Well this was in about 1947. I remember it was 1947, because I didn’t get picked on the St. Vincent side. They said I was a small boy. ‘School boys couldn’t play with big men’ in 1946… one selector said that you know. He said, ‘School boys, big men, separate them.’ So I said, alright. But in 1947 I was out of school, started to work at the Agricultural Department and they said well we going give him a try against this side from Barbados coming down with Frank Worrell and Frankie Thomas and Brewster and some of the big names in Barbados cricket at the time.
Them guys say, ‘well, let we try him in the firing line and see what he could do.’ So I say well boy, I told the fellows, ‘I going bowl down them; man that ain’t nothing, I go bowl them down’. So, day for the match at the King George V Playing Field…So they came and I was bowling. I got a wicket so he (Worrell) came in. And first ball I delivered to him went away, you know. Moulton Williams was wicket-keeper and he collect it. Second ball, I duck it in and he missed, and when he missed the wicket collect. What he miss the wicket collect.
Well I tell you something, from the time the wicket got struck I was off the ground you know, because everybody rushed onto the field. Pandemonium reigned. I up in the air. I say, ‘well put me down nah. Put me down’. No, they got me up in the air going so about nearly half an hour you know Cricket done, everybody forget … we were playing a match you know. So well… that was a duck.
We went to Georgetown for the next match. He played. He made some runs in Georgetown and then we played the second match back at Arnos Vale again. And he was batting quite well. He got to 25 and they say, ‘F.O come bowl man. Come bowl down the man again.’ And bam, I bowl him down again at 25, when he was at 25. So fellows say, ‘well boy that ain’t no fluke. That ain’t no fluke’. You know, so that how it is.
…he was very quiet. He never spoke much. He was very quiet and he told somebody well ‘good ball, good ball.’ But he went back to Barbados and he told them in Barbados ‘when you all looking for people to play on the West Indies side then you got to go to the small islands.’
Small island players
FO Mason was one of the best cricketers to have emerged out of St Vincent and the Grenadines yet he never made the West Indies cricket team.
To many he was cheated out of a place on the team.
Mason was awesome and this has been recounted several times by so many who saw him at his best.
We have already recounted the story about how Everton Weekes brought his fellow Barbadian colleagues together at West Indies Trials in Trinidad and Tobago to deliberately beat Mason out of the attack so the selectors would give the nod to Wes Hall for the tour to England.
Perhaps it was a pang of conscience that drove Garfield Sobers to write it in his autobiography. He detailed the sick strategy that was Mason’s undoing.
More recently, following an article penned by this Columnist in March of this year, Governor General Sir Frederick Ballantyne called the author to indicate that he had told the same story to a friend while watching one of the One Day Internationals being played at Arnos Vale in the same month. His version was exactly the same as Sobers’ except that his came from the mouth of Everton Weekes himself while staying at the old Olive Hotel in Paul’s Avenue.
But Mason’s ill-fortune at the hands of the West Indies selectors was only one among many. What makes his disappointment different from the others was the fact that it was fellow cricketers who colluded to deny him the opportunity he deserved but never got.
To this day, not one of those involved in the wicked collusion ever spoke to FO Mason about it nor did anyone apologise to him for their dastardly action.
FO came to accept his fate and went about his business.
FO described how he won his last match captaining the Vincentian team:
Well that’s the last match I played for St. Vincent. The first match I played for St. Vincent, when I bowled down Frank Worrell. The last match I played for St. Vincent I bowled down Dominica for 32.
Well this is what happened. Dominica batted first.
We were playing Victoria Park and they got three hundred and something and I didn’t get any wicket. And then St. Vincent come and they led us by 200. I say ‘this ain’t good, my last match and I going and lose? No!.’
So when I went in the pavilion. I told the boys, listen me, ‘I work it out.’ I say, ‘If we get three wickets this afternoon, tomorrow morning we win the match’ and they say, ‘Skipper you really mean it.’ I say, ‘Yes!. We going out to win the match.’
We went out the afternoon we collected three wickets. Elliot Cambridge, he got one and I got two. Next morning, things happened. I got all the rest. I got all the other wickets; 13 overs, 3 maidens, 13 runs, 9 wickets. That’s how I ended my career.
In a blaze of glory. Everybody come ‘skipper don’t retire, skipper don’t retire’ I say ‘no, no, no, no, no.’ I say ‘I old… They say ‘man no’ and they come lifting me up. I say, ‘put me down please. Put me down.’ They want to lift me up again you know. I say no not this time put me down. Let me remain down here.
FO’s performance against Dominica was most remarkable. He quit because during the first innings he heard the comments about him being old and that he was at the end of his tether. He did his best one final time and delivered that of which he was always capable. He quit just as he had started, on a high.
FO on training hard
I had too, but we had no formal coaching, we had to, you had to. I read a lot of books and I used to practice morning, noon and night. Until one fellow called me one Good Friday. Called me at home. He said, ‘come let we go practice nah.’ I said, ‘man this is Good Friday’. He say, ‘no man, I have a new ball. I want you bowl some at me’. I only bowl two balls give him ’cause the second one knock him down.
FO knew stated in an interview with this author that he did not do well with the books and decided not to shame his parents altogether. Sport was an avenue for him to show that he has something in him and he delivered.
He trained as he had to in order to excel.
He enjoyed life and always loved a good laugh.
FO’s final match
As far back as 2003 FO Mason asked his daughter, Sherrill-Ann, to be the one to deliver his eulogy when he dies. Perhaps somewhat taken aback, his daughter took some time but eventually began piecing what she would say together.
Later today, Friday 18 May, we will all hear just what she found it possible to say about this sporting icon.
There are not many men who have the strength of character to know that death is inevitable and to begin the process of preparing oneself for that inevitable moment. FO was however one of those who did not fear the inevitability of death and prepared himself for that occasion.
FO started ailing for some time. His huge frame and weight cost him dearly after years of being on the field running, playing cricket and football. His knees seemed forever swollen and walking became extremely difficult.
There were times when pain joined God and his wife as his most faithful companions.
But FO endured whatever came his way just as he had done when he was rejected by the West Indies selectors because of a deliberate plot hatched by fellow players and the insularity of the leadership of the sport in the region at the time.
His emotional pain conjoined that of his physical frame. He scarcely saw members of the cricket fraternity in his illness. It was as though his contribution had no impact on them and it hurt him to the core. In this regard FO may well have experienced what so many of our sporting heroes come to appreciate later on in life – he was of little use to them at that stage of his life.
Happily he was never alone. He had family and a few choice friends.
FO’s love for sport allowed him to sit at home and watch the different activities. His ever-active brain allowed him to continually vent his views on the fortunes of the West Indies, Windwards and Vincentian teams over the years.
He soldiered on knowing that he was ill and never allowed anyone to feel that his was a lost cause.
Always given to smiling he would open those big eyes of his, even in his illness, and declare his views on why the sport of cricket is what it is today.
Sadly, a few weeks ago he took a turn for the worst. His spell in hospital saw him losing the capacity to be articulate. Speaking became extremely difficult and gradually he was altogether inaudible.
What was noticeable on his return home was his pain. His final days were filled with immense pain and it was a challenge to sit and look at a man who was once almost invincible on the field of play battle through such excruciating pain yet looking at all those around him. Send messages with his eyes was all he could do and he certainly did.
His ever-faithful and loyal wife stayed with him throughout his final match. She sat by his side believing that God knows best yet hoping that FO would not leave her alone.
As she and her son, John, along with their ever-loyal assistant, stayed the distance watching the great man take leave one final time.
FO may well have died as he lived.
He saw what was coming and welcomed it with open arms.
Frank Odel Mason will be buried later today.
Farewell, dear friend and patriot.