Nurse kept WI cricket healthy

Updated: May 09, 2019, 06:05 IST | Clayton Murzello

There was more to recently-departed Caribbean cricketer Seymour than just his batting ability. Ask Joel Garner and Desmond Haynes

Nurse kept WI cricket healthy
Seymour Nurse batting for the West Indies in a tour game against LC Stevens XI at Eastbourne during their 1963 tour of England. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloDid you admire Desmond Haynes, who was one part of the great Greenidge-Haynes alliance in West Indies cricket? Were you also awestruck by the giant efforts of 'Big Bird' Joel Garner? If so, there's a Nurse to thank – Seymour, 85, the former Test batsman, who passed away in Barbados on Monday.

Tony Cozier, the late encyclopaedic pundit of WI cricket told his readers in 1978 (not long after Haynes smashed 148 off 136 deliveries in an ODI against Australia after which he earned the nickname Hammer Haynes) that Haynes, then nine, made his way to the Kensington Oval in Barbados and watched Nurse peel a double hundred off Australia in 1965.

There were a lot of runs scored in that Test – double tons by Australian openers Bill Lawry and captain Bob Simpson, a hundred by Bob Cowper and three-figure knocks from the blades of Rohan Kanhai and Nurse. But Haynes returned home inspired and Cozier observed by 1978 that Haynes had, "vivid traces of the captivating Nurse style" through his shots to midwicket, the late flick of the wrists and the straight drive.

It was no surprise then to read Haynes admitting in Lion of Barbados by Rob Steen that, "We walked like him, talked like him, imitated the way he wiggled his head."

Garner is another Barbadian who probably wouldn't have made it to the international stage had it not been for SM Nurse. Garner had scored some runs for Foundation School's second XI and when Nurse became his school's coach, young Garner looked forward to some batting lessons from the Barbados hero. Garner revealed in his autobiography Big Bird, that Nurse yelled out to him as he was batting in the school nets: "Garner, what's a big fellow like you doing batting or trying to bat?

You're too big to be a batsman. With your height son, you should be bowling… fast."

Within a decade, after being fine-tuned by Wes Hall and Garfield Sobers, Garner made his Shell Shield debut for Barbados against Leeward and Windward Islands in 1976.

"I am forever grateful to Seymour Nurse for recognising whatever potential I might have had, and for having the judgment and common sense to put it across to me in a way that would be acceptable," wrote Garner.

As regards his own career, Nurse missed out on regular opportunities in the first half of his international career through injuries. He became a regular only after the 1964-65 home series against Australia and, as cricket writer Clayton Goodwin reckoned, Nurse was the "soul" of Sobers's 1966 team in England. This is manifest in the fact that Nurse scored 501 runs in five Tests. His lone century came at Leeds where WI won by an innings and 55 runs but his 93 in a total of 235 was just as valuable, if not more, at Nottingham, where the tourists won by 139 runs despite a 90-run first innings deficit.

Nurse played two Tests in India during the 1966-67 series. He missed the opening Test in Mumbai due to a finger injury and Clive Lloyd was drafted in the playing XI half an hour before play commenced at Brabourne Stadium.

He returned to the side for the second Test at Kolkata and was all set to resume his innings on Day Two when riots erupted at Eden Gardens due to a ticket-related issue. Play was abandoned for the day and action only resumed after the rest day. He scored 56 which included a six off Test debutant Bishan Singh Bedi – "A six through extra-cover is a rarity and Nurse has achieved it off Bedi," said the caption to the Nurse photograph published in Sport & Pastime magazine.

The 1967-68 home series against England turned out to be another successful one for Nurse – 434 runs during the five-Test series in which he was asked to open - but not as run-heavy as the tour to New Zealand, against whom he amassed 558 runs in three Tests. He is believed to have sent his resignation to the WI board during the tour and Nurse went down in history as the only West Indian to score a double century in his final Test. According to Wisden's Steven Lynch, Nurse's 258 is the third highest score by a batsman in his final Test after Englishman Andy Sandham's 325 against the West Indies in 1929-30 and Australian Bill Ponsford's 266 against England in 1934.

To quit the way he did was remarkable but, as Sir Garfield Sobers wrote in his 2002 book, Nurse was a "very proud person" who, "always said that the West Indies would never throw him away and he would get rid of them first."

Former West Indies team manager Dr Rudi Webster, who opened the bowling for Warwickshire against the WI in 1966 and watched him score a match-winning hundred in a 50-over game, told me yesterday that Nurse was, "a delightful person, a good friend and a wonderful human being." He didn't forget "outstanding batsman and slip fielder." That said, at the heart of Nurse's contribution to WI cricket, should be his role in inspiring other players from the Caribbean. Indeed, Seymour MacDonald Nurse was hero who helped produce heroes. And that is truly a legacy that lives on forever.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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