Jo Solomon legend alive and well

The legend of Jo Solomon is alive and well in Georgetown. So is Jo Solomon, in fact. The man who touched the ball last in the first ever tied Test match has been at the first Test between the West Indies and South Africa at the Bourda for all of the first four days and he will certainly be there on the fifth day.

The first Test of West Indies 1960-61 tour of Australia ended in the highest drama at the Gabba in Brisbane when Solomon threw down the stumps as the last wicket pair of Ian Meckiff and Lindsay Kline attempted to scramble back for a third run that would have won the match.

It had been a high scoring match throughout and nobody could have imagined such drama after the first two innings when 958 runs were scored.

Gary Sobers’ 132 had guided the tourists to a first innings total of 453 but the home side surpassed that total with a huge score of 505. The West Indies batted well again in the third innings of the match with Frank Worrell making 65, Rohan Kanhai 54 and the lesser known Solomon contributing 47.

High drama on the final day saw Australia slump to 92-6 chasing 233 to win before Alan Davidson (92) and Richie Benaud (52) repaired the damage with a seventh wicket stand of 134.

With nerves affecting everyone and paralysing some, Conrad Hunte collected a wild slog to deep midwicket while numbers 10 and 11 ran for their lives. As Hunte collected the ball, almost 100 yards away, the batsmen decided to try for the winning run – the third.

Staring straight into the setting sun, Hunte knew the stumps were out of his range but his teammates were gathering for the relay throw. Hunte knew his throw had to stay under the sun but also land on the square so the ball would skid quickly and save a precious half-second.

Solomon gathered the ball cleanly and took aim as his cricketing life flashed before him. It had to be a direct hit, and he knew it. In a team of superstars, the moment had fallen to Jo Solomon. It was all over in a flash but Jo felt time lapse into slow motion as he cocked his arm.

The bails flew and the stumps listed askew. The next thing Jo remembers was the weight of his teammates on his shoulders and their uncontained joy.

“That’s the moment everyone has asked me about for the rest of my life. That throw was Jo Solomon’s career,” says the man with a whimsical, accepting smile.

Jo played 27 Tests in an era when nobody, well, almost nobody made any money. He coached at junior level in his home town of Port Morant in the Berbice area of Guyana. When his international career came to an end he continued his beloved coaching work with junior teams but cricket had taken its toll and left him with lots of wonderful memories, none of which he could use to pay bills or put food on the table.

His sister had emigrated from poor Guyana to the USA many years earlier and she sponsored her famous but struggling brother to learn a trade. Jo studied sugar cane farming from the mid-80s to the mid-90s with a view to returning home one day and working in the industry. That dream came true in 1995 and he was employed by the government-owned sugar company, Guysuco.

When I was introduced to Jo after the second day’s play at the Bourda my immediate reaction was “…not THE Jo Solomon?” He had heard that before.

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