It was probably just as well that questions about the current state of West Indies cricket were not encouraged. The evidence was startling and there for everyone to see.
Two West Indies Legends in their own right, Wesley Winfield Hall and Lancelot Richard Gibbs with over 500 test wickets between them, reliving their storied careers with only two Guyana cricketers in the audience, batsmen if you care to ask and juniors to wit. Such was the scant disregard shown by the current crop of Guyanese cricketers for the knowledge and time of Hall and Gibbs, two giants of West Indies cricket.
It was the second `Evening of Nostalgia’ organized by the Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira Foundation, a non-profit organization set up to promote all forms of sport in Guyana and the region.
Hall and Gibbs took centre stage all night in the Savannah Suite of Le Meridien Pegasus responding with amazing wit and detail while being expertly led by the right questions at the right times from regional cricket guru and veteran commentator Perreira. The two combined their contrasting personalities, Hall the effervescent and witty Barbadian Reverend and Gibbs the serious but sincere gentleman, playfully jawing at each other and exchanging lighthearted banter about everything from accommodation on tours to who was the more accomplished batsman of the two.
The duo regaled an audience of about 50 persons including Caricom Secretary-General Edwin Carrington, Guyana Cricket Board President Chetram Singh and Public Relations Officer Terry Holder, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Culture Youth and Sport Keith Booker, Airline Executive Junior Horatio and cricket historian Professor Winston McGowan, for almost three hours with a combination of detailed on-field bowling exploits and manly yarns about runs scored.
The tone of the night was set by cricket historian par excellence, McGowan who said West Indies cricket owed the pair a great debt. “The 1960s team took the lead to bring West Indies cricket to a level of respectability it never had before,” McGowan declared. Sharing his thoughts on the significance of cricket to the region Hall said, “Playing the game is not all. You have to give something back given what cricket means to the West Indies region,” adding that he learnt first hand from the likes of Sir Learie Constantine how powerful cricket was as a tool to the Caribbean as a people, and just how badly they felt when on the losing end.
He expressed the view that West Indies cricket would “rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes” and retake its former place in world cricket pointing to an initiative that is currently under consideration to encamp 350 young cricketers between the ages of 18-23 for several years while paying them to concentrate fully on cricket and academics.
This radical move reflects a new way of thinking that Hall believes is necessary to get the West Indies back in the thick of things on the international cricket scene. Gibbs spoke fondly of playing cricket in the pastures of Queenstown and naturally gravitating to the Demerara Cricket Club which is in that area. He gave free advice on outthinking batsmen which led him to become the one time test cricket record holder for most wickets and the first spin bowler past 300 wickets.
“It was always about outthinking the batsmen. One time I would deliver off of five steps then in the middle of an over change and deliver off of three steps. Sometimes I’d even bowl leg breaks at the batsman,” the champion off-spinner offered.
The two, who played together, differed on several small matters on the night including the best batsman they ever lined up against and which, in their eyes, was the best West Indies team ever. One the issue of the best batsman Hall was unequivocal about Sobers carrying that mantle while Gibbs unhesitatingly offered Ian Chappell as his most feared opposition. Gibbs called the 1963 test team that he was part of the best in his eyes, giving balance in the bowling as one of the reasons for his choice.
Hall put his money squarely on the 1884 world beating team captained by the ‘Supercat’ Clive Hubert Lloyd, a side which incidentally he managed.
“That team is regarded the world over as the greatest test team ever,” Hall stated empathically in defence of his choice.
However, both saw eye to eye on their love of the game and their dedication to the West Indies coupled with their hope for the resurrection of West Indies cricket. But Gibbs could not help but betray an apparent hurt or bitterness about being dropped by then Captain Jerry Alexander when in his prime for two matches.
He also expressed outrage at Alexander for allegedly asking him to toss up balls for the opposition to hit for runs during one match and at being dropped for Maurice Foster. The two could have carried the proceedings into the wee hours of the morning were it not for the consideration of host and moderator Perriera. But the shock of the night was the empty chairs and the space in the suite which should have been filled to capacity with current and former Guyana players.
There was no Sarwan, King, Cush, Tull, Jacobs and the like, leaving the host disappointed as was the GCB President. “I am disappointed that more cricketers aren’t here. I could understand that it is Diwali but more players should have been here to learn from these gentlemen,” Perreira said.
He added that his foundation would persevere with two other Legends here sometime during the tour by Sri Lanka next year. Singh added, “I gave all the executives and clubs invitations and I am really disappointed at the turnout and the absence of these players. The entire Essequibo team is in Georgetown and none of them have shown up here.”
But while it was the loss of those absent, not even that could take away from a night of absolute brilliance from two of the greatest West Indies cricketers ever. Lance Gibbs ended his career with 309 wickets in 79 Tests – including 18 five-fors – all the while conceding his runs at a miserly 1.99 per over and an average of 29.09. Hall who began his career as a wicketkeeper/batsman finished with 192 test wickets at an average of 26.38 and an economy rate of 2.91.
If the two youngsters in attendance, Vishal Singh and Leon Johnson, who impressed the legends with their rapt attention and probing questions, could have half the careers in the future as these goodly gentlemen did, they would have done well for themselves.