In the previous Column carried in this medium on Friday 16 March 2012, we looked at one of the many unsung heroes of sport in this country, Lennox Adams.
This week’s focus on Frank Odel Mason, popularly known as FO Mason, comes as a direct result of a conversation on air between our own Michael Findlay and cricket commentator, Andrew Mason.
The latter had asked Findlay about one Frank Mason who was supposed ot have been a rather quick bowler and that there had been stories about his prowess in the game in circulation for some time.
Surprisingly and perhaps somewhat disappointingly, Findlay’s response was that he too had heard stories about FO Mason but he did not know how true they were. He also stated that he had heard that someone had written something in a book about FO Mason.
The fact is that FO Mason was an outstanding sportsman in this country and had distinguished himself as one of the most fearsome pace bowler to emerge in this St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It is therefore most important that some of the hidden truth be made available to a wider audience.
Perhaps in the process we may all learn something about our unsung heroes in sport.
Frank Odel Mason – formative period
Frank Odel Mason was born in the coastal village of Barrouallie on the western side of St Vincent on 26 July 1926 to Adelaide and Milton Mason.
As a child he spent some time living in Georgetown with his uncle, Mervin Cuffy, a head Teacher. While attending elementary school developed a love for sport. He played cricket at the time as well with a small sports club in the area.
As a student at the St Vincent Grammar School he developed his love for sport.
FO, to the surprise of some Vincentians today, was a sprinter and high jumper at the Grammar School.
In his early years at the Grammar School he was an outstanding sprinter but as he moved up the system he met older athletes, like Ossie Venner, who were more proficient at sprinting than he was and he focused on the high jump.
Mason recalls that in the 1930s, while at the Grammar School, the playing field was the area now occupied by the Public Library adjacent to the VINSAVE and UWI facilities in Richmond Hill. The field was very small and the high jump was done with the athlete leaping over the bar to land on the bare ground below. He was however able to achieve up to six feet in the high jump.
Later they brought the high jump by the long jump pit so the athletes could land in the sand.
According to Mason he was not an academic and did not want to fail his mother in everything. He therefore saw sport as a means of achieving some measure of success for his mother and family.
At the Grammar School Mason took a liking for both cricket and football. It was in cricket however that he soon became awesome. As a junior at the school he was actually stopped from bowling too fast because they did not have any wicketkeepers willing to stay behind the stumps. The team would have more byes than runs once Masonw as bowling fast. His House Master, Da Silva, cautioned him that he would not be allowed to play cricket for the team if he did not stop bowling as fast as he was doing at the time. Mason then switched to attempting to bowling spin.
He was a full back in football at school before injuring his knee, an incident that led him to switch to goalkeeping.
It was not until his last year as a Grammar School student that Dr Gideon Cordice called him to play with the school’s first eleven against a team from the West India Regiment that he returned to being a fast bowler and this time ahead of his older brother who was a fast bowler on the same team.
Interestingly, Mason went on to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines in both football and cricket.
While he represented the country in cricket in 1946 he had to wait another year or so before making the national team in football as a goalkeeper.
Mason the cricketer
He was first selected to represent St Vincent in 1946 but found himself humbled into the 12th man position. He thought of quitting then but his mother’s timely advice prevailed. He emerged a better player for it.
From the very beginning he saw himself as capable of being a West Indian player.
In 1948 he singlehandedly destroyed St Lucia, bagging 8 for 14 and 6 for 10 for match statistics of 14 for 24. His onslaught was so humiliating that the St Lucians appealed for light at 3.00pm, a historic move at the time.
1956 was a most memorable one for Mason. He was selected captain of the national team, a position he held until his retirement from the game six years later, 1962. In the same year he was installed as captain of the Windwards team and the Windwards/Leewards team (later called the Combined Islands).
Mason’s best international figures came against the touring Indian team under the leadership of Nari Contractor. Playing in St Kitts, he terrorised the Indians and hauled 8 for 45.
While Worrell was clearly a cricketer for whom Mason had much respect he was inspired by the likes of Manny Martindale, Spooner and Herman Griffith, all Barbadians.
His greatest single cricketing moment was his capture of the wicket of Frank Worrell in 1947. He recalls the jubilant crowd lifting him shoulder high for the historic feat at the King George V Playing Field at Arnos Vale. Pandemonium reigned.
In the first match Mason bowled Worrell for a duck.
On the second occasion that Mason bowled Worrell on the same tour he was given the ball when the star West Indies batsman was on 25. Mason sent him back to the pavilion on the same score.
It was all the more remarkable that he was a schoolboy at the time.
But Mason was one of those Vincentian cricketers who should have made the West Indies team without much of a bother. Unfortunately for him, he was one in a long line of cricketers from the Islands who fell prey to what could only have been described as ‘big island’ bias.
Prior to the West Indies first tour of Australia, Mason was called up for trials with the West Indies team in Guyana. Instead of selecting Mason, John Trimm received the nod of the selectors ahead of him.
On a second occasion Mason was called up for trials but this time in Trinidad and again was left behind. The selectors chose the young Wes Hall ahead of him.
It was perhaps fortuitous that in his final match representing St Vincent, playing against Dominica at the Victoria Park. In that match Mason got no wickets in the first innings and the crowd chided him, jeering at his age and referring to him as ‘old’.
At the beginning of Dominica’s second innings, Mason called the team together and indicated that they had to win the match. Elliott Cambridge got one of the wickets and Mason did the rest.
When Mason was finished the figures were simply staggering. He had bowled 13 overs, three of which were maidens, captured nine wickets for a total of 13 runs.
The crowd was ecstatic. They sought to lift him high as had been done at the King George V Park some years earlier. He did not want any of it. He had enough. They considered him old and so he was. He retired from the team forthwith.
Sobers’ own words
While some may claim that they heard this or that about FO Mason the legendary Gary Sobers seems to have had a pang of conscience when doing his autobiography published in 2002. Sobers felt compelled to pen the following piece about Mason.
Trials for the West Indies were very much like our trials for the Barbados team; there were players you wanted on the team and players you wanted to knock off. Wes Hall and Frank Mason were competing for one of the places for a fast bowler. At the time Frank was a better bowler than the young, up-and-coming Wes but Everton Weekes and I decided that we would take on Mason and knock him out of the firing line to try to get our fellow Bajan Wes in the team. Poor Frank could not believe what was happening to him as the ball flew to all corners of the boundary. Good balls were hit for four and bad balls for six. By contrast we played a straight bat to everything Wes bowled, saying ‘good ball’ as we played a half-volley back down the wicket. I was only a youngster, not yet 21, but Everton wanted our fellow islander in the team and coached me in the politics. I was sorry for Frank because he was a darned good bowler but it was Wes who was picked.
Gary Sobers had no reason to make this up. It was the pure, unadulterated truth.
The same insularity that some complain about today in West Indies cricket has been around for decades and not much has changed in this regard.
At the time Mason had no redress. He recounts how after the trial matches the players were called together and the team was announced. He remembers vividly to this day how Wes Hall kept saying to him that he would get the nod because he was older and more experienced. In response, Mason told Wes that he would get the nod because he was younger.
When eventually Wes Hall’s name was called on the team, the two simply watched each other with no words being shared.
To read Sobers’ words remains a painful experience even to this day. Mason is nonetheless satisfied that at least Sobers was able to allow his conscience to bring forth the dastardly practice in which he and his more experienced team mates, including so-called cricketing heroes, engaged to ensure his omission from the West Indies team.
Mason was just one of many cricketers from the so-called ‘small islanders’ who suffered this fate.
Mason stated, that players from the small islands trying to make the West Indies team had to work twice as hard as their counterparts from the larger countries.
Interestingly, Mike Findlay suffered a similar fate several years later when Derek Murray was brought on board to replace him.