Widely believed to be the second-best batsman to ever come out of Jamaica after the great George Headley, Lawrence George Rowe has gone down in history as one of those supremely talented batters whose greatness was stunted by injuries. His classification further gets narrowed down to an athlete unusually allergic to grass.
People who watched him play had pegged him as the "most West Indian batsman" to play the game, given Rowe’s otherworldy ability to dominate any bowler on hard decks when the sun was shining bright. Rowe was brilliantly swift in getting into position to play bouncers, the most glorious display of which came against England at Bridgetown in 1974.
Facing Bob Willis’ vicious bouncer, Rowe would get into the most optimum position to whack the ball into the stands for a flat six. The opener had hit 36 boundaries and a six to bring up his triple ton, which had led the legendary Michael Holding to call him the best batsman he had seen.
While comparisons with Don Bradman and Headley soon followed, Rowe wasn’t as complete a batsman as the other two. Growing up while playing at Sabina Park, Rowe’s supremacy was pretty much limited to the hard pitches, which is evident from his below-30 average overseas turfs, mostly those that were soft and seam-friendly.
However, those glitches remained overlooked because he averaged an unbelievable 113.40 in Kingston, where he played four Tests and scored three centuries. Rowe was the second batsman ever to score a double century on debut and remains the only batsman to tally a double century and a century in his very first match.
The West Indian batsman had signed a contract with Derbyshire at the peak of his career, following which it started going downhill. He was diagnosed with a rare disease called hay fever, which made him allergic to grass. While the hay fever was controllable, his failing eyes did the real damage. While doctors never found anything majorly wrong with Lowe’s vision, a benign growth of conjunctiva was found that required surgery.
When Rowe returned to cricket wearing contact lenses next, he was visibly struggling. The contact lenses of that era made his eyes water relentlessly and his trademark hook and pull shots were affected. Though he returned to the ‘unofficial Test championship’ in Australia with a 107-run knock in Brisbane, it was the beginning of the end of his Test career.
For the cricket lovers, the old Lawrence Rowe had turned up one last time during the World Series Cricket. The “Lawrence of Jamaica” had brought out those classic hooks and drives once again as he marched to a score of 175 against the Australians. The iconic inning was laced with shots that were said to make the otherwise calm Richie Benaud ecstatic for once.
Rowe’s next official Test century came five years later as the world watched a supremely talented batsman falling to mediocrity year after year. After he tallied 100 against New Zealand in Christchurch in 1980, he decided to hang his boots after just one more match.
Lawrence Rowe ended his career with just 2047 Test runs, which had seven centuries and the same number of half-centuries. Post-retirement, he led a rebel team to South Africa during the apartheid era, which led to the West Indies board banning him for a few years.