By Veersen Bhoolai
When Cricket Pundits the world over gather to discuss the
great batsmen of all time, should the name Lawrence Rowe
not be mentioned, consider it a conversation not worth
Rowe had arguably the greatest Test debut of any
batsman. Brought in for the first Test against New Zealand (71/72) in front of
his home crowd at Jamaica, he was simply marvellous. He scored 214 in the first innings, followed by an even century in the second. He became the first West Indian player to score a century in his first two innings of Test Cricket. Later in the series a young Guyanese by the name of Alvin Kallicharan, would emulate this feat.
Rowe finished the series with an average of 69.83, scoring his runs with such style that already comparisons were being made with George Headley, Don Bradman and the three Ws. A classical batsman beautifully balanced, he opened the batting, or could come in at three or four. Equally strong on both the front and back foot, Rowe had a confidence that bordered on arrogance. His timing and placement was impeccable, and his constant whistling was enough to drive many an opposing bowler to distraction. No West Indian batsman of the last 25 years has been able to match his style and grace at the wicket; the one exception being his countryman Jeffrey Dujon. He had within him the potential to be the West Indies' greatest batsman ever - but for a number of illnesses and injuries - least of all an allergy to grass - this was never realised. Instead he is remembered as perhaps our greatest enigma.
When the Australians visited the WI in 1973, he scored 76 in the first Test, however illness forced him to miss the rest of the season, and a wrenched knee compelled him to sit out the tour of England that Summer.
When the English visited the Caribbean in 1974, Lawrence Rowe was back to his old self. The WI were struggling for a proper opening partnership. Rowe filled the gap with Roy Fredericks, during the five Test series, with considerable success - in all they had four century opening stands. He scored his customary century at Sabina Park (120) in the second Test. In the third Test at Kensington Oval, Barbados, he scored a magnificent 302 - the second highest score ever by a West Indian. Another 20 years would pass before a West Indian would score a triple century again, this time by Brian Lara, during his memorable 375 vs. England, at the Antigua Recreation Ground in 1994. Rowe's knock consisted of a six and 34 fours. He also put on a record partnership for the second wicket vs. England of 249 with Alvin Kallicharan.
In the book 150 Great West Indian Test Cricketers, the scenario surrounding Rowe's innings is described as follows:
Tony Cozier described in the Nation newspaper how, on the Sunday of the Test, with Rowe unbeaten overnight on a double century, the crowds poured in to see history made as he recorded the first Test triple century made at the Kensington Oval, and his own maiden First-Class century outside Jamaica. Cozier wrote
"The whole of Barbados, it seemed, was there to see him bat...Gates were
broken, walls were scaled and even high-tension electric cables were used
as a means to enter. Rowe himself and other players had to be escorted
through the mass to enter the ground through a fence."
To further confirm his genius, Rowe then scored a brilliant defensive innings of 123 in seven-and-a-quarter hours, on a turning Queen's Park Oval pitch, in the first innings of the fifth Test. The value of his innings was further underlined by the fact that the majority of the WI batsmen failed and they duly lost the match by 26 runs.
Rowe then spent the next few years of his cricketing prime in the wilderness, as he suffered one bizarre ailment after another. For one whose genius for the game came so naturally, it must have been an extremely frustrating period. After the English series, England pacer, Bob Willis remarked of Rowe: "But Rowe must be one of the great enigmas of cricket. People kept saying he was going to be another George Headley, yet he never seemed completely fit. He failed in County Cricket, even though he had everything a great batsman needs. He took three hundreds off us on Mike Denness' tour, including a triple century in the Barbados Test that was a superb piece of clean hitting. I remember him hitting me right out of the ground as I followed instructions to keep bouncing him."
On the 1975/76 tour of Australia, Rowe, playing in his first Test outside the Caribbean, scored a cool and confident 107 in the first Test at Brisbane. He shared a brilliant partnership of 198 with Kallicharan, that almost changed the format of the game. However, Lloyd was dismissed for duck immediately upon Rowe's departure, and Viv Richards was run out not too
When India visited the WI in 1976, Rowe was promoted to open the innings after Grennidge had failed on the Australian visit. He had a mediocre series, and surrendered his position to Grennidge on the England tour that Summer. Brought in to replace an injured Kallicharan, he hit 50 in the fourth Test at Headingly, and 70 in the fifth Test at the Oval, sharing in a stand of 191 with Richards. Then again Rowe sustained his usual quota of injuries. He was included in the WI team that toured Australia in 1979/80, but was again dogged by injury. This was basically the end of Rowe's international career. His periodic medical problems in combination with an incredible WI batting line-up, made regaining his Test status almost impossible. However, in his chequered career, Rowe managed seven centuries out of 2,047 runs. His Test stats are: 30-49-2-2047-302-43.55. He also scored seven half-centuries.
In 1983 Rowe shocked WI fans as he Captained a rebel team to South Africa, effectively ending his First-Class career. For Rowe his career was an effort in frustration - given the gift to play the game, but never allowed to play it fully. What could he have achieved were it not for those consistent illnesses and injuries?
We, like Rowe - can only ponder upon it."
A cricketing enigma
Lawrence Rowe batting compilation.