Though an intimidating sight to waiting batsmen, Wes Hall was an aesthetic joy to the spectator as the audience found out last weekend at the Toronto Cricket, Curling and Skating Club’s (TCCSC) annual Hall of Fame and awards dinner.
The charming and entertaining septuagenarian drew on his considerable public speaking skills and richly resonant voice to express his thoughts on the state of the game, particularly as it relates to the West Indies, which has fallen into a deep abyss.
The senior players boycotted the recent home series against Bangladesh because of a contract dispute, forcing the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to field makeshift teams for that series and the Champions Trophy limited-overs tournament in South Africa last month.
The Caribbean cricketers have won just one of their last 16 Test series in the past five years. They have also been winless in their last six One-Day International tournaments since clinching the triangular series involving Bermuda and host country Canada at King city in August 2008.
“What is happening now in West Indies cricket bears no relation whatsoever to what cricket in the West Indies is all about because our cricket is about the development of our people in every sphere of life,” said Hall, who took 546 wickets (av. 26.14) in a 16-year first-class career that ended in 1971.
“Cricket for us is a house that has a room for everyone and it’s the kind of house that’s consistent with our philosophy of development…When 19 and 20-year-olds, who are under-performing, refuse to play for the West Indies, it’s getting to be bad. When senior players say they will have to weigh their options before they decide if they will play for the West Indies, all I can say is that I have a different view.
“I remember when the West Indies team was a mirror in which we saw what the independent nations of the world should look like. I also remember when the West Indies sweater was pristine and was not daubed with graffiti. The way that people from our vintage looked at cricket, it was about honouring and really deepening the high values of the game. It was about being worthy of the respect of our opponents and the graciousness of our hosts. That is the platform on which our cricket was built.
“I now hear of money and I now hear of image rights, but I do not hear anything about players’ pay being commensurate with their performance. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong in the current dispute (between the WICB and the West Indies Players Association). What matters is that we have spent 80 years in the West Indies to build our cricket into something and it will only take a week or two to destroy that.”
After his playing career ended, Hall became a business executive, politician and Pentecostal preacher. He also served West Indies cricket as a coach, manager, chief selector and WICB president.
Hall, who managed the first West Indies youth team to tour England in 1970, succeeded as a cricketer and well-rounded individual even though expectations were not high for him as a youngster who emerged from humble surroundings.
“When I was a little boy, I would walk around with a bat and ball in my hands and I would tell anybody who would listen that I would do two things which were to play for the West Indies and go to Combermere (one of cricket’s favoured schools in Barbados at the time),” said Hall who was the first West Indian bowler to achieve a hat-trick. (He did it against Pakistan at Lahore 50 years ago).
“I was told that I was too poor to achieve those goals. It was a fact that I was sprung from the proletariat, but it was only an opinion that I could not play cricket for the West Indies or go to Combermere.”
Few would remember that the former Barbados Member of Parliament was an opening batsman and wicketkeeper throughout high school that he completed at age 18. Nine months after graduation, Hall – who had never bowled competitively until he left high school – defied the odds by making the West Indies team as a fast bowler for the 1957 tour to England after participating in just one first-class match a year earlier against E.W. Swanton’s XI.
Hall, who took 192 wickets (av. 26.38) in 48 Tests, commended the TCCSC Hall of Fame inductees Tony Clarke and Ron Aldridge and the award winners in his keynote address titled, “In Pursuit of Excellence.”
“Those of you who have won kudos tonight and who have been praised, you may have wondered what is this thing they call excellence,” he said. “Is it an elusive quality hanging vertiginously out of one’s reach? My answer to that is no. Excellence is available to all who seek it, but you must have hard work, dedication, true grit, commitment, perseverance and a winning determination.
“Excellence is not an act. It is a habit. So as you pursue excellence, winning becomes a habit…Unfortunately for some, losing is also a habit as we know very well now in the West Indies. So in pursuing excellence, you must be prepared for courageous aims and sensitive to your God-given right for excellence and success.”
The former Minister of Tourism and Sport and Minister of Labour dedicated the speech to the memory of his eldest son, John Woodroffe, who drowned while vacationing in Barbados in March 2007. Woodroffe resided in Pickering with his wife Frances and son Chazz, who attended the awards ceremony.