George Alphonso Headley is the first great black batsman emerged from the West Indies. Between the First and Second World War, West Indies batting was often vulnerable and impulsive. Headley’s brilliance on the field led him to be considered as black Bradman but his devoted fans didn’t like the term black Bradman. They starting calling Bradman the white Headly. It was an exaggeration but pardonable.
Headly was born in Panama, where his father was helping to build the canal, sent him to Jamaica for study at the age of 10. He was about to learn English and Spanish to fulfill his dentistry dream in America. But at school, he falls in love of cricket. It was heard that if he got out early he could have got the passport for America. But his masterly innings means dentistry lost its one of the good students.
Headly was once chosen to play the visiting England team in West Indies. In the first innings the right-handed medium height batsman scored 78 and in the second 211, this was the welcome tune of a great batsman’s arrival in the world.
Headly poised in international cricket from the first Test
Headley’s international career started in 1930, but people had already known about him as his brilliant innings in county cricket. In a match against touring England side led by Lord Tennison, Headly played what was described as the perfect innings. He scored a whopping 344* in that innings, and according to people that witnessed it, it was as close to perfection as one can say this was more cherishable than whatever he has seen in his life. But Headly’s international appearance was still a distant dream. Everybody thought Headly would be selected for West Indies’ first series, but selectors went blind and didn’t give any space to the team for the young Jamaican.
However, selectors woke up soon after fans starting chanting his name everywhere in West Indies. In his first Test match, at Bridgetown against England, he scored 21 in the first innings. A glimpse of his batting was shown but it was cut short by England bowler Jack O’Conor. But in the second innings, the class come out from the pot. A flurry of strokes was a treat to Barbados cricket fans. Headly scored his first hundred on debut. 176, a photo finish innings.
However, he failed at Queens Park Oval. At George Town, he became the first batsman to score two consecutive hundred in two innings. 114 and 112 led West Indies to a victory.
In a career that spanned for 24 years, Headly played only 22 Tests. One has to take into account that that six years off his career wasted due to second World War. In international cricket, he scored 2190 runs at an average of 60.83. He notched up 10 hundred among them eight against England.
The Second World War eat up Headly’s prime
He was the first batsman to achieve hundred in both innings at the Lord’s in 1939. His talent and integrity didn’t allow him to go through a bad series in a single Test series between 1929 to 1939- a rare achievement in cricket. By the second World War, he aggregated 9532 runs in the first-class cricket with an average of 72.21. But the second world war took a toll on his mind and body. He spent six years without playing any international and first-class cricket during this time that pained him a lot. However, when cricket resumed Headly added more runs to his tally 9921 runs with 33 hundred and an average of 69.86.
At Sabina Park, striking the highest score by any batsman in the fourth innings of a match Headly frustrated English bowlers hitting 223 from 385 balls, an innings still stands tall today 79 years after it was scored.
In the 1928-1930 England tour, Headly scored 703 runs in eight innings averaging 87.80. In 1930-31 England tour Headly scored two more hundred and ended the voyage with 1066 runs.
In the tour of Australia, he showed flashing offside play, but one of the Australian bowlers at the time got over him as he spotted a flaw in his technique. The bowler then started hurling towards Headly’s leg. The plan worked as Headly failed to the trap in Adelaide and Sydney. This thing is not unfamiliar with the great batsmen. Great batsmen are those who improve every day and made bowlers come up with a new idea. Headly, cricket’s one of the first generation greats, faced this situation. In the third Test at Brisbane of the Australia tour, he improved the weak zone. Like Sachin Tendulkar in 200Sydneyeny Test Headly preferred on the drive and developing a full repertoire of the leg side strokes that made Australian bowling toothless.
The difference between Headly and Bradman
In the same year, he kept up his dominance over World Cricket and became an utmost competitor of Don Bradman. But unlike Bradman, he doesn’t have the privilege to play more international matches as England and Australia played more matches then against West Indies.
After the second World War Headly moved on from the West indies to England and opened coaching schools in England while playing a bit of league cricket for hos own financial benefit. He knew his prime had gone. But in 1948 West indies selectors called back Headly of 40s to play three Test series against England at home. He failed in first two Tests and eventually dropped.
Headly’s career ended with an average 60.83, an average only surpassed by Graeme Pollock and Sir Donald Bradman. Stats doesn’t tell everything about a great cricketer as on several times Headly was greater than Bradman. As in county and or in international Test series on a couple of occasions, he scored more runs that Bradman.
When he went past his prime his average was 66.71.
The difference between Headly and Bradman was the former had to fear of losing the plot for the national team when the latter knew that his wicket was not the end of Australia’s journey as cricketers Ponsford, Woodfull, Kippax, Jackson, McGabe were well capable of scoring big innings.
Headly was a one man army, he earned the nickname ‘Atlas’ because of his ability to shoulder the burden of West Indies team.
The greatest batsman of wet wicket
Another big difference between Bradman and Headly was the latter was a great batsman at wet English wickets. Headly scored five half-centuries while Bradman scored one on wet wickets. The West Indian was regarded as the greatest player on the wet wicket on which only great English batsmen likes of Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond and later Hutton succeeded.
Headly is among the top three all time greatest batsmen
Headly scored an avalanche of runs with style and brilliance so his contribution to the build up to the modern West Indies cricket team can’t be exaggerated.
Bradman received all the appreciation from generations of cricket fans, but a great batsman who contributed immensely to cricket now a forgettable name cricket fans. But Headly will end up among the top three all time batsmen of the world.