Practically all the tributes that have congregated in memory of Sir Everton Weekes have come from cricketers and sports writers. They list his age, his career statistics and his batting style. Some have recounted an encounter.
Cricket reporters tend to give the numbers; cricket writers are more interested in telling the stories. I am neither; but I wanted to know more.
I pulled out a DVD that I had bought some years ago in Barbados that Tony Cozier had researched, written and narrated for a series called ‘Cricket Legends of Barbados’. This one featured ‘Sir Everton de Courcey Weekes’, and for 45 minutes—well more, since I kept pausing it to make notes—I immersed myself in his story yet again.
(It is very well done, and this is why, of everyone who has documented West Indies cricket, Tony Cozier was the best.)
I had decided that I would not write much about his cricket as there are others who actually witnessed it—although few are still alive. I wanted to focus more on the essence of the man whose remarkable life may not be remembered because we do not know enough of its texture to understand just how extraordinary he was.
My fear is that one day all that will be said of his life is a paragraph that reads like this:
Everton de Courcey Weekes, born 26 February 1925, Barbados; died 1 July 2020. West Indian cricketer. Played in 48 Test matches, scored 15 centuries and held the record for five consecutive centuries.
Although I am interested in his character and the way he lived, there are little cricket stories that feed every element of my curiosity.
The five consecutive centuries had started with George Headley being injured in the final Test match against the visiting MCC team in 1948. Weekes had been hastily summoned to replace him.
Jack Kidney, a member of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, was on his way to a board meeting in Jamaica, and because no other seat was available, he gave up his so that Weekes could join the team.
Apparently there was some engine trouble and the flight made a stop somewhere in ‘South America’—in one place, Weekes said it was Venezuela and Santo Domingo, and in another, Cozier said it was Puerto Rico—and he was stranded overnight, not knowing a word of Spanish.
“There was a bit of a language barrier,” he said.
Eventually, they set off and as the plane droned over Sabina Park, he could see the match in progress. As he got to the hotel, he asked if he was still on the team, and it was after lunch before he got to the ground.
He was greeted with boos by a crowd that preferred to see their hometown boy, JK Holt instead. By the next day, when his score reached 141, the spectators hoisted him onto their shoulders in celebration of the first of the hundreds.
His second hundred was during the first tour of India—a hard one by all accounts. The heat, the dust and the lengthy journeys between grounds on cramped trains, coupled with unpleasant accommodation and dodgy food and water made it a test of endurance, especially as everything was unfamiliar and of course, there was a language barrier.
In his book, ‘Sixty Years on the Backfoot’, Clyde Walcott wrote of players having stomach troubles and the poor conditions generally.
“The hotels were a disgrace. Some cities had no hotels so we stayed in old army barracks, lacking in comforts or furnishings. One had no bathrooms and we had to get a dobe to bring a bucket to allow us to bathe. Today’s generation of cricketers would not tolerate such primitive conditions.”
On one occasion, they travelled for 40 hours to cover 1,471 kms from Delhi to Pune, arrived at 7:30am and got to the ground to begin a match at 11:30am.
Jeffrey Stollmeyer was furious that the manager, Donald Lacy, agreed to the terms of the tour, and dismissed him as useless.
Under these conditions, Weekes first scored 128 in Delhi, then 194 in Bombay, and two more in both innings at Calcutta: 162 and 101. Walcott wrote about the heat being so debilitating that after he scored a hundred in one warm-up match in Bombay, he went in at the tea interval and cried because he just could not bear the idea of going back out.
“I was in a state of collapse,” he said.
Yet, Weekes counted the five hours of that Calcutta 162 as his personal best. “Every place I tried to hit the ball I hit it,” he said.
The ‘almost century’ came at Madras. And you know what? Listening to him describe it, I think he was in; and not just in, he was clearly in.
“I got to 90 and played a square cut. Gerry Gomez was at the other end and it was his call, and I went forward and I got into the crease,” he said. “And I watched the whole thing happen. I’m there watching the whole thing happen. The umpire’s hand went up. We didn’t have all this technology. We didn’t have replays.
“It was rather doubtful.”
Shoddy umpiring was a big complaint on that tour too, and neutral umpires had not yet been introduced. In another place, he’d described it as ‘a very bad decision’.
One of the quirks of his Test career—which yielded 4,455 runs—is that he only hit one six in that arena. It was against Australia at the Queen’s Park Oval in 1955 and he slapped Bill Johnston over mid-on.
His ‘non-sixiness’ (my word), came from his childhood. Playing cricket then, your pitch was often on the road. If you hit the ball up in the air and it landed in a neighbour’s yard—or worse, in the house—they would just take away the ball and bam, game over. You had to learn to keep it low.
It’s not as easy as you think to not hit a six. Weekes was renowned for his cuts, hooks and square cuts.
BC Pires, writing the Guardian’s obituary, said: “His rare defensive stroke was invariably played late, as though he mentally ran through every possible aggressive shot, looking until the last moment for a way of attacking the bowling before reluctantly conceding that the particular ball could only be played defensively; which defensive stroke he then employed as gracefully as he did grudgingly.”
Five years ago, Tony Cozier wrote of his own sleuthing, when he thought he had discovered a secret six.
“But was it really just one six? On one of my tours of India, an obviously keen statistician brought the scorebook of the Calcutta Test of 1948. There it was, against the name ED Weekes in the book: a six.
“I put it to him when I got back to Barbados. ‘Yes, I remember it,’ he said. ‘They were overthrows. We’d run two when the ball came in from the deep field and it was so wide of anyone, it went on to the boundary.’
“So still a solitary genuine six.”
And so, and so… the lessons of childhood stay in one form or another, right up to the end.
“You don’t ever really grow away from where you came from,” he’d told me one day.
He was talking about how it hurt him sometimes when people he’d grown up with treated him as if had abandoned them because his life had set him apart.
“You don’t frequent the places like when you were living there; in other cases, there is that bit of envy you see in some of your schoolmates and that sort of thing.”
He’d said he tried not to let it bother him, but ‘some of it can be very cruel’.
He’d often talked about what seemed like a squadron of disciplinary influences in his life. His father was actually living and working in Trinidad and while he lived with his mother and his elder sister (“My sister was seven years older and she was like a mother to me. Seven years’ difference is quite a… when the girl is 14 and you are seven, she puts the whip on you like if she is a cleric, you know,” he’d told me.), he’d said that he was under the watchful and stern eyes of his aunts and uncles.
The discipline he’d learned came from school, the church, the cub scouts, the army, and of course, the judgemental Barbadian society.
Growing up in that environment amidst poverty and general hardship kept him true to his roots.
“You were supposed to be in bed, seven, eight o’clock in the evening. We didn’t have radio and television and that sort of thing,” he’d told me. “In the village, of course, one person might have a radio and when Joe Louis the boxer was fighting you’d queue up to go and listen to this thing, and you had to get there early because all the little boys who lived in the area would go by this lady who had the radio. (Joe Louis was the world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949.)
“Sometimes the broadcast was not so clear and you had to put yourself in all sorts of postures to try and listen. Even that you got some fun from all of it and you’d discuss it the next morning coming to school or back from school in the afternoon about the fight last night.
“One fella might say well I didn’t get there on time. The fight was finished by the time I got there. Another chap might say, well I had done something wrong and my old lady wouldn’t let me go. All sorts of stories were given.”
In his later life, as he reminisced with friends, he would realise how common it was to not have things, like clothes and shoes, and pocket money.
“When you start talking about those days you got the feeling that only you were treated that way but you realise then the majority of the boys were,” he said. “They would give you the stories, some of them were ashamed to give you the stories, I don’t know why, but later on in life they would come forth and say what transpired in those early days.
“Some of the stories were really ridiculous; hearing how tough it was for some children, especially those people who had four and five children.”
He recalled how he was too poor to pay to enter the Kensington Oval—where the all-white Pickwick Club had its home.
“I could come through the gate because I had nothing against helping to roll the pitch and cutting the grass and things like that.”
He’d seen his first Test match (an MCC team that played four Tests, with WI winning two, and the English one) in 1935 when he was ten.
“I came in every morning about five o’ clock and helped cut the grass and roll the pitches and watched the cricket, because if I’d gone back out, I couldn’t get back in because my economic strength was very limited, and you had to pay to get in,” he told Cozier.
He believed that cricket saved him, but it is equally true that he gave back as much as he took out.
As Cozier listed off in the ‘Legends’ DVD, he was an expert coach, captain of the Barbados team, West Indies selector and team manager, member of the WICBC, international match referee, bridge champion, justice of the peace. He served on the police service commission and the public service commission.
He was made Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George; awarded the Barbados Gold Crown of Merit and the Order of the British Empire, and had been conferred with an honorary degree by The University of the West Indies.
Weekes was far more than a cricketer, he embodied a spirit of generosity that is rare.
“If you have done well and you don’t help someone along, then I think the whole time is wasted,” was his code.
That concept of giving back speaks to the notion of gratitude and that, he was.
“I am very thankful,” he said. “The Almighty has taken good care of me.”