May 30, 1909
November 30, 1983
The son of migrant workers from Barbados and Jamaica, George Alphonso Headley was born in Colón, Panama. When he was ten, he was taken to Jamaica, where he grew up in the care of his aunt, as his parents migrated to Cuba and then to the United States. Exposed to cricket in Jamaica, he quickly developed a passion for the sport. By age seventeen he was already making his mark in local competitive cricket and was first selected to represent Jamaica in 1928 against a visiting English team led by Lord Tennyson. His innings of 252 runs in the first match announced his arrival to the entire region, and it was utterly surprising that he was not selected for the first West Indies test tour to England that summer. However, he made his test debut on the England tour of the West Indies in 1930. In his very first match he became the first West Indian to score a test century with his innings of 176 runs in Barbados, and then "immortalized" himself by scoring centuries in each innings of the British Guiana test match. His mammoth innings of 223 in the final test in Jamaica was the highest score by any cricketer in the fourth innings of a test match.
His prodigious talent, however, was severely tested when the West Indies toured Australia in 1930–1931. But after initially struggling against the best bowlers in the world, he rose to the challenge to score two centuries in the third and fifth tests. He again distinguished himself on a gruelling tour of England in 1934 with a magnificent 169 not out in the second test, and when England visited in 1935 he crowned his very successful series with 270 not
out in the final match in Jamaica. His outstanding batting performances were instrumental in helping the West Indies win their first ever test series. If the 1939 tour of England was less successful for the West Indies, Headley once again wrote himself into record books by becoming the first player to score centuries in each innings at Lords, then considered the mecca of world cricket.
The Second World War, however, more or less put an end to Headley's test career. Although he played in three test matches after the war and became the first black man to captain a West Indian test team in the Barbados match against England in 1948, injury and disagreement with the selectors combined to limit his performances. He played his last test match in Jamaica in 1953. But his career statistics speak for themselves. In just twenty-two test matches, he amassed 2,190 runs, including ten centuries, for an average of 60.83.
George Headley was not simply the best West Indian batsman of his generation, earning him the pseudonym "Atlas" for literally carrying the rest of the team on his shoulders, he was revered by the mass of black West Indians who, fondly calling him "Mas George," identified their own struggles for social equality and political self-determination with his performances on the cricket field. The dedication of the largest pavilion at Sabina Park in Jamaica, and the national award of the Order of Jamaica, were therefore fitting tributes to a great West Indian.
See also Sports
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Goodwin, Clayton. Caribbean Cricketers: From the Pioneers to Packer. London: Harrap, 1980.
James, C. L. R. Beyond the Boundary. London: Hutchinson, 1963.
Lawrence, Bridgette. 100 Great West Indian Test Cricketers: From Challenor to Richards. London: Hansib, 1988.
Manley, Michael. A History of West Indies Cricket. London: Andre Deutsch, 1988.
Richards, Jimmy, and Mervyn Wong. Red Stripe Statistics of West Indies Cricket, 1865-1989. Kingston, Jamaica: Heinemann Publishers Caribbean, 1990.
Ross, Gordon. A History of West Indies Cricket. London: A. Baker, 1976.
White, Noel, and George Headley. George 'Atlas' Headley. Kingston: Institute of Jamaica, 1974.
brian l. moore (2005)