Lawrence Rowe – West Indies Glass of Fashion in the 1970s
Take the case of Lawrence Rowe. In the early 1970s, with Viv Richards still to come, Rowe was the West Indian glass of fashion. “He became our hero,” said Desmond Haynes. “He had such… such style.” Michael Holding still believes Lawrence Rowe is “the finest batsman I ever saw” and that “I could not imagine anyone ever batting better or being able to.” Then came the setbacks.
When he was recruited to play county cricket by Derbyshire, Lawrence Rowe was immediately routed by hay fever and headaches. Of all things for a cricketer to be allergic to, he suffered a reaction to grass. He made runs, but uncomfortably and miserably. When he joined the West Indies on tour in India in October 1974, his performance fell apart.
He failed, ungratefully, three times; even in the nets, he was stilted and fallible. Sent home for treatment of a stye on his eyelid, he was discovered by an ophthalmic surgeon to have eyesight better than 20/20 and could literally read the maker’s name on the optical chart. But he was also suffering from pterygium, a disease involving vision-blurring growths; they had almost completely covered his right eye and were on the way to obscuring vision in the left.
A remedial operation damaged his eyesight; contacts were prescribed but they made his eyes water profusely. And for a batsman whose game was built on an eagle’s eye, Rowe’s sight deterioration must have been traumatic. West Indian cricket’s most exhaustive chronicler, Michael Manley, described him as “transfixed by misfortune.” But Rowe’s afflictions also caused him to look more deeply into himself, and there he found hitherto unacknowledged weaknesses.
Michael Holding’s autobiography contains a fascinating vignette of the young Rowe from a country social game where he was the special guest. Folk came from near and far to watch but, amid acute disappointment, the great man refused to bat: “There had been rain, the pitch was damp and he protested that, in the conditions, he could not be the Lawrence Rowe the people were expecting.” In the second half of the 1970s, the challenge was still more exacting: he could not be the Lawrence Rowe that Lawrence Rowe expected.
He still touched batting heights reserved for very few: his virtuoso 175 for the West Indians in the VFL Park Super Test in January 1979 was arguably the finest batting act seen under the Packer big top. Setbacks, however, resonated with Rowe’s doubts. “When things went against him, he blamed his failures on everything but himself,” Michael Holding wrote. “It reached the stage where he became so paranoid that he was reluctant to come out to bat for fear of failure.”
Once, returning to the dressing room after snicking a steeple lifter from Jeff Thomson, Lawrence Rowe was heard to protest, “Not even God could play that!” When agents of South African cricket came calling in December 1982, Lawrence Rowe volunteered to lead the rebel West Indian team there—a route to short-term prosperity and long-term parenthood. It was an impulsive decision, built no doubt on greed but also on disillusionment. If his career was to be one of disappointed expectations, Rowe felt, he might as well dash them utterly.