Mischievous West Indies batsman and administrator who took a young Brian Lara under his wing writes Tony Cozier
JOEY CAREW’s impact on West Indies cricket cannot possibly be judged by his modest record in 19 Tests, spread over 10 years during the rise and fall of the Worrell and Sobers eras.
His more telling influence was in two capacities that followed the end of his time as an attractive, adventurous left-handed batsman and captain of Trinidad and Tobago. He was mentor to the embryonic Brian Lara, who spent most of his teenage days as part of the Carew household, and a West Indies selector on three separate occasions, in good times and bad. He was player and administrator for exactly 50 years up until 2006. A few weeks before his death he could be found at his beloved Queen’s Park Club, of which he was club manager, sharing his forthright views on cricketers and cricket and horses and horse racing, his other sporting passion.
Christened Michael Conrad, he was known as Joey from the moment his father linked his son’s clenched fist on birth with that of Joe Louis, then world heavy-weight champion.
His reputation as a leader was firmly established when he led underrated Trinidad and Tobago to successive regional Shell Shield championships in 1970 and 1971, the first captain to do so. His batting (523 runs in 1970 at an average of 87.16) and straight-forward, if not straight, off-spin were significant but neither more so than his captaincy.
By then, elevated by Frank Worrell from middle order to opener, he had struggled in two Tests in each of the 1963 and 1966 West Indies tours of England, his temperament and technique unsuited to the climate and the conditions. He flourished in the more agreeable environment of Australia and New Zealand in 1968-69 when his 683 runs in the eight Tests (average 48.78) included his only hundred, 109 in the victory over New Zealand at Auckland. He retired in 1974, aged 36, but his passion for the game kept him intimately, and beneficially, involved.
His relationship with Lara is now part of Caribbean folklore. Fatima College, which they both attended, was less than a mile away from the Carew residence in the Port-of-Spain suburb of Woodbrook but some considerable distance from Lara’s family home in the central Trinidad village of Cantara. Since the daily commute would limit practice, Michael, the eldest of Carew’s two sons, persuaded his father, and mother, Marian, to take in his closest school friend, a stripling of a boy but even then one of rare potential. The proximity of the Queen’s Park and its famous Test- match ground was another advantage for the precocious youngster.
If Lara’s genius was unique, it was honed by Carew, whose effect was more evident in Lara’s often unconventional tactics in his three terms as West Indies captain.
Lara, in his eulogy, referred to Carew as his second father and “the best captain the West Indies never had”. It was ironic, then, that Carew, then chairman, resigned as selector after Lara’s public and forthright criticism of the panel following the 1-0 home series defeat against India in 2006. He maintained that his protégé’s comments were not a factor in his decision yet, sitting with him in the departure lounge at Kingston airport the next day, I knew he was deeply hurt.
Traditional and uncompromising as he was about the game’s standards, Carew possessed a quick wit and an impish sense of humour that made him a popular team man.
In outback towns on the 1968-69 trip to Australia he would whisper fictitious names to the innocent attendant announcing the players’ entrance to the mandatory mayoral reception. To everyone’s amusement, not least his own, he passed himself off as Christopher Columbus or Marlon Brando or Fidel Castro until one alert official proclaimed to the assembled gathering: “There’s a cricketer here who thinks he’s Elvis Presley.”
When the illness that took his life caused his right leg to be amputated, Carew laughed from his hospital bed that he would now be committed to playing only on the back foot. He told the visiting Deryck Murray, his Queen’s Park, Trinidad and West Indies team-mate, that, until then, he thought he had survived the worst in life by fending off Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith on a lively Kensington Oval pitch.
Several former West Indies players, among them Hall, flew in from across the Caribbean for the funeral – and, in Michael Holding’s case, Miami. It was a measure of the esteem in which he was held.
Michael Conrad Carew was born on September 15, 1937 and died on January 8, 2011, aged 73.
Tony Cozier has written on West Indies cricket for more than 50 years