Remarks of Ambassador Odeen Ishmael of Guyana at the Testimonial Dinner in Honor of Lance Gibbs - Miami, 16 March 1996
In Washington, when you go outside at night and gaze at the sky, you do not see many stars because of the large amount of light that shines out from the surrounding buildings. I remember when I was growing up in the Guyanese countryside we could see thousands of stars in the night sky, especially on a very dark night. Over the past few years I regret to say that I have not been able to see many stars. But happily that is compensated tonight with the presence of so many of our West Indian cricket stars who are here tonight with us to honor Lance Gibbs.
A few weeks ago when I was informed of this event, I thought that it was indeed a wonderful idea for such a worthy and talented hero of Guyana and the Caribbean to be honored by his own people. When I was told that I would be required to say something at this function, I wondered if that was a good idea since I felt that I would be at a loss for words to express gratitude and congratulations to such a great cricket hero as Lance Gibbs. You see, it has always been my fear that such a situation would arise some day. It is rather easy for me to speak at a forum on issues such as international affairs, politics, economic and trade issues, and probably even to negotiate matters dealing with relations between Guyana and other countries. But when it comes to paying tribute to one who is regarded throughout Guyana and the Caribbean, and indeed the cricketing world, as a sports idol, it is very difficult not to repeat what has already been said at so many events like this. So if you hear me saying things that you have heard before, you must try to be a diplomat and pretend that it is the first time you are hearing such wonderful ideas.
I need not tell you of the cricketing statistics that Lance Gibbs has left indelibly on the record books. I am sure that many of you are armed with these statistics already, and if I do venture to give some of them, I may slip up and members of this audience may end up shouting corrections to me, and Mr. Gibbs himself may intervene by correcting all of us.
Since we are on the topic of cricket and the distinguished service that Lance Gibbs has rendered to it, I must use some of my time in sharing some of my own memories about this great Guyanese. I am sure that all of you have been already doing that this evening. Ever since I was attending primary school I had a great fascination with cricket. I began reading Wisden since I was in Fourth Standard (for those American in the audience that is equivalent to Grade 6), and I followed the exploits of batsmen, bowlers and wicket-keepers of the cricketing countries. For me, the West Indies produced the best of them all. Like all schoolboys of my day, I glued my ears to the radio and followed the feats of Guyanese and other West Indian cricketers in the annual quadrangular series involving Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados. In Guyana itself, we had the inter-county Jones Cup competition. It was out of these competitions, that talented cricketers emerged and eventually found themselves representing the West Indies. The bowling skill of Lance Gibbs was easily recognized in these competitions and he erupted into stardom when the West Indies toured Australia in 1961. We listened with excitement when he got three wickets in four balls, and we knew he had arrived on the stage on which he would play rings around batsmen. It was during the next test match that many Guyanese homes erupted into screams and jollification late in the night when he ripped the guts out from Australia by taking a hat trick. Some of you in this audience will remember that. We all felt as if we were part of the game, as if we ourselves were in the game. The late John Kennedy was not wrong when he said in an interview on January 31, 1961: "We are inclined to think that if we watch a football game or a baseball game, we have taken part in it." The same was applicable to cricket then, and even up to this day, and we were blessed to have great sportsmen like Lance Gibbs and his colleagues to make us feel this way.
I saw Lance Gibbs for the first time when West Indies played Australia at Bourda in 1965. My father took me to see the fourth day of that game - the day after the rest day. To tell you the truth, we originally planned to go to the match to see Rohan Kanhai bat. But late on the afternoon of the third day, the Australian fast bowler Neil Hawke bowled him for a duck. Nevertheless, we went on the fourth day, which was Easter Monday, and watched some fine batting by Sobers and Solomon, and when the West Indies were finally out, Australia went in to chase about 300 runs to win.
They started well, but after tea, Gibbs massacred them. I remember vividly when the Australian left-handed batsman Bill Lawry tried to sweep a Gibbs delivery and was bowled behind his back, as we say in Guyana. That was Gibbs 100th wicket in test cricket. By the close of play, Australia had lost 9 wickets. Gibbs had gotten 6 of them, with a few of them caught at backward short leg by Sobers. The next morning, the two last men were separated and West Indies had scored a resounding victory.
From then, I watched at least one day of every test match at Bourda in which Lance Gibbs played, and from 1970 to 1975, every single game played there. I got the impression that despite the fact that Lance Gibbs was a slow bowler, he was very fearsome. Many a batsman was left, as we say, drawing maps on the ground as they tried to play against his bowling. Dr. Rudy Webster who worked with the West Indies team for a while told me that many of the world's batsmen felt that Gibbs was an intimidating bowler in a sense that he finished his overs very fast. As soon as the batsman had played to a delivery, Gibbs was already moving in to send down another one. The batsman was not allowed to have a breathing space. You will recall that the West Indies made use of this special talent by using him in the World Cup in England and his spell was very economical since it was not easy for batsmen to hit out against him.
If you check the statistics, you will notice that very little is ever mentioned of his batting. But from my understanding, the gentleman loved to bat. At Bourda, I recall watching him score his highest test innings - 25 runs - and when he achieved that milestone, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. It was indeed like he had just scored a century!
But how times have changed over these fleeting years! We question now if cricket is still the gentleman's game. We see temper tantrums on the field; we watch players question the umpire's decision; we see players display themselves as if they are bigger than the game. True, in Gibbs' days, some of these things happened, but proper management and the knowledge and opinions of the public prevented many of these ugly symptoms to ever raise their heads. Earlier this evening, Alvin Kallicharran was telling me of the varying quality of umpires in the various cricketing countries. I am sure that Gibbs felt at times that the umpire was not fair to him, but without the umpire the game would have no management and no order. Indeed, it is said that ideally, the umpire should combine the integrity of a Supreme Court justice, the physical agility of an acrobat, the endurance of Job and the calmness of Buddha.
We are all concerned today of the future of West Indies cricket. Remember, cricket is the only area so far which has unified the nations of the English-speaking Caribbean. There are other areas in the fields of politics and economics which are being worked upon, but these will take some time to blend together for us to form a united Caribbean nation. In the meanwhile, we have to work with what good things we have going. Cricket is one of those good things, and we must as cricket enthusiasts, and as Caribbean citizens, ensure that nothing detrimental is done to undermine the unifying force that cricket has brought to our people. The exploits of great West Indian cricketers like Lance Gibbs must continue to be a source of inspiration for our young people, be they sportsmen or not. These sportsmen have inspired Caribbean unity and their motivation and example will continue to nurture it. At the same time, we must not allow their talents to go to waste. Sports heroes like Lance Gibbs form a virtual encyclopedia of knowledge and their skills and experience must be tapped for the benefit of our young people. I call upon cricket authorities in the Caribbean and also on governments of the Caribbean to utilize these skills that are available. I am sure that despite the fact that these gentlemen have year- round jobs and careers, they will be in a position to provide time during their annual leave to run seminars and short-term cricket coaching sessions in our countries. They can form part of the resource of a Cricket Academy which is so greatly needed in the West Indies.
The example of heroes like Lance Gibbs has encouraged us to strive for excellence in whatever we do. To be competent we must show discipline and we must work well. And even if we participate in sports, we must also avoid being mediocre and learn to play well. George Santayana, the Spanish-born American philosopher and poet summed it up well way back in 1920 when he wrote: "To the art of working well a civilized race would add the art of playing well."
Ladies and gentlemen, I join you this evening in saluting Lance Gibbs, sportsman and cricketer extraordinary, for his everlasting contribution not only to cricket but also to the ideals of Caribbean unity that we continue to strive for. On behalf of the Government and people of Guyana, I pay tribute to this great man and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.