At a time when the West Indian sporting public endures disappointment after disillusion, defeat after humiliation, bowlers like Lancelot Richard Gibbs remind us of the cricketing legacy, professionalism and pride players like him bequeathed to the Caribbean nation, and indeed, to the world-so sadly lacking today. It is a testament to his greatness and professionalism that Lance would have been an asset in any form of the game today.
He proudly held the World Record for the most Test wickets in cricket history from Feb. 1 1976 to Dec. 27, 1981, an achievement lost on many people today, with 309 wickets at an average of 29.09 in 79 Tests, statistical confirmation to his value and the present paucity of players of his caliber, pride and work ethic today in the West Indies team.
He was one of the great spinners of all time, the first spinner to reach 300 test wickets, and had an exceptional economy rate of under two runs per over. He added the arm-ball to his repertoire, and reminisces how he always “thought out” batsman, like when he outfoxed and bowled the great Sir Viv Richards with it after deceiving him with four consecutive off-breaks and forced him to play down the wrong line in a regional first-class game. He never bowled the same delivery twice in the same over, always varying his spin, flight, line and length.
Gibbs took three wickets in four balls at Sydney and a hat-trick in the next Test at Adelaide in West Indies’ historic 1960 - 61 tour of Australia, snaring KD Mackay, ATW Grout and FM Misson at Adelaide. This double feat was emulated amongst West Indian players only by another great bowler, Wesley Hall, of “Pace like Fire” acclaim. Hall’s hat-trick victims were Mushtaq Mohammad, Fazal Mahmood and Nasim-ul-Ghani of Pakistan at Lahore in the 1958-59 series, and his three wickets in four balls was done at Port-of-Spain, Trinidad in the 1961 - 62 series against India.
After these heroics by Wes and Lance, only Jermaine Lawson has taken another test hat-trick for the West Indies, when he captured the wickets of Brett Lee, Stuart MacGill and Justin Langer for the West Indies against Australia at Bridgetown, Barbados, in the 2002 - 03 series. Sylvester Clarke is the only other West Indian bowler to get 3 wickets in 4 balls, a feat he performed against Pakistan at Karachi in the 1980 - 81 series.
Lance also spun one of the game’s greatest spells at Bridgetown, where he single-handedly destroyed India, despite their batting strength against spin bowling. Against his combination of guile, flight and spin, India collapsed from 149 for 2 to 187 all out, with Gibbs taking eight wickets in 15.3 overs at a total cost of just six runs! His final innings return of 8 wickets for 38 runs was his best in a Test match.
His career culminated in his inclusion as one of Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year in 1972, a deserving accolade.
Last Sunday, we had the pleasure of renewing acquaintances with a world class umpire, and a Guyanese brother who made it to the top in his field — Eddie (Edward) Nicholls, now 70 not out. Now officially retired, but still giving back to the game he loves so much and which made him a household name. He officiated in 17 Tests from 1997 to 2001 and 46 ODIs from 1995 to 2005. Nicholls was one of four West Indian umpires on the International Cricket Council’s elite panel of international umpires, and umpired international matches throughout the Caribbean and in many famous grounds across the globe, including the Oval, Wellington, Brisbane, Bulawayo, Colombo, Cape Town, Manchester, Nairobi, Sharjah, and Melbourne.
A former police officer, who rose to the rank of an acting assistant superintendent with the Guyana Police Force, Nicholls played club cricket for the Guyanese police force cricket team. He is married and has a son and two daughters, was a senior cricket coach in Guyana from 1990 - 1997, a committee member of national umpires’ association 1992 / 193, 1996 / 97 / 98; treasurer 1994 and 1995, and played club cricket for the Guyana Police Force and Demerara.
Nicholls is part of a respected group of Caribbean umpires headed by umpires like Steve Bucknor (“Slow Death”), Douglas Sang Hue, Ralph Gosein, Stanton Parris, Compton Vyfhuis, Lew Kow, Cortez Jordan, Errol Gillette, Ralph Gosein, David Archer, Cecil Kippins, Lloyd Barker, Clyde Cumberbatch, Tulsi Kumar and others.
Note: Albert Baldeo is a civil rights activist and community advocate. As president of the Baldeo Foundation and Liberty Justice Center, he has continued the fight for justice, equal rights, dignity and inclusion in the decision making process. He can be contacted at the Baldeo Foundation: (718) 529-2300.