Sunday, March 24, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 11 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (11. George Headley)

While Bradman was making waves in Australia, George Headley burst on the scene on the other side of the world, in Jamaica. He came to be known as the ‘Black Bradman’. His is quite a remarkable saga. Bradman apart, only three men have averaged sixty in a complete Test career of reasonable duration - South African southpaw Graeme Pollock 60.97, Headley 60.83 and Herbert Sutcliffe 60.73. Michael Hussey appears to be positioning himself between Bradman and these luminaries, but his average dipped to just above 51. Headley’s achievements are all the more creditable because West Indies then were only taking their first tentative steps in the Test arena. About nine months younger than Bradman, Headley made a more dramatic entry in Test cricket, hitting 176 in the second innings of his debut Test against England at Bridgetown in 1929-30. He relished English bowling, cracking a hundred in each innings, 114 and 112, of his third Test at Georgetown in the team’s maiden triumph, and a double century, 223, in his fourth Test, on home turf at Kingston. The colonial masters were humbled, returning with the four-Test series drawn 1-1. It was a tremendous initiation at the highest level, 703 runs at an average of 87.87. No wonder the happy people of sunny Caribbean called Bradman the ‘White Headley’.

In the testing 1930-31 tour Down Under, Headley notched up hundreds in the Brisbane and Sydney Tests, encountering Bradman for the only time in his career. Bradman himself scored 223 at Brisbane. Headley continued to flay England’s bowlers. A big hundred - 169 not out - at Old Trafford in the 1933 series was followed by his top score of 270 not out, inevitably at Kingston, in 1934. For the second time in Tests, Headley hit a century in each innings, 106 and 107, this time in the hallowed arena of Lord’s in 1939. Len Hutton was an unabashed admirer  of Headley, as he wrote in his Fifty Years in Cricket: “Headley rightly had a devoted following. No one admired him more than I did, as I fielded at Lord’s in 1939 when he scored faultless centuries in both innings on a losing side. For years he WAS the West Indies batting, and he has to be mentioned in the same breath as Bradman (the ‘white Headley’ according to Jamaicans), Hammond and Hobbs. Clarrie Grimmett described him as ‘the greatest on-side player ever’. (He was) one of cricket’s master batsmen who had never failed in a series between 1929 and 1939 and, as a scorer, was second only to Bradman.”

Just before the Second World War broke out, Headley had scored 2135 runs at an average of 66.71 in 19 Tests. Thereafter he played one Test in each of three different series upto 1953, managing only another 55 runs.

Upto the war, rarely has a team depended so much on one batsman as the West Indies did on Headley. He scored a quarter of their runs, two per cent more than Bradman did for Australia. Strong on the back foot, he relished hitting past mid-on and handled the bad wickets deftly. He brought fresh fragrance of Caribbean flair to the international game, a pioneer in the long line of inherently gifted batsmen from those distant pristine islands.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email 

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