Cricket and Independence
The Master of spin bowling Pt 2 of 2
The early 1960s were Lance Gibbs’ most productive period in Test cricket, and his greatest achievements came in the 1961–62 home series against India. In five Tests he took 24 wickets at just 20.41 runs each, including one of the game’s greatest spells of bowling at Bridgetown, where he single-handedly reduced India from 149/2 to 187 all out with eight wickets in 15.3 overs at a total cost of just six runs; Lance’s final innings return of 8/38 was his best in a Test match. In 1963 West Indies toured England, and Lance had another highly successful series, taking 26 wickets at 21.30 including 5/59 and 6/98 in a ten-wicket triumph at Manchester. Further successful series followed: indeed, in eight successive series topped and tailed by the 1960–61 and 1968–69 tours to Australia, Lance never took fewer than 18 Test wickets and took five or more wickets in an innings on 12 occasions.
In 1967 Lance played for Warwickshire in the English County Championship, for whom he would continue to appear each season until 1973, although his appearances in 1969 and 1973 were reduced because of his commitments with West Indies’ tours of England. In 1970, after a winter spent with South Australia, he took a career-best 8/37 against Glamorgan, but by far his most successful season in England was 1971, when he claimed 131 first-class wickets at only 18.89, with nine five-wicket hauls. This exceptional performance gained Gibbs a Wisden Cricketer of the Year award in the following year’s Almanack.
In 1973, at the age of almost 39, Lance made his One Day International debut against England at Leeds as part of the Prudential Trophy tournament, taking the wicket of England captain Mike Denness. He played only two further ODIs: the first again being against England two days later at the Oval (11–4–12–1 and the wicket of John Jameson), and a single outing against Sri Lanka at Manchester in the 1975 World Cup, in which he bowled just four overs without success.
Lance’s’ last Test matches were played on the tour of Australia in 1975–76. Although he played in all six Tests, and took 5/102 in the first innings of the first Test at Brisbane, his 16 wickets came at an average of over 40. He passed the milestone of 300 Test victims at Perth by dismissing Gary Gilmour. His last Test match, and indeed his last appearance in senior cricket of any description, was at Melbourne, his 309th and final Test wicket being that – again – of Gilmour.In addition to being Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker for five years before Dennis Lillee broke the record, Lance was also an outstanding fielder to his own bowling and a gully specialist where he grasped the majority of his 52 catches. Gibbs’ contribution to West Indian cricket is perhaps best summoned up by his cousin and long-time colleague, Clive Lloyd. He said: “There was never a more whole-hearted cricketer for the West Indies, nor an off-spinner in anything like his class. He was by no means a mechanical spinner, instead always thinking about the game, working an opponent out, assessing his strengths and weaknesses and laying the trap for him. A fierce competitor, he would be given a total effort, no matter if the pitch was flat and docile, no matter if the total was 300 for two and the sun scorching, no matter if his finger had been rubbed raw”.
When he was not on duty with Guyana or the West Indies, Lance represented Burnley and Whitburn in the Lancashire and Durham leagues respectively, Warwickshire – he enjoyed his best season in 1971 with 131 wickets (av. 18.89) – in the English county championship and South Australia in the Sheffield Shield competition. In 1964 as the first 1000-pound professional in the Durham senior league, he helped Whitburn win the championship with 126 wickets (av. 8.53) which remains a league record.
After his retirement from the game, Lance emigrated to Florida, in the United States, where he lives with his wife, Joy, and their two children – Richard and Kelly-Ann Cartwright – who were successful professionals. Almond Street in Georgetown, Guyana, was named after him and he is the proud owner of a prized International Cricket Council (ICC) Hall of Fame cap presented to 60 of the world’s finest players last year to mark the centenary of the sport’s governing body.
He managed the West Indies touring teams to England in 1991 and to South Africa in 2009. He is also the cricket ambassador for Digicel – the leading mobile service provider in the Caribbean – which is the West Indies team’s sponsor.