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The Mandela from the Caribbean

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Last updated on 01 Aug 2023 | 03:05 PM
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The Mandela from the Caribbean

Sir Frank Worrell led a life of imminence, affecting the entire Caribbean through his work in cricket and later in politics to become one of their biggest heroes

17 February, 1961

Commerce stood still in the bustling Melbourne metropolis that day. The main roads were all clear, with tapes lining both their sides. On the other side of the tape, a huge crowd had started to buildup. 

If someone had asked, “Is the Queen coming to Australia, mate?”  at that moment, it wouldn’t have been completely illogical. 

As people thronged the foot paths, cars with open roof tops started arriving with tall dark men in blazers waving at the crowd. These ‘black’ men were cricketers from the Windies, a land half a world away from the ‘white’ dominated Australia. Yet, the crowd cheered them like royalties. It didn’t matter to them that these cricketers were the vanquished, not the victors. They waved and tipped off their hats all the same. 

Leading this group of defeated celebrities was a tall, handsome man from Jamaica - Frank Worrell. The trophy West Indies and Australia played that year, would be called Sir Frank Worrell Trophy in the future. 

He would go on to be a ‘Sir’, one of the three famous W’s of Windies cricket, save an Indian cricketer’s life with his own blood, appear on a 5$ currency note in Barbados, and also become one of its first national heroes. This is his story. 


Born within a mile of the cricket stadium in Barbados, Worrell played first-class cricket for them until 1947, when he shifted to Jamaica. In that year itself, he made his Test debut against England. Known for his right-handed aggressive, stylish play, he made a name for himself playing first-class cricket in England. Later in 1951, he would score so much against them in Test cricket, that he was named the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1951. 

At the time, despite the majority population being of color, the West Indies captain had always been a white man. Moreover, the team was plagued with regionalism as players from different Islands hardly ever mingled. With cricket being the only thing that the Caribbean Islands did together, it was accepted as the norm within the team itself. All that was to change with Worrell rising amongst the ranks of Windies cricket. 

In 1958, a reputed journalist and writer of the pioneering book Beyond A Boundary, CLR James, launched a campaign against the then-white West Indian captain Gerry Alexander. “The idea of Alexander captaining a side on which Frank Worrell is playing," he wrote, "is to me quite revolting." Very shortly, the other two W’s of Windies cricket (Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott) retired, leaving a power vacuum to be filled in the team. To quote Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are a-Changin.” 

Meanwhile, little did James know that Alexander had already decided to offer captaincy to Worrel, who returned to the team in 1960 after completing his Economics degree from Manchester University. So finally, in 1960, West Indies had a black captain. Frank Worrell was going to lead the team in Australia. And boy, did he lead them well !! 

The 1960-61 Windies Tour of Australia began with a bang as the first Test at Brisbane was a historic and dramatic tie - the first time ever that it had happened in the 80+ years of Test cricket. Before the series began, Worrell and Richie Benaud (the then Captain of Australia) had promised to play aggressive and exciting cricket. With players like Wes Hall, Rohan Kanhai, Gary Sobers and Worrell from Windies and Alan Davidson, Benaud, and Bob Simpson from Australia, the Test series was now well and truly a hit. 

Crowds lined up for the upcoming Tests, which proved to be worth the hype. The visitors were eventually vanquished 1-2 by the home team, but the reception they got from the Australian people was worth more than any victory. In those days, Australia weren't actively trying to develop an inclusive national culture. Racism was an expected reality. Amidst all that, when the Windies team was paraded through the streets of Melbourne like returning war heroes, it wasn’t just about cricket. 

It was a cultural shift in how the Windies was viewed as a cricketing team. Many perceptions about the Caribbean people were also broken in that tour. A lot of that positive change had to do with Worrell’s leadership. 

He was a true Unitarian of Caribbean islands right from his captaincy days. He brought the fragmented team together, and forged an identity for Windies cricket which was above the different nationalities represented in the team. There was no more Barbados, Antigua, Guyana, Trinidad or Jamaica. Under Worrell, everyone rallied around the West Indies. 


Later in 1962, when India toured the West Indies, Worrell again showed a proclivity to contribute to a humanitarian cause. When Nari Contractor was hit on the head by Charlie Griffith and was in urgent need of blood to save his life, Frank Worrell was the first one to line up for donating blood. Till this day since 1981, the Cricket Association of Bengal organizes a blood donation drive in his name to commemorate that humane gesture. 

Frank Worrell retired from Test cricket in 1963. He was knighted the next year for his services to cricket. 

His post-retirement career tilted strongly towards developing a stronger bond between the Caribbean nations; hence, a move toward politics was imminent. After being appointed as a Warden of the University College of West Indies, he was nominated as a Senator in the Parliament. 

Despite his public career and efforts to develop a Trans - Caribbean solidarity, he remained attached to Windies cricket. When he was on a tour to India in 1966-67, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. 

Sadly, Sir Frank Worrell didn’t get more than 42 years. A life that began in Barbados, developed and inspired in Trinidad, finally ended in Jamaica - a true hero of the Caribbean in every sense of the word. 


Sir Learie Constantine wrote in Worrell’s obituary for the Wisden - “Frank Maglinne Worrell was the first hero of the new nation of Barbados and anyone who doubted that had only to be in the island when his body was brought home in mid-March of 1967”. 

Worrell’s funeral service happened at Westminster Abbey, the first such instance for a sportsperson of any color or nationality. Imagine the pride a person from the Caribbean would have felt that day. Even in his death, he wasn’t ready to give his Unitarian goals. 

This was the story of Sir Frank Maglinne Worrel, a cricketing legend, a Caribbean Mandela, and above all a great human being. 

Sir Worrell was born on this day, in 1924. 

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