PROFILE OF THE WEEK
By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
It is Brisbane in 1960 and West Indies are playing Australia in the first Test. Don Bradman meets Australian skipper Richie Benaud. Cricket needs excitement. Benaud promises an Australian victory. The Test enters the last day; Australia needs 233 runs to win. The excitement is fever pitch.
Joe Solomon is fielding at midwicket. He runs out Alan Davidson and Australia has three wickets and six minutes to get the runs. Wesley Hall bowls the final over. Each delivery creates drama. Conrad Hunte runs out Wally Grout. Hall bumps into Kanhai and a catch is spilled. The scores are level with one ball remaining and one wicket to fall. Hall runs in at full throttle. Meckiff touches the ball and runs; the delirious crowd hopes for an Australian victory. But there is Solomon again. He swoops on the ball. What is he thinking?
‘I am side-on and have only one stump to aim at,’ he says. ‘I ran out Alan Davidson minutes earlier but this is different. If I miss they will win. The Test match rests on my throw. I practiced pelting mangoes in Guyana and I am pretty confident. I grab the ball, look at the stumps, and in one motion I throw. The ball hit the stumps and Meckiff is run out.’ It was the first tie in Test cricket. What was the reaction of the players?
Solomon says, ‘Rohan Kanhai and Gary Sobers jump in the air. Wes Hall stands with his shirtsleeves flapping and shakes his head in disbelief. Some players, including Frank Worrell, think that we won. But it is a tie. Richie Benaud and Frank Worrell leave the field with their arms around each other. The fans go wild and the press people are all over us. Don Bradman is all smiles. He asked for excitement but not even he could have predicted this result.’
The tied Test gave cricket the tonic it needed. The rest of the tour saw big crowds with a then world record at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. West Indies conquered the hearts and imagination of Australia and a trophy was dedicated to Frank Worrell. When the team left for home, thousands lined the streets to bid them goodbye, with Worrell leading the parade.
Joe Solomon’s name is etched forever in cricket history. Joe was born in a working class family in Port Mourant, in Berbice, Guyana. He was the third of five children. His mom was Marian and his dad was John Solomon. Both parents were from Enmore, in Guyana. Joe attended Port Mourant R.C. School and his best subjects were reading and gardening.
How did he get into cricket? There were two clubs, the Port Mourant Cricket Club and the Spoilers; Joe played for Port Mourant. There were Dr. Appadu, Oscar Naidoo, Compton Bovell, Fitz, Assad Khan, and others, that played at the time. Joe was an all-rounder. He opened the bowling and batted lower down the order. The other members of Joe’s team were Rohan Kanhai and Basil Butcher, the latter lived next to the cricket ground.
Joe did well in the Davson’s Cup and was picked for the inter-county games. He was the captain of Berbice. After doing well in the trials, Joe was selected to play for Guyana in 1956. He was a reliable batsman and an economical bowler. A number of outstanding performances, including three centuries, ensured that he was selected to the tour of India in 1958-9. West Indies won that series 3-0. India changed four captains and their defeats were even discussed in the Lok Sabha, India’s parliament. In the final Test in Delhi, Joe scored an undefeated maiden century. The series also saw the emergence of Kanhai, Sobers, Butcher, Hall and Hunte as future stars. It must be remembered that in those days, in India, Test cricket was played on matting that helped the spinners, but Kanhai tamed Gupte with a magnificent 256.
After India, it was off to Pakistan where Joe top scored in the second innings of the first Test in Karachi. He made 66. West Indies lost the series 2-1 to Pakistan but left the subcontinent with confidence to take on Australia in 1959-60. One of the highlights of the Australian tour was the captaincy of Frank Worrell. Joe says that it was ‘Frank’s tour.’ He instilled confidence in the players and was a statesman.
West Indies toured England in 1963 and won the series. Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith destroyed England with pace while Hunte, Sobers, Kanhai and Butcher and Seymour Nurse did well. When West Indies toured England in 1966, Joe was called up but was not selected to play. Worrell advised him to focus on his job. Joe played in 27 Tests and is grateful for the opportunity to serve his country.
Joe credits Worrell for turning West Indies cricket around. The team did well for many years, under Lloyd and Richards. But West Indies is not winning. In fact, its performance has been abysmal, losing recently to India with hardly a fight.
What is wrong with West Indies cricket? Joe has strong views that the administration needs to hear. He says, ‘selection policies have to be fair and should be based on a player’s performance. The selectors do not want to be accused of racism or unfair practices. The players too have to look at themselves. No one wants to play the long innings. They don’t seem to have pride in playing for their country. The T20’s are uppermost on their minds; it’s a bad influence. As we know, Test cricket is the real test and those beautiful stadiums are empty.’
Joe spent many years coaching young cricketers and he was instrumental in the development of Alvin Kallicharran, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and others. Joe rates Alan Davidson and Subash Gupte as the best bowlers he faced. His top batsmen are Rohan Kanhai, Garfield Sobers and Norman O’Neill. Joe plays golf and does gardening these days. He is grateful for a long life and he finds comfort in Psalm 23: ‘the Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.’
Joe’s life is well lived. His pure heart brought joy to millions and he remains a gentleman. He thanks many for their love and support, especially his wife Betty who was the rock in his life. As he looks forward to another century, Joe has played a great innings filled with memorable encounters.
We wish him and his family all the best in the future.