LARRY GOMES
Illustration- Vasim Maner

It is rare when a cricketer who has played something like 60 Tests is largely remembered for what he did in one year.

That year was 1984 for Larry Gomes who made it his own. West Indies beat England 5-0 in summer and Australia 3-1 in the winter, in their backyards. Larry Gomes produced massive performances in both series and played a leading part in both those triumphs, which placed this West Indies team by now as the greatest in Test history.

UNUSUAL COG IN GRAND WHEEL

Southpaw Larry Gomes was an unlikely member of this team. Filled with all-time great players – explosive batsmen and lethal bowlers, he may have seemed like the odd one out.

As a remnant of the Packer-hit second XI West Indies during which time Gomes had shown himself as a batsman of substance, capable of stabilizing the team in tough situations, he was retained in the all-star team later for being an ostensibly muted presence amidst a dazzling array of bright colours.

Despite being a limited stroke-player, he brought a calm and stability that was seen as great value by captain Clive Lloyd.

RISING STOCK

Gomes’ good performances in the middle-order got him a promotion. In the 1981-82 series in Australia against Greg Chappell’s team, Gomes was pushed to number 4 after the first Test, during which his sequence of scores was 126, 43, 124 not out and 21.  West Indies drew level in the series during that third Test where Gomes narrowly missed a series-defining performance ( SD ) but he was still the highest run scorer in the series for his team.

The fine performances kept coming. In 1983, at Trinidad, West Indies were 1 run for 3 wickets at one stage against India, till Gomes (123) and Lloyd (143) rescued West Indies.

There were some ups and downs thereafter as Gomes went through an indifferent patch. And yet, confidence in him was high enough for him to be promoted to the number 3 spot when West Indies went to England in 1984.

ENGLAND, JUNE-AUGUST, 1984

First Test, Edgbaston.  Replying to England’s 191, Gomes walked out at 34 for 1, which became 35 for 2. He was out six hours later for 143, after Richards (117) and Lloyd (71) had had their say too. Eldine Baptiste (87 not out) and Michael Holding (69) made merry later and West Indies reached 606 to eventually win by an innings.

Second Test, Lord’s: On the fifth day, England thought they had 78 overs to get West Indies out.  Unfortunately for them, West Indies thought they had 342 to win. Gordon Greenidge produced one of the great Test innings of all time when he smashed an unbeaten 214 off 242 balls. Keeping him company at the other end was Gomes with an unbeaten 92, as West Indies won by 9 wickets with eleven overs to spare.

Third Test, Headingley: Replying to England’s 270, West Indies were 78 for 3 at one stage. Gomes kept it together and was unbeaten right till the end – 104 not out in a team total of 302. England collapsed and Gomes didn’t have to do much in the second innings as the Greenidge-Haynes opening pair finished off most of the match.

The series was won. Even though Gomes didn’t do much else of note in the series, he earned an SD with his massive performances.

AUSTRALIA, NOVEMBER-DECEMBER, 1984

First Test, Perth: On a notoriously bouncy pitch, West Indies were 89 for 3 as their new number 4, Gomes, settled in. He batted for 8 hours and was last out for 127. The 416 West Indies got was enough to win by an innings and 112 runs.

West Indies won the next Test too where the new West Indian number 3, a certain Richie Richardson, showed his class.

Third Test, Adelaide: Gomes got 60 in West Indies’ ostensibly ample 356, till Australia replied with 284 and had West Indies 45 for 3 (though it included nightwatchman Harper’s wicket). In came Gomes and never left – 120 not out as West Indies declared at 292 for 7. Australia lost by plenty.

Series won yet again, and Gomes’ two big performances got him another SD .

In the year 1984 then, Larry Gomes was the highest impact batsman in the world by a huge distance.

For this one year of his life, he was the batsman the others in that legendary team revolved around – the small brother who had taken charge.

Gomes scored the highest proportion of runs in a match context more than anyone else. And most interestingly, he had the third-highest Pressure Impact in the world that year after Allan Border and Saleem Malik. This fact is even more awe-inspiring given that West Indies was winning everything.

POST-LLOYD CAREER

Clive Lloyd retired after the Australian series and a new phase of West Indies cricket began, as their domination continued. With Viv Richards as captain and Richie Richardson as the preferred number 3, things changed.

Despite some good support performances, Gomes never played the leading role again. In the next two years, he played 15 Tests but declined fairly rapidly near the end. His failure rate in this period was a massive 67%.

He played his last Test in March, 1987.

A CAREER OVERVIEW

Till date, Larry Gomes is the ninth-highest impact batsman to have ever played for the West Indies (minimum 50 Tests). The usual suspects are ahead of him, though not in the expected order perhaps – Brian Lara, Garry Sobers, Viv Richards, Richie Richardson, Gordon Greenidge, Clive Lloyd, Frank Worrell and Desmond Haynes.

So, Gomes is higher impact than Jimmy Adams, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle, Rohan Kanhai, Clyde Walcott and Carl Hooper. Not something his batting average of 39.6 would quite let on.

MOST SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTION

Interestingly, in West Indian cricket history, when it comes to absorbing pressure (of falling wickets), the highest impact batsmen in that aspect are Brian Lara, Jimmy Adams and Shivnarine Chanderpaul. No surprises there, given how much their respective teams struggled in later years.

The remarkable thing is that Larry Gomes is next on that list.

This is very significant because even the world’s best side of the time needed someone to stabilize the situation far more often than is perhaps acknowledged. It is tantalizing to imagine what could have happened if history had not provided Larry Gomes to that jaw-dropping line-up of players.

Perhaps, this was Gomes’ biggest contribution to arguably the greatest Test team of all time.

A quiet, but hugely significant contribution.

 

 

Jaideep Varma

NOTE: Impact Index has undergone an upgradation in November 2015, and though 95% of its findings remain the same, there have been some minor shifts. This piece was updated post that, and is up-to-date as of August 2016.