Everton Weekes and his fellow gamers impressed a technology

To the outsider, cricket is a bafflingly genteel game. But those who know the game, know also that few sports so seethe with political tension.

In the 19th century, the governor of Bombay Lord Harris called cricket “the building block of Empire”. In the 20th century, it became a vehicle for forging anti-imperialist consciousness. Nowhere more so than in the West Indies. As CLR James observed in his book Beyond a Boundary, where the English had “Drake and mighty Nelson, Shakespeare, Waterloo” to help “constitute a national tradition”, Caribbean peoples had “none that we know of”. The “three Ws”, he wrote, helped to “fill a huge gap in their consciousness and in their needs”.

The “three Ws” were Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes, all Barbadians, who transformed West Indies cricket from the late 1940s. Last week, Weekes died, the last of the three Ws.

Weekes was perhaps the best batsman of the three, described as the closest to the peerless Don Bradman. But his significance, as of all three Ws, lay not just on the cricket field.

Race, politics and cricket were inextricably intertwined in the West Indies. In the 1950s, James, as editor of the Nation newspaper, launched a campaign to challenge the insistence that the West Indies captain had to be white. Eventually, in 1960, Worrell became the first black captain, a defining moment in Caribbean political consciousness. There is, James wrote, “a whole generation of us … formed by cricket, not only in social attitudes but in our most intimate personal lives”. The passing of Weekes is also the cutting of a link to that defining generation.

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• Kenan Malik is an Observer columnist

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