49% of the Story: Who is the Greatest West Indian Batsman of All-Time?

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published December 21, 2015

 

Top: Sir Viv Richards, Sir Garfield Sobers, The Honorable Brian Lara Bottom: George Headley, Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Clyde Walcott

Who is the Greatest West Indian Batsman of All-time? Who is your choice?
Top: Sir Viv Richards, Sir Garfield Sobers, The Honorable Brian Lara
Bottom: George Headley, Sir Everton Weekes, Sir Clyde Walcott
(Edit credit: Zaheer Clarke)

Last year, West Indies (WI) joined Australia and England as the only teams to have played 500 or more matches in Test cricket history. To commemorate the 500th Test match for West Indies, I looked at significant West Indian batting, bowling, and fielding records. In part one of these evaluations, I’ll share some outstanding batting records by West Indian greats. For those who love West Indies history and records, walk with me. For those who don’t, keep reading.

CENTURIES

In West Indies first 500 Test matches, on 462 occasions a WI player scored a century. The first player to score a century  for West Indies was Clifford Roach. Brian Charles Lara leads the way with the most hundreds, 34 in total, followed by Shivnarine Chanderpaul at 30, Sir Garfield Sobers at 26, Sir Viv Richards at 24, and Gordon Greenidge and Clive Lloyd tied at 19.

Viv Richards

Wisden describes Viv Richards after his century knock off 56 balls (110 in 58 balls in all) as seeing “the greatest player in the world in full, majestic flow”, and the innings as “the most wonderful innings ever played”.

The fastest century in Test matches overall and for the WI was scored by Viv in 56 balls on his home ground of St. Johns, Antigua. This is also the fastest century for WI in terms of minutes, 81 to be exact. To round up the WI top-4, we have Chanderpaul’s knock in 69 balls, Chris Gayle’s in 70 balls at Perth and Roy Frederick’s exquisite knock in 71 balls, also at Perth, against the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. That Fredrick knock is still revered today among the best batting displays in Test cricket history.

DOUBLE CENTURIES

Coincidentally, Roach was the first to also score a double century. His counterpart George Headley is often mistakenly given this credit, but Headley is responsible for the second century and the second double century in West Indies history. Brian Lara has scored the most double centuries for WI with nine. After which we have daylight, then Greenidge with four double centuries, and tied with three each is Gayle and Viv.

TRIPLE CENTURIES

Garry Sobers: emptied bars whenever he batted© Getty Images

Garry Sobers: emptied bars whenever he batted © Getty Images

The first triple century scored by a West Indian was a record-breaking one that immortalized a young 21-year-old Sobers. He scored 365 not out and didn’t face another ball. The spectators trampled the pitch and field in celebration. In all, four West Indians have scored triple centuries; they are Sobers, Lawrence Rowe, Lara, and Gayle; with Lara and Gayle scoring two each. Similarly to Sobers, Lara’s two triples were record-breaking scores. First breaking Sobers 36-year-old record by scoring 375 and then reclaiming his record from Matthew Hayden a few months later by scoring 400 not out. To this day, Lara is the only player to have scored a quadruple century in Test cricket. Gayle is the only WI player to have scored a triple century overseas.

BATTING AVERAGE

Of all players to play 10 or more Test matches for West Indies in their career, Headley has the highest average at 60.83. He is followed by Sir Everton Weekes (58.61), Sobers (57.78) and Sir Clyde Walcott (56.68). Four others round up an élite eight with averages above 50: Charlie Davis, Lara, Chanderpaul, and Viv.

West Indies cricketer George Headley (1909 - 1983) batting against England in the Test Match at The Oval, London, 1939. At the wicket is Arthur Wood (1898 - 1973), and at the slip is Wally Hammond (1903 - 1965) (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“The black Bradman”, George Headley was unstoppable at every level of the game, making runs with a style and brilliance few have ever matched, and setting the standards for generations of West Indian players to follow.

CENTURIES IN CONSECUTIVE INNINGS/MATCHES

For almost 66 years and counting, Weekes has held the West Indian and world record for the most consecutive innings with a hundred being scored, at five. Surprisingly, Sir Weekes narrowly missed out on extending this record to six consecutive innings when he was run out on 90 while batting with Gerry Gomez against India in 1949. For the West Indian record, Headley, Weekes, Sobers, Greenidge, and Desmond Haynes are all tied for second with three consecutive innings with a hundred being scored.

In consecutive matches, Weekes and Walcott jointly have the West Indian record of scoring centuries in four consecutive Test matches. Weekes, Sobers (twice), Viv, Haynes, Lara (twice) and Chanderpaul are all tied for third with centuries in three consecutive Test matches.

Everton Weekes: 'No batsman since Bradman has made such an impression on his first English tour as a ruthless compiler of big scores' © Getty Images

Everton Weekes: ‘No batsman since Bradman has made such an impression on his first English tour as a ruthless compiler of big scores’ © Getty Images

CENTURIES IN BOTH INNINGS OF A MATCH

There have been 11 Test matches where the same West Indian scored a century in both innings of the match. Only nine players have this distinction: Headley (twice), Weekes, Walcott (twice), Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Rowe, Greenidge, Lara and Kieran Powell. Even though Headley and Walcott have done it twice in their careers, notably Walcott did it twice in the same Test series (in 1955 vs. Australia). Astounding!

Lara and Rowe are the only West Indian players to have scored a century and a double century in the same Test match. Lara did his against arguably the best spin bowler of all time, Muttiah Muralitharan while Rowe did his on début. Both are remarkable feats under the circumstances.

Brian Lara knock of 153* was described by Wisden as "the hand of a genius" and is ranked as the second best Test inning of all-time. Bradman's 270 is #1 © Getty Images

Brian Lara, a destroyer of cricket’s batting records, currently holds the highest innings scores for both first-class and Test cricket, 501 not out and 400 not out respectively. © Getty Images

SERIES RECORDS

For a series, Walcott still has the West Indian record and world record for the most centuries scored in a Test series with five (1955 vs. Australia). Headley and Weekes are tied for second in the West Indian books with four centuries in a series.

A 24 y-o Viv, at the time, still has the West Indian record for the most runs scored in a Test series: 829 blistering runs. This was done in 1976, in response to Tony Greig’s “grovel” comment directed at West Indies before the start of the series. We are left to imagine if Viv could have challenged Sir Donald Bradman’s world record of 974 runs in a Test series if Viv was not forced to miss the second Test in the 5-match series due to injury. Viv, Walcott, and Sobers are the only West Indians to score over 800 runs in a Test series. Lara and Weekes round up an élite top-5 on the West Indian all-time list.

Clyde Walcott scored 827 runs, including 5 centuries and 2 half-centuries in 10 innings on Australia's first visit to the Caribbean in 1955.

Clyde Walcott scored 827 runs, including 5 centuries and 2 half-centuries in 10 innings, on Australia’s first visit to the Caribbean in 1955 series.

Of note, for a 4-match Test series, Headley has the West Indian record for the most runs scored with 703 runs while, for a 3-match Test series, Lara has the world and West Indian record at 688 runs.

So, that’s the summary of some important statistical accomplishments by West Indian batting greats. I’ll leave you all to decide who you think might be the greatest West Indian batsman of all time. You may choose from either the names mentioned above or my shortened list of Headley, Weekes, Walcott, Sobers, Viv and Lara.

As you contemplate your greatest West Indian batsman of all time, I encourage you to consider the words of Ron DeLegge II: “99 percent of all statistics only tell 49 percent of the story.”

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Blog: Zaheer’s “Facts, Lies and Statistics”

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zaheerfactsliesstatistics

Email: zaheer.lies.and.statistics@gmail.com

From the “Lies & Statistics” column in the Western Mirror (Published December 21, 2015)

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