Kline… Solomon... Meckiff the man to go
Kline… Solomon... Meckiff the man to go
He kept his cool to create Test cricket's most exciting moment. And Joe Solomon, now 86, is still cool
Joe Solomon waits.
He stands at backward square-leg, closer in than usual. Everyone is closer than usual. Frank Worrell has made sure of it. Australia need one run to win; the West Indians must attack. Worrell reminds Wes Hall not to bowl a no-ball and calms his men, some of whom flap about in the excitement of the moment. Joe Solomon needs no such quieting. By his nature he is unflappable.
Three balls ago, Hall had a run-out chance from point-blank range, three stumps to aim at. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, he would hit. This is the one in a hundred. Next delivery, Hall ran towards midwicket, almost collided with Rohan Kanhai, and dropped a catch off his own bowling. Pressure does funny things, even to great players.
Joe Solomon is not a great player. He scored 65 and 47 earlier in this match, but will end his career with one Test century and an average of 34. As a batsman he lacks flair. As a fieldsman he is dazzling. His aim is true, honed by years of pelting stones at mangoes as a boy back home in Guyana. Last over he threw down the stumps from midwicket to run out Alan Davidson.
Two deliveries remain in the match. The scores are level. One run for an Australian victory, one wicket for the first tie in Test history. As Lindsay Kline faces up to Hall, he simply wants to put bat on ball, and run. The pressure is immense. But there is no more level-headed West Indian on the field than Joe Solomon. And when Kline nudges the ball behind square, Solomon is ready.
He sees the ball coming his way; he has no time to think. He acts on instinct, runs to the ball, picks it up, aims at the one and only stump he can see. And, like he did in the previous over, and like he did with all those stones aimed at mango stalks, he hits. His team-mates leap in joy. Kline's partner, Ian Meckiff, is run out. History has been made, and Joe Solomon made it.
As a batsman Solomon lacks flair. As a fieldsman he is dazzling. His aim is true, honed by years of pelting stones at mangoes as a boy back home in Guyana
History has been captured, too. Ron Lovitt, a photographer for the Age, has matched Solomon's timing and accuracy, for a similarly magical result. In Lovitt's iconic photo Meckiff is lunging for his crease, the stumps already broken. The West Indians are jumping in celebration. Solomon, at far left, is still watching, his arms in follow-through position.
Lovitt had already used up his day's quota, two magazines of 12 negatives each. All he had left before the last over began was the one side of a dark slide holder. For both Solomon and Lovitt, this moment was all or nothing. To cricket's eternal benefit, both men achieved perfection.
Joe Solomon waits at the top of the stairs.
His grandson has opened the front door, where there sits a basketball but no cricket gear. This is, after all, the USA. The Jackie Robinson Parkway meanders nearby, through suburban Queens, commemorating the great African-American baseball pioneer. New York is the city of Joltin' Joe DiMaggio and Broadway Joe Namath; the New Yorker in this house is far less known, but he is no Average Joe either.
He has lived in New York since 1984. For some years he split his time between his two homes, while he coached in Guyana. He still travels back to Guyana once a year, and stays for a few months. Back home he worked in the accounts office for the sugar estates, and later coached the company's cricket team. Cricket has always been part of Solomon's life.
And yet, like Solomon himself, the signs of cricket in his house are understated to the point of forgotten. There are a few cricket books on a shelf, most with Caribbean themes. There is a solitary photo, a head-and-shoulders profile shot of himself as a young cricketer. It is on the bottom shelf of a display case, hidden behind trinkets.
Laconic and iconic: Solomon at 86 in New York
Brydon Coverdale / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Laconic and iconic: Solomon at 86 in New York Brydon Coverdale / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Besides friends and family, does anybody know that an important cricketing figure lives here?
"The family next door are from Bangladesh," Joe Solomon says. "They know who I am."
Solomon is as laconic as he is iconic. If one word will do, he will not use two. If no words are necessary, he will not utter one. He lets the thing speak for itself. He is introspective and unassuming. He was at the heart of one of cricket's greatest moments, but even now, 56 years later, he plays it down.
"You don't think about it," he says. "You just go and pick it up and..." he mimics the throwing action.
As easy at that. Of course, it was Solomon's second direct hit in two overs. No man had a greater impact on the outcome of the tied Test than Joe Solomon. How did he come to have such a sharp eye and sure arm?
"There used to be a mango tree near where we used to live, just hanging over the fence, more or less," he says. "The mangoes used to be hanging over, so I just pelted them."
Asked to name the best fieldsmen he ever saw, Solomon nominates Rohan Kanhai and Basil Butcher. It is perhaps no coincidence that they came from the same small village as Solomon. In fact, the cricketing output of tiny Port Mourant, Berbice, is remarkable: Solomon, Kanhai, Butcher, Alvin Kallicharran, Ivan Madray and John Trim, all emerged from there to play Test cricket.
Lovitt had already used up his day's quota, two magazines of 12 negatives each. All he had left before the last over began was the one side of a dark slide holder. For both Solomon and Lovitt, this moment was all or nothing
"We all used to pelt down the mangoes," Solomon says.
As a batsman, Solomon lacked the glamour of some of his contemporaries, but he knew how to accumulate runs. Though he was a late starter in first-class cricket, debuting at 26, he proved his credentials quickly and emphatically. His first three innings in first-class cricket were centuries: 114 not out against Jamaica, 108 against Barbados, 121 against the touring Pakistanis.
From there he was straight into the West Indies squad to tour India. He received half pay from the sugar estates while on that tour, and on every subsequent tour was lucky enough to receive full pay. In his fourth Test he scored an unbeaten 100 in Delhi, and averaged 117 in the series.
"I could bat spin fairly well," he says. "You look at the bowler's hand, what he's doing, legbreak, offbreak, how he's pacing it. I would look at his hand, use the feet and then play it. I made a Test hundred in India. I made 96 against India in Barbados. I got caught. I thought I'd hit a six and I was caught at backward square-leg."
Although he made useful runs in the tied Test, Solomon's batting on that tour is best remembered for the minor controversy in the second Test, at the MCG, when he was out hit-wicket as his cap fell on the stumps. So popular had the West Indians become with the Australian fans after the tied Test that the crowd booed at Solomon's dismissal.
Dramatis personae: Solomon at far left with Ian Meckiff, Lindsay Kline and Wes Hall at the 40-year reunion of the participants in the tied Test
© Getty Images
Dramatis personae: Solomon at far left with Ian Meckiff, Lindsay Kline and Wes Hall at the 40-year reunion of the participants in the tied Test © Getty Images
"I don't know what happened," Solomon says. "Up to now, I don't know. It never happened before. I played back to Benaud, played the ball and my cap fell on the stumps. They said I am out. That's the rule, you're out. It was just one of those things."
Remarkably, it was his second hit-wicket dismissal in consecutive Tests, and the one during the tied Test rankles more with Solomon.
"I can't remember hitting the wicket," he says. "It was on the third run they gave me out. The wicketkeeper showed the umpire the bail was off. We'd run three already. You'd think after you hit the wicket and take off for the first run they would show you and appeal to the umpire. But on the third run they gave me out. It was not fair."
Still, it is a minor irritation from an otherwise perfect tour, a series that revitalised Test cricket after the dour play of the 1950s. Benaud and Worrell encouraged their sides to play attractive, aggressive cricket. Such was the reverence in which Worrell's men were held in Australia that, even before the series finished, the Australian board announced that from then on, the teams would play for the Frank Worrell Trophy.
"He didn't get ruffled in the field," Solomon says of Worrell. "He could see where people were hitting. He could see it quickly. If a fella hit a four or bat long, he didn't get ruffled. He'd say, 'It's his day', or something like that. 'Everybody has his day.'
"He died early too. He was a nice fella. Besides cricket, he would talk about different things we should do in life. He was broad, it wasn't just cricket."
If one word will do, Solomon will not use two. If no words are necessary, he will not utter one. He lets the thing speak for itself. He is introspective and unassuming
Worrell died of leukaemia aged just 42, the first of the tied-Test cricketers to pass away.
Joe Solomon waits for his "time".
There is no reason to expect it will come soon. He remains slight of frame, is fit, and plays golf regularly. But he is 86, and naturally with the passage of time comes the loss of friends and loved ones. He is a widower.
He is also one of 12 surviving players from the tied Test. Since Solomon travelled to Brisbane in 2000 for the 40th anniversary, five more of his cohorts have passed away: Alf Valentine and Gerry Alexander from West Indies, and Norm O'Neill, Benaud and Kline from Australia.
"Many of the fellas have died. O'Neill died, Benaud died, Lindsay Kline. Everybody's going. Maybe it's nearby for my time too.
"Everybody dies. Some time, you've got to go. I was reading the Bible last night, I was reading where people lived to 150 years, 140 years. We can't even reach 100. I can't understand why."
Melbourne, 1960: "I don't know what happened. Up to now, I don't know. I played back to Benaud, played the ball and my cap fell on the stumps. It was just one of those things"
© Getty Images
Melbourne, 1960: "I don't know what happened. Up to now, I don't know. I played back to Benaud, played the ball and my cap fell on the stumps. It was just one of those things" © Getty Images
He is a churchgoer, more so during his regular visits home.
"In Guyana I go to church more than here," he says, "because it's nearby, I can walk to it."
Solomon is in a reflective mood - perhaps at 86, that is a natural state of affairs. There is a long life to look back on. But he lives in the moment, too, enjoying the company of his son, daughter and extended family in their New York home. And he knows he is fit for his age.
"I'm all right. I played golf yesterday," he says. "When you get old, you can't chase cricket balls. You can go and beat the golf ball and walk behind it.
"I don't go out too much. With the age and all, you don't go too far. The children stopped me from driving. When you get old, you get in an accident and they always talk about you're too old.
"I got the grandchildren and children, they drive me around if I want something. But I don't go anywhere except golf. I went out to Long Island yesterday and played golf. And I'm playing tomorrow as well."
Occasionally, there is a chance to catch up with former team-mates.
"Many of the fellas have died. O'Neill died, Benaud died, Lindsay Kline. Everybody's going. Maybe it's nearby for my time too"
"I met Sobers the other day," he says. "We had a reunion of the old cricketers in New York. Quite a few of them came down. We met and talked. Kallicharran was there too. It was good to catch up."
Joe Solomon waits.
In Brisbane, 1960, he waits for the ball, pounces, and creates cricket history.
In New York, 2016, he waits for a photo of that moment.
He has seen it, of course, many times. We all have. It was cricket perfection, captured by photographic perfection.
Meckiff, the man run out as he lunged for his crease, has a framed copy just inside his front door in Melbourne.
Joe Solomon, the man whose magical arm gave cricket this unforgettable moment, does not. Joe Solomon, quiet, unruffled, unassuming, only once in his interview shows signs of excitement. It is when he is asked if he has a copy of the photograph.
His eyes brighten, he smiles, and exclaims: "No, I don't have one! When you go back, you can get one sent to me."
Naturally, he is joking when he makes the request, for Joe Solomon is too humble to expect anything from the game. But he is betrayed by the sparkle in his eyes. Deep down, he would love to have that photograph, to see every day the young man who, 56 years ago, created an immortal cricketing moment.
And so he shall have it. Joe, the photo's in the mail.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.