Playing test cricket was a dream job for Ron Headley, but he felt something was missing from his high achieving life. Interview by IAN WHITE
Former West Indies cricketer Ron Headley was hit for six when suddenly struck by the reality that the sport he loved was his god.
The son of legendary batsman George Headley had achieved his own stardom and forgotten his father’s humble example of reading the Bible daily and lessons in modesty.
Although Ron only featured in two test matches and one one-day international, he built up a fierce reputation in county cricket for Worcestershire (1958–1974) and Derbyshire (1975-76).
An opening batsman, in first-class cricket he scored 21,695 runs at an average of 31.12, with 32 hundreds and a highest score of 187, the latter in 1971 when he hit a century in both innings against Northamptonshire.
Yet he was immediately bowled out when a Stourbridge optician told him in 1980:
“If I didn’t know who you were I would tell you not to do any ball game that’s dangerous.
“When your right eye is open your left eye doesn’t work. It must have been hit at some stage as it’s become lazy.”
After decades of ‘facing the new ball’ on ‘uncut wickets’ without modern features such as helmets, Ron realised ‘someone’ must have been looking after him as he “should have been dead”.
It was a while before Ron recalled that he had been hit in the left eye from a forceful shot playing as a lad back home in the West Indies.
He’d only decided to get his eyes checked out after an incident playing as a professional for Dudley. On running to catch a ball in the air, Ron became aware of a ‘flickering sensation’.
“For the first time in my life I breathed a sigh of relief after safely catching it,” he admits.
But the news from his optician left him in another daze.
“I was shocked and thought somebody up there must be looking after me. That’s when I started to search as I wanted to say thank you because I should have been dead.”
On the Sunday Ron told his wife he was going for a walk – and walked into his local church.
“As hymns were sung tears would come down which is embarrassing for a man. I sensed my hurts and pains were coming out in a spiritual way.”
Over a couple of years or so Ron gradually sensed that he’d made cricket his god, and felt challenged by God to give it up.
“My dad had the George Best or David Beckham sort of image in his day but knew how to handle himself.”
Ron admits he allowed himself to be lost in the limelight over many decades as he was paid to do what he loved.
“I was only 18 when I signed for Worcester. I got £48 a month to start with when I’d been used to under £3 a week in my apprenticeship.”
And Ron’s dream became bigger and bigger. Even his own son Dean followed him into international cricket, the first case of three consecutive generations of the same family playing test cricket.
But something was always missing.
“I was brought up in the Christian faith and realise now God has always been there in the background.
“I remember one Saturday night when fast bowler Derek Pearson said he wanted to go to church in the morning when we were away somewhere. I said out of the blue that I’d go with him.”
Ron never went back to church again until the news from his optician woke him up!
Today the 77-year-old still coaches cricket, but devotes much of his time to a project to eradicate diesel exhaust pollution.
“I believe Christians should be a big hit regarding green issues,” he says.
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