The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Mr Major’s Speech at the Frank Worrell Lecture – 2 May 2002

Below is the text of John Major’s speech at the Frank Worrell Lecture, held in Barbados on Thursday 2 May 2002.


It is a great pleasure to be here this evening to deliver a Lecture in honour of Sir Frank Worrell. I’d like to thank the UWI/Barclays for inviting me – and the British electorate for making it possible for me to accept.

This is the 9th Frank Worrell Lecture. It is also a personal anniversary for me: five years ago, this very day, was my last as Prime Minister.

Inside 10 Downing Street I took my leave of officials. Outside the famous front door I bade farewell to the media. I waited upon The Queen at Buckingham Palace to tender my resignation – and then hurried from there to Kennington Oval to watch some cricket with my family.

It seemed to me that life had come full circle. As a boy, I had watched cricket and dreamed of politics: that afternoon, as the dream drew to a close, I watched cricket.

On the morrow of political defeat, cricket was the same soothing balm to me as it had been so often before. I said something of this sort to my companions on the Committee Room balcony and was rewarded with the tale of the great actor, Boris Karloff, watching cricket from the same spot. “Are you enjoying it, Mr Karloff?” he was asked. “Wonderful” he boomed, “I think I have died and gone to heaven”.

Five years on, I have not gone to heaven – except in the metaphorical sense that I am here in Barbados and looking forward to enjoying the Test at the Kensington Oval.

I was never a good cricketer and even some of my best moments were tinged with farce – so unlike politics you may think. My last innings was in Nigeria, in my early twenties, during the Biafran war when a plane bringing the weekly post landed. Unfortunately, it landed at Square Leg and the game was over. That was bad news.

The good news was that I had three letters. But the bad news was that they were all bills. The worse news was that one was for the bat with which I would now never score a hundred. Days later, a disagreement between a car and a mountain, with me in the middle, left me a permanent spectator.

Cricket has always been an important part of my life. Yet there are many pessimists about the game. As long ago as 1932, C.P. Snow was complaining: “These days, a man of taste can only go to an empty ground and regret the past!”. The same dreary view can often be heard today.

For some, the past is always the Golden Age. Neville Cardus once wrote of falling asleep at Lords to the complaints of an elderly spectator that cricket “wasn’t what it used to be”. He awoke to see Larwood bowling to Hammond. Anyone who dozes off at Bridgetown could well awake to see Tendulkar and Lara on the same pitch.

Of course cricket has changed – it would be surprising if it hadn’t. Some of the changes we may not like: slower over rates for example.

Others we do, such as the vast improvement in fielding. But we should view the past in perspective: probably the three greatest teams in the history of cricket belong to the last sixty years.

Which teams, I wonder, from any golden age could have beaten the 1948 Australians, the 1970s/80s West Indies or the Australian team (again) in the late 1990s?

Off-field, the greatest challenge is the financing of cricket: whereas professional cricket was once funded overwhelmingly by gate receipts it is viable now only with the support of corporate sponsorship, television receipts and the revenues of Test Cricket.

As a result, there is more Test Cricket than ever before and yet – perversely – for the professional players, a gap has opened up between their salaries – and those for other sports.

Here is the Catch-22: too much Test cricket and familiarity will lessen its attraction. Too little and the finances of the game will become more fragile. No-one should envy the cricket administrators who must deal with this conundrum.

To widen the appeal of the game, we must protect those aspects of cricket that make it unique. These go far beyond simple enjoyment. C.L.R. James, argued that – for the West Indies – cricket had a magic that was a guiding light for the dispossessed and the disenfranchised. From a polar opposite political position, Lord Harris argued that cricket upheld the values of the far from dispossessed or disenfranchised middle class in Victorian England.

Clearly, cricket touches deep and conflicting emotions in both our countries, and provides an added value to society. The Ancient Greeks understood the value of games and it is a pity that over the intervening thousands of years we have not built on their example. It is a good time to do so and I shall focus my theme on cricket.

From the earliest days of Alfred Mynn to W.G. Grace, cricket has been built on personality. Find a Bradman, find a Sobers and the game will flourish. Some cricketers, famous in their pomp, fade with the passing of time. Their day done, their memory is laid gently to rest until they are quite forgotten. But the elite grow in the memory. Their reputation is enhanced.

One such is Frank Worrell. Not just because he was a great cricketer. Or because he was a great captain. Both of those things, of course. but also because, during a time of strife, he did much to unite black and white opinion. I fancy Don Bradman was not only thinking of cricket when he eulogised him as – I paraphrase: “a fine thinker with a broad outlook”.

It is universally acknowledged that Frank Worrell was a fine man. That elemental cricket force, Sir Leary Constantine tells us more: Frank Worrell – the thirteenth West Indian captain – was superstitious. Bowled first ball in a game in Australia, he changed every item of clothing for the second innings, only to be bowled first ball again. I’m sure Clyde Walcott intended to tease rather than console when he asked: “Why do I always face a hat-trick when I follow you?”.

When people talk of Frank Worrell some ancestral folk memory makes them smile. Perhaps it was his serenity: even maintained at moments of high drama – such as the Australian Test at Brisbane, forty years ago, when Joe Solomon ran out Ian Meckiff to bring about the most famous tie in all Test history. The smile at his memory is a smile of affection.

He was one of a trinity. Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott. Of an age, born only a few miles apart, all Barbadians, all world class batsmen and all honoured with a Knighthood for the way they played the game. It is a story unique in the annals of cricket: we have never seen its like before and may never do so again. Not even Alexandre Dumas would have had the temerity to conjure up such a trio. Athos, Porthos and Aramis may have been heroes – but they couldn’t bat.

My memory of West Indies cricket stretches back – just – to the 1950’s Tourists: to hundreds by Alan Rae as well as the “Ws”. I was too young to see that team play but, even as a seven year old, I followed every match in detail. I will turn to the immortal Lords Test of that year a little later.

I did see the 1957 team. I saw Frank Worrell open the batting and the bowling in a Test at Trent Bridge when he carried his bat through the innings for 191 – not even my comic book heroes in the “Rover” and the “Wizard” were able to produce such a dazzling performance.

It would be unwise – perhaps even reckless – to admit to a Barbadian audience that one of my fondest cricketing memories is the epic May-Cowdrey partnership of 411 to save a Test match against the West Indies in 1957. In self-defence, let me add that it was a backs-to-the-wall effort employing bat and, in Colin’s case pads, to deny Sonny Ramadhin after Collie Smith had scored a majestic 161 in a partnership of nearly 200 with Frank Worrell.

On that tour I had my first sight of Gary Sobers and Wes Hall – and I knew the West Indies would be a formidable cricketing power for years to come. What I did not know, of course, is what lay over the horizon: Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Viv Richards, Michael Marshall, Michael Holding, Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Lance Gibbs – and so many others: all fine players in a long and golden period for West Indies cricket.

But let me go back to my belief that cricket touches the emotions. I myself saw it do so. In the 1950s I moved, with my parents, elder brother and sister to two rooms on the fourth floor of an old Victorian house in Brixton, South London. As accommodation, it was not much but, at the time, we were lucky to have it. My father, whose business had failed, was over 70, sick and nearly blind and my mother, although much younger, was in poor health. My family had no money. We were in debt. My mother often had to borrow so we could eat – but we were not alone in our predicament.

The 1950s and 60s was a time of massive immigration to England from the West Indies, and most of the new Britons settled in Brixton. The house we lived in was, for a time, multi-occupied and multi-racial and provided a good primer on poverty for a future Conservative Prime Minister. I knew the immigrants as neighbours. I lived with them. I played with their children. I shopped in Brixton market – just as they did. I saw them for what they were: men and women seeking opportunity and a new life in a land immeasurably more wealthy than the one they had left behind.

Others, more fearful, more suspicious, saw them in a harsher light. They feared for their jobs and their livelihoods. They were frightened of a turmoil of change in their neighbourhoods. Bigots and foolish men inflamed these fears. Pessimists predicted trouble. Brixton became a powder-keg of racial discontent. People waited for it to blow. Waited for the riots, the lawlessness. They waited in vain. The new Britons settled in. The dire predictions of conflict proved to be wrong.

In my youthful innocence, I wasn’t surprised. Instead of inciting fear, the bigots and pessimists should have gone to The Kennington Oval where, when the West Indies played, it was carnival time: the atmosphere was noisy and full of fun as the crowd enjoyed glorious days of cricket. For those in the packed ground, the painful reality of life in Brixton was put aside, even though at close of play it was still there. Prejudice and hardship were daily companions to the new Brixtonians. Dr Johnson, who knew London 200 years earlier had it right:

“This mournful truth is everywhere confessed. Slow rises worth, by poverty depressed”.

Slow rises worth – but it did rise. And the West Indies’ cricket, the way they played and the way the team conducted themselves in victory, did much to help. In 1950, they took on England at her own game, in her own country, at the very headquarters of cricket.

And they beat her on merit. Perhaps no win in cricket ever had such social significance as Ramadhin and Valentine’s destruction of England at Lord’s. A big hundred by Clyde Walcott set it up: it was then won by the charm and guile of the cricketing sophisticates’ delight: the art of great spin bowling. It was intelligent cricket – the West Indies out-thought England as well as out-played them. As a result, all West Indians walked a little taller in their tough lives because their national cricket team had lifted their morale. No wonder the calypso rang out: “Cricket, lovely cricket, indeed!”.

It is the classic illustration of the power of cricket. It can uplift whole communities – whole nations even – or cast them down. And, because cricket is played in the mind, because it reflects the society from which the cricketers spring, it can imprint the character of that nation indelibly upon the minds of those who watch the way in which their national team play.

Other sport has this effect up to a point, but cricket has it to a very high degree: it is why the attractive nature of West Indies cricket is so distinctive from that of an English, Australian, or Sri Lankan team.

When I drove from the airport two days ago I passed the Gary Sobers roundabout – I assume a racehorse, a betting shop and a putting green will be added shortly – and also the Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott roundabouts. Here is an unbuttoned nation that gives cricket a proper priority. In England, we give such roundabouts uninspiring and sometimes unspeakably awful names.

Since sport can have such a dynamic effect upon a community and can spring so much from the very core of a nation it is puzzling that the opportunities it offers are so rarely taken advantage of, and it so often falls off the social agenda of Governments.

Why is this? Many politicians love sport. Your first Lecturer, Michael Manley, wrote a distinguished history of West Indies cricket. Yet Michael Manley is among the exceptions: too often, the merits of sport are ignored by the statesman. He seems to have a puritanical instinct that relegates sport to a subordinate interest, as mere entertainment, as optional and unworthy of his interest and involvement. He misses its wider significance. He prefers gravity to gaiety. Fun is beneath his eyeline.

It shouldn’t be. Sport matters and we should use it wisely. For sport not only uplifts, it can set an example to society –a fact I wish today’s “sledgers” and “false appealers” and “non-walkers” would remember. Once more, that 1950’s game at Lord’s illustrates the point.

I moved to Brixton soon after this great game and observed its long legacy. When I played street cricket against lamp-posts, West Indian boys tried to spin soft balls on the unresponsive pavement. It did not bother them that the ball had no seam: they still tried to spin it. They wished to bowl like Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine and as they played they believed they were Ramadhin and Valentine. It was a vivid illustration that the impressionable young will copy their heroes, which places a responsibility upon those they imitate that Frank Worrell exemplified to perfection.

It will not be easy to upgrade sport within the priorities of Government. We mustn’t be naive: Government must weigh sport against the creation of jobs, health, education, social security, domestic infrastructure and much else besides. Their task is not easy but I believe more can be done that will help sport and Governments.

Children immersed in sport are not causing trouble on the streets. Children immersed in sport are less likely to be involved in drugs and crime. Such children can see that someone is supervising them, caring for them and making it possible for them to pursue an activity which they enjoy. Sport is a good social bargain for any community.

Some argue that Governments shouldn’t concern themselves with something so transitory as sport. That, to do so, is the modern equivalent of Roman bread and circuses. Moreover, they argue that if there is a demand for it, the market will provide. It is puritanism run wild but up to a point it is true. But only up to a point.

The market won’t provide sporting facilities for children at school or for villages or minor clubs. It’s not commercial to do so. Certainly, in the UK, the market hasn’t provided for the residents, young or old, of the inner cities – many of whom are West Indian. And those residents have lost something of real social benefit.

I believe children have a right to sport and leisure. They are as important components to their development as literature and mathematics and – for most children – likely to give them some of the happiest memories of their childhood.

Even now – fifty years on – which of us cannot remember the sheer joy of putting linseed oil on a real bat, wearing whites, padding up and stepping out onto the pitch? I wouldn’t deny that pleasure to any child.

It is a cliche to say that the future of cricket requires the affiliation of the young, but that doesn’t make it untrue: we need them as players and we need them as spectators. Only by exposing children to the joy of cricket – even if they have no aptitude for it – can we inspire a love of the game. The long-term health of cricket requires the lifelong affection of the child who can’t play as well as the skills of those who can. And that affection must be won against the attractions, not only of other sport, but the television age and the computer revolution which offer powerful non-sporting, non-team-playing, non-character-forming challenges to outdoor recreation.

Once, cricket was an escape from obscurity to fame, poverty to comfort, exclusion to inclusion. These motives are less strong today. These days, each successive generation of young has a greater choice of how to spend their leisure time: once cricket and soccer were unchallenged recreations – but no longer. So we cricket-lovers must ask: how do we attract and develop future talent to our game?

As a boy, in one way, Frank Worrell was lucky. At Combermere School, the Administrator, the Reverend “Buff” Armstrong treated sport as seriously as he did academic studies.

Quite right too: children need both. The young Worrell was exposed to scholar-athletes. He played in the First XI and hence, in those days, against high class opposition at the age of 13. Even earlier, at the age of 9, he was bowling his left-arm spinners to top class batsmen in the nets. No wonder this precocious talent blossomed.

When Prime Minister, I sought to raise money for sport and other good causes by establishing a National Lottery. For doing so, I was assailed on all fronts. The Churches hated it: they attacked me for encouraging gambling. The Football Pools hated it: they attacked me for costing them money. The Press hated it: they attacked me out of habit. Very few spoke out in support. Fortunately, I got my way. My passion for cricket was well known and no-one stood in the way of it.

My colleagues had seen how notes of the up-to-date Test score were brought into Cabinet Meetings every few minutes. When this ritual first began the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine, was baffled. He witnessed the progress of the notes: Prime Minister, Cabinet Secretary, Chancellor of the Exchequer – and feared some kind of currency crisis.

After a while, his self-restraint snapped and he asked to see one of the notes: it was a crisis: England 27-2 after 10 overs. Michael was utterly bewildered but then, for all his virtues, he’s no cricketer.

And so the Lottery went ahead – and, thus far, has raised around £2,000m for sport at all levels: the money has gone to village greens, for cricket nets and rollers, to youth teams and club teams, as well as to the re-building of our national grounds.

Together with other initiatives from cricket authorities, it has helped ensure that more people are playing cricket in England today than for generations.

And this is despite the decline in school cricket. Here, I know, I did less than I should. I should have acted more comprehensively on sport in schools when I had the power to do so and know it now with all the clarity that comes to those who review their mistakes with honesty.

Today, a gifted sportsman leaving school and seeking either a career – or simple enjoyment – has more sporting choices than ever before – witness the upsurge in popularity of soccer, tennis, golf, rugby or, in the West Indies, basketball and baseball. All of these are an alternative to cricket and – with the possible exception of rugby – all offer far more financial rewards to the talented sportsman. All these games are of value but I do believe that cricket may offer wider social rewards than any of them.

Many years ago that great cricketer, Prince Ranjitsingh, analysed a cricket crowd:

“There are all sorts and conditions of men around the ropes – bricklayers, bank clerks, soldiers, postmen and stockbrokers. And in the pavilion are QCs, artists, Archdeacons and leader writers. Bad men, good men, workers and idlers are all there and all at one in their keen-ness over the game … cricket brings the most opposite characters and the most diverse lives together”.

Here is the value: to a remarkable extent, cricket is cohesive – not divisive.

Again, I saw myself that Ranjitsingh was right. In the mid-1990s Nelson Mandela invited me to speak to the South African Parliament for the first post-Apartheid visit of a British Prime Minister.

I took with me some famous sporting personalities and we visited Soweto. Colin Cowdrey and Alec Stewart presided over cricket nets. That wonderful athlete Judy Simpson held a masterclass in athletics. Bobby Charlton demonstrated his mastery of football. In the nets, I bowled Steve Tshwete, the South African Sports Minister, first ball. All Soweto turned out and the sports stars were mobbed – but cricket held sway, except for one small boy.

He had been coached on hurdling by Judy Simpson and told to practice all the time. He was then on cricket coached by Colin Cowdrey. “I’ll practice night and day, Mr Cowdrey”, the boy promised. “No” said a horrified Colin, “you must get plenty of sleep too”. And he put down his cricket bat and began hurdling over it.

As the boy walked away shaking his head, I heard him mutter: “The cricket man says I’ve got to sleep. Cricket must be for sissies”.

That apart, during those hours in Soweto there was a bursting out of sheer, exuberant joy amidst hardship. Never doubt the healing properties of sport.

So – let us recognise – the social case for cricket is a convincing one. It can uplift the morale of communities – even nations; it can imprint national characteristics favourably – even on a hostile mind; it is a good social bargain; it has socially healing properties; and can provide icons for the young to follow.

If you doubt that cricket has these characteristics, doubt it touches the deeper instincts of people, then reflect a moment: are the streets ever aflame with excitement over a politician’s triumph in negotiating a Treaty, or a businessman’s success in winning a contract? I think not. No calypsos are written about such triumphs. Can you imagine a calypso: “Treaty, lovely Treaty” or “Contract, lovely contract”. Hardly. Nor are Treaties or contracts the talk of the streets, the workplace or the town bars. But a Test victory can be quite another matter. It is argued over endlessly, pored over, even gloated over.

Those of us who love cricket must help cast its spell in the future. It won’t be easy: cricket faces many rivals for its eminent position in the world of sport. It is a game that, in its finest expression, takes five days to complete and – even then – may end without a result.

I said this to President Bush – the father – once and his eyes glazed over. I said it to Boris Yeltsin too, over a large cup of vodka and his eyes glazed over too – although that could well have been the vodka.

So, in our age of instant gratification, cricket is not an easy sell to the public.

And, yet, to secure cricket’s future, we must attract that public. If interest falls, sponsorship falls, gate money falls –and the game falls.

To encourage interest, cricket administrators have become ever more creative and some of their changes have become crowd-pullers: in particular, One Day cricket. Even a 20-Over version of the game is to be launched to attract the young. Day-Night games, coloured clothing, white balls may all upset the traditionalist but are an attempt to attract a new audience.

Even technology, in a haphazard way, has entered the game. Once we pretended to believe that umpires were infallible or that their rare mistakes evened out over time. “Frank Chester never made mistakes”, one old Test player said to me. No doubt Mr Chester was a great umpire but yes he did – although his mistakes weren’t caught on film. The pitiless eye of the slow motion camera, replayed time after time, now exposes the fallibility of modern umpires in a way their predecessors never faced. As a result, many important games are marked by outcries against poor decisions, especially if they turn the outcome of the game. I sometimes think Steve Bucknor takes so long to make a decision in the hope that the film will fade.

Pity the poor umpire: the pressure on him grows constantly both on the pitch – where aggressive appealing has become an unattractive art form and “walking” a lost art – and from television. The philosophical argument over whether we should use electronic aids seemed at the outset to be finely balanced. The traditionalist said “no”; the modernists said “yes”.

Although my heart is with the traditionalist, my head says the argument was lost the moment technology was used for the first time. There is no logic at all in a situation in which umpires are saved from poor run-out decisions but offered no assistance with LBWs or feather-touch snicks behind the wicket.

If the umpire is entitled to verify some decisions with technological aids, then why should he not, at his discretion, be able to verify all? Anything less is simply a lottery, unsettling to the players and infuriating for the spectator who sees within seconds on the slow-motion television replay whether the correct decision was made. In the last year, several Test Matches have been won or lost by decisions we know to have been wrong.

Some will argue that a reliance on technology belittles the authority of the umpire. I disagree. What belittles authority is a decision that is self-evidently wrong. The best of umpires – say David Shephard or Steve Bucknor – give a high percentage of fine decisions – but even they are not infallible and with around two dozen camera positions around the ground, replays in close-up, stump cameras, microphones, snickometers and tramlines, any wrong decision is soon given massive exposure. It would take but seconds for the on-field umpire – and again, I re-emphasise at his discretion – to confer with the third umpire to cut down the majority of errors. The game, I think, would be the winner and spectators and players alike far less frustrated. It should also cut out the unattractive sight of on-field dissent and attempts to pressurise the umpire.

Elsewhere, the on-field umpires might be given more unfettered power: Are the laws on bad light fair? Should the choice of whether to leave the field continue to be offered to batsmen – since it is exercised, more often than not, upon the state of the game and not the light. Or should the umpires be given absolute discretion?

Similar considerations apply in limited overs games where the side fielding first may be penalised for a slow over rate by having overs deducted from their batting time. Should not the umpires have some sanction upon the side fielding second if their progress is tardy?

And should we not also look again at infringements to the spirit of cricket? Ball tampering, sledging, over-aggressive appealing – often downright, dishonest appealing – pressurising of umpires, all of which are the small change of unsportsmanlike behaviour. In these days of greater financial rewards for success, some cricketers regard such behaviour as acceptable. I don’t: at its worst, it’s cheating and I believe it costs cricket support.

So, more vividly, does evidence of corruption. The impetus for corruption is fraud: to fix bets for financial gain. We shouldn’t pretend this is new. Betting, together with breweries, were the prime motors for the growth of the game in England in the 19th century and no doubt there was a lot of malpractice then. But, until recently, we believed cricket was clean and it has been shocking to discover that it is not.

All this is fatal to a game where the spirit in which it is played is as important to its most avid followers as the result. To retain those followers, cricket must root out those who mar the reputation of the game. And, as they do so, cricket authorities must beware of being too loud in their criticism of the misdemeanours of “foreign” players, yet too “understanding” of those committed by members of their own teams. The ICC needs to rule upon this problem, publish penalties for misbehaviour – and insist they are enforced, irrespective of the identity of the miscreant.

Once, cricket was an English game. Now it belongs to many countries. Around the world, one in every two spectators is an Indian – a less startling statistic than it seems when one considers the massive population of India compared to other cricket-playing nations.

The West Indies are an important part of cricket history and cricket has returned the compliment: cricket has been an important strand in the self-determination of the West Indies Islands.

The game of cricket today is a far cry from the age of humbug when W.G. Grace pocketed large fees for playing cricket at the same time he symbolised and promoted the concept of the Gentleman Amateur. We have moved on from the age when, in England, the Captain, the Amateurs and the Professional players all used different dressing rooms and stepped onto the pitch through separate gates. Somehow, these images symbolise days now past.


In our more egalitarian age, cricket can still hold up a reflective light upon our times: we must ensure it reflects the best of our times, not the worst.

As we strive to do so, the life of Frank Worrell still has much to offer us. Although it was cruelly cut short his memory is as potent as ever.

Tonight, so close to his final resting place, we can say that Frank Worrell isn’t truly gone while we can talk of him and re-live his exploits.

He isn’t gone while his example remains with us; whilst he lives in the memory of those who knew him; whilst there are still those who can see him as if he were still here and conjure him up for a new generation.

Frank Worrell is part of the West Indies gift to cricket history. With George Headley, Leary Constantine and George Challenor. And latterly with Malcolm Marshall and Conrad Hunte.

All of them could only have been West Indian cricketers: they played themselves into the very core of West Indies life and culture and, as they did so, changed the face of cricket far beyond their own Islands.

We owe it to them to protect the game they loved with such a passion and enriched with such skill and charm. For that, and for much else, we are forever in their debt.