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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 March 2007, 13:56 GMT
The forgotten batting genius
By Paresh Soni
BBC Sport in Jamaica

Lawrence Rowe (right) chats to former team-mate Sir Viv Richards
Viv Richards wasn't as naturally talented as I was

Lawrence Rowe (right)
Former West Indies cricketer
Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding, two of the finest bowlers in the history of cricket, described Lawrence Rowe as technically the best batsman they ever saw.

But the man they were talking about played only 30 Tests for the West Indies, despite scoring a triple hundred, a double and five centuries with a brilliance seldom seen.

Rowe was seen for a time as the star performer in teams featuring Gordon Greenidge, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Gary Sobers, and even the master blaster himself, Viv Richards.

"I had no coach so most of what I had seemed to be natural. At the age of 16 and 17, I was playing backward of square but was corrected by a coach here in Jamaica and that was the only coaching I got," he told BBC Sport.

Rowe was first brought into the Windies team to face New Zealand at his home ground, Sabina Park, in February 1972. It was an extraordinary debut by any standards as he scored 214 and an unbeaten 100.

"It propelled me to the top of the world and bowlers were gunning for me after that. One of the headlines was 'Bowlers of the world beware, Lawrence Rowe has arrived'," he recalls.

My best years were taken away from me

Lawrence Rowe
Two more centuries and a magnificent 302 followed in a series against England two years later but, already, the curse of injuries was casting a shadow on a promising career.

He tore a ligament while fielding against Australia in Trinidad in 1973, discovered he had astigmatism the following year, broke his left hand in 1977 and injured his shoulder in England in 1980 - and throughout suffered from a grass allergy.

"I heard the names people were calling me. They said I was soft, but nobody knows how tough it was for me apart from my immediate family," Rowe said.

"I was sneezing and my eyes were itching, sometimes I'd go into bat and couldn't see anything.

"But nobody feels sorry for you, not even your team-mates because you're supposed to go out there and perform. If they see you're not bleeding it's hard for them to understand what you're going through."

Rowe, who finished with 2,047 Test runs at an average of 43.55, feels he was robbed of the chance to be ranked, statistically at least, among the game's greats.

Lawrence Rowe batting for West Indies
Rowe made a spectacular entry into Test cricket
Even the achievements of Richards (8,540 runs in 121 Tests) and Sobers (8,032 in 93 Tests) would have been in his sights, he insists.

"I think my best years were taken away from me and I would have played at least 70 more Test matches if that hadn't happened," he said.

"I would have been among the best West Indians of all time. I only played 30 Tests and I'm still called one of the best so if I had gone on, I would have been something special.

"Viv wasn't as naturally talented as I was and didn't look like he would become one of the greats but he improved over the years, worked very hard and towards the end was a great player."

Apart from his fitness problems, two big controversies also played a large role in depriving Rowe of more opportunities in the West Indies team.

He joined Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket in 1977 and six years later led a rebel tour to South Africa, which also ended the international careers of top players like Collis King, Alvin Kallicharan and Colin Croft.

Ostracised in Jamaica, Rowe decided to emigrate to Miami, where he is now a businessman, but he maintains he was not motivated by greed.

"At first I wasn't going to go but I was told that if I didn't the tour wouldn't happen - they didn't have enough star players and wanted me to captain the side. My decision had a lot to do with the entire team.

Right now there are a few players with talent but they don't know what it takes to be great - it takes a lot of hard work

Lawrence Rowe on the current West Indies team
"I always wanted to go, even before I was asked, and see for myself what the situation was there. I knew when we went that we would be banned but I didn't think they would take it to the level they did.

"The ban extended to even playing for your club so they took us out of cricket completely.

"They took it too far and it damaged West Indian cricket. I've heard people say the tour did do some good, and history will judge that, but one thing I know is it didn't make it worse for black people in South Africa."

Now, all these years later and watching from a distance in Florida, he says the decline of the West Indies team in recent years saddens him.

"When we played we did it with a lot of pride and always wanted to win. That was important to us but I don't know if these guys are taught that," Rowe says.

"Guys are making 30 and 40 runs and getting into the West Indies team - in those days you wouldn't get a look-in with a half century.

"Right now there are a few players with talent but they don't know what it takes to be great - it takes a lot of hard work."

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