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100 years of George Headley: George Headley - more than a great cricketer

Tony Becca, Contributing Editor

Who is the greatest Jamaican of all time? Is it Paul Bogle, is it George William Gordon, is it Marcus Garvey, is it Alexander Bustamante, is it Norman Manley, is it Bob Marley, is it Usain Bolt, or is it George Headley?

It could be any of those eight great men. Each and every one of them, in his own way, from Bogle, who fought the good fight and died for doing so, through Marley, who raised his voice in protest, to Bolt, who raced down the track like a flash of lightning, contributed to Jamaica's greatness in almost every endeavour.

To a number of Jamaicans, however, even though sports is less important than many other things in the priorities of life and is not necessary to living a good, happy, and healthy life, the greatest Jamaican ever was Headley - the cricketer extraordinaire, the man they called 'Atlas', and the one the masses knew, affectionately, as 'Maas George'.

Panamanian parents

Born 100 years ago today in Panama to a Jamaican mother and a Barbadian father, Headley, who died in 1983 after receiving the Order of Jamaica, came to Jamaica at age eight, and from the age of 18 when he first represented Jamaica, from the age of 20 when he first represented the West Indies, the name Headley was synonymous with Jamaica and with the West Indies.

As a batsman, Headley played in 22 Test matches, he scored 2,190 runs and 10 centuries - including one on debut and two double centuries - at an average of 60.83, and once at Bourda, once at Lord's, he scored two centuries in the same match.

In his first series, four Test matches against England, Headley scored four centuries; in his first nine matches, including five against Australia, Headley scored six centuries; and only God knows what brilliance he would have achieved had World War II not interrupted his career in 1939.

greatness on the field

At that stage, Headley, at 30, was in the pink of his career. His 10 centuries came in 19 matches and 35 innings - a performance bettered only by the great Don Bradman of Australia.

After the war, after almost 10 years had elapsed and his eyes were dim and his reflexes not as fast as they were before, Headley played in only three more Test matches, one in 1948, one in 1949, one in 1950, and scored a mere 55 runs in five innings.

Headley's greatness, however, his claim to be one of the greatest Jamaicans - if not the greatest - who ever lived, transcends his greatness on the cricket field.

Headley's greatness was the way, the manner in which he motivated the Jamaican people.

Stepping on to the stage in 1928 as a little boy from Rae Town, Headley, at a time when the people harboured dreams of stepping out, when the people were moving to escape the shackles of colonialism, when the people were looking for a leader from among them, carried with him the hopes and aspirations of the people, and after cracking 211 against Lord Tennyson's X1 in his second match, he became, forevermore, the representative of the people, the ambassador of the people, and the hero of the people.

inspiration to the people

To the Jamaican people, Headley was an inspiration, he was the one who gave them hope, he was the one who made them dream, he was the one who opened the doors for them, and he was the one who, more than likely, made it possible not only for the country's athletes to scale the heights, to reach the mountain top, but also for other Jamaicans in other fields of endeavour.

Men like Herb McKenley, Arthur Wint, George Rhoden and Les Laing, and now others like Asafa Powell and Bolt; women like Cynthia Thompson, Merlene Ottey, Grace Jackson, Juliet Cuthbert, Deon Hemmings, Veronica Campbell-Brown, and now others like Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson, Kerron Stewart and Melaine Walker owe a debt of gratitude to Headley.

So, too, do others, many, many other great Jamaicans, probably even political leaders like Bustamante and Manley, and one like Marley.

For many years, a long time after he had put away his bat, I travelled this country with Headley, and wherever we went, anywhere we went, it was the same story: the people, but especially so the old men and the old women, greeted him like a hero - like a god.

"Is that George Headley, is that Maas George," they would ask as they whispered in my ear. "Yes," I would answer, and in no time people, a host of them, gathered around just to say hello, just to touch him, or just to shake his hand.

George Headley was one of a kind.

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