in 1932 against Lord Tennyson’s team; 169 not out in the Second Test match, at Manchester 1933; and his hundreds in both innings at Lords in 1939 against a very strong England bowling attack of Bill Bowes, Hedley Verity, young leg-spinner Doug Wright and debutant paceman Bill Copson. I could not leave out his 270 not out against England, Sabina Park 1935. I believe Michael Manley was at the ground taken by his father as he mentions this innings in his book History of West Indies Cricket
What appeals to you about Headley as a cricketer and as a man?
In a period of Colonialism and where colour and class were central to British rule, Headley showed he could be just as good or even better than English players. He probably encountered racism but his determination to be a dominant batsman of that age on all surfaces home and abroad can be seen in his performances. He was a leader and a tactician at a time when a black West Indian could not captain the West Indies team. Although he did achieve a lifelong ambition to captain the West Indies being the first black player to do so in 1948 through the vocal support of influential cricket administrator “Crab” Nethersole.
Do you know of there being any memorials to Headley in Jamaica (or England) today?
Only the George Headley Stand at Sabina Park – and his statue can be seen at Sabina Park of Kingston, Jamaica which was unveiled in 1995 and was sculpted by Basil Watson.
What do the current generation of West Indian fans, and the population generally, know of Headley today?
Sadly, we have younger generations of Jamaicans who know very little of George Headley. Older diehard fans of West Indies Cricket will know of his achievements.
What, in your opinion, could be done to protect and project Headley’s memory?
The Ministry of Sports and the Jamaica Cricket Association need to have a rethink on the role George Headley played in Jamaica’s Cricketing history. I would revamp the tournament The Headley Cup and also go on an awareness campaign to younger generations who simply don’t know about George Headley. Over the years I have seen commemorative stamps produced in Headley’s memory but a lot could be done.
Is there anybody in the present West Indies or Jamaica teams to compare with Headley?
Sadly, I see nobody now or in the foreseeable future. The Jamaica and West Indies Cricket setup really must look at the longer format of the game where the emphasis should be on batting. The fundamentals are simply not being coached and pitches across the region are not conducive to batting. The appetite for T20 Cricket has had a detrimental effect on batsmanship.
Overall, where does Headley stand in the development of the Jamaican and West Indian identity?
George Headley – without doubt – has been the greatest Batsman to emerge from Jamaica and the West Indies. He excelled in Test match cricket and league cricket in England. His ability to adjust and play on any surface is evident in his records. He set high standards that were clear to see during the heyday of West Indies Cricket with the number of batsmen that followed. Such was Headley’s prowess as a batsman he was revered around the world as one of the greatest alongside Donald Bradman. A national icon in Jamaica where a Cricket tournament was named after him. The Headley Cup.
Have you read Bridgette Lawrence’s book “Masterclass – the biography of George Headley”, and if so would you recommend it?
Bridgette wrote a wonderful book first published in 1995. Her attention to detail and research is clearly evident as you read the book. I highly endorse this book to anyone being a lover of West Indies Cricket to have this as part of any book collection. I have given numerous copies to people as far flung as Singapore and Canada.
Did you find it significant that Headley described himself as being “African” on his immigration registration form for the tour to Australia – a country which practised a White Australia policy for many years?
“Cricket in the West Indies is the most glaring example of the black man being kept in his place during that era of colonialism” -Constantine. Headley was particularly proud of his African heritage and was driven to show that a black West Indian could compete with anyone regardless of colour. Viv Richards was later to state he was very proud in being African and being ruthless in beating England whenever he played them.
How do you feel about Headley being called the “Black Bradman”? Do you think that these two great batsmen can be compared as cricketers – or that they had different roles in the social context?
Headley and Bradman were the premium batsmen of that era, but where I see where Headley has the edge was his ability to play on all surfaces, slow, wet, pudding pitches and the ability to adapt to bowlers who pushed his technique to the limit; that’s the beauty of test cricket. Bradman sums it up in the foreword of the book Masterclass “beyond all question the best batsman the West Indies have ever produced. I could go on at great length about his batting prowess and achievements, but the figures speak for themselves.”
(Note: I believe that Bradman and Headley both admired each other, and CLR James has something similar to say in his book Beyond A Boundary).
Thank you very much, Eric, for this interesting view of why George Headley is considered to be the Master of West Indies cricket. We have mentioned some books here which I am sure your words will encourage our readers to buy for themselves and their friends.