Runako Morton – A true warrior
By Imran Khan
About two years ago on a Saturday afternoon I found myself at the Queen’s Park Oval watching Queen’s Park Cricket Club chasing a Merryboys target. The QPCC boys were casually following the action as their team had the run chase under control. There was the usual banter and laughter among them. The atmosphere, not unusual for cricket matches of this stature, was relaxed and casual.
Not so in the middle. Runako Morton was intense. He was hitting, not stroking for Runako never stroked the cricket ball, in his usual muscular way. There was that familiar unrelenting intensity in the way he went about his task. But this was a mere club match wasn’t it? As West Indies Team Media Officer I had seen that single-minded focus, from close quarters in the dressing room. I had also seen it when he played for Leeward Islands.
It took me by surprise that he carried this attitude into a club game. I was moved to question whether there was some particular importance to the game. I learnt it was more-or-less a routine encounter.
It told me, in a deeper way, who Ruanko Shakur Morton really was. He was no showman, he was about business, getting the job done. He played hard not because the television cameras were on, he played hard because that is how Runako played. It was intensity or nothing.
My mind ran back to a cold rain shortened West Indies warm up game v England Lions at Worcester County Ground in 2007. It poured for most of the day, cricketers never like to play in these situations. Not Morton. He was geed up. England pacer James Anderson decided to verbally engage him. A man of few words, Morton stood toe-to-toe with him, stared him in the eye, waved him off and pounded Anderson’s bowling as he ensured Windies won the game without needing to resort to the replacement players in a depleted side.
In a critical group match in the ICC Champions Trophy in Mumbai in 2006 the West Indies top order buckled to Australia. From 63 for 4 Morton remained to the end, getting an unbeaten 90, top scoring as the Windies made a competitive 234 for 6 on a wicket which required fight to prevail.
A year before he and Denesh Ramdin and a young West Indies side pushed India to the limit in steaming conditions in Colombo. If a hard battle was at hand you wanted Morton in your ranks.
In training and even in matches I have seen many a cricketer throttle down. Not Runako. Every return to the wicketkeeper’s gloves pounded through and pained. I have seen wicketkeepers trying to cajole him to take it easy when it was not necessary to fire returns in. He listened but never complied.
He chased every ball with ferocious speed. He was a safe catcher not because of his finesse but because once he got those bucket sized hands of steel around the ball it cowered into submission. Morton did not play soft cricket. He never really played cricket. He was at war when on the field. And he believed that warriors do not smile.
Off the field he had one of the broadest smiles in the cricket world but he went to lengths to use it sparingly. In 2006 when the team lined up for headshot photos in New Zealand I hesitantly asked him why he didn’t smile for photos and he told me cricket is not a joke. I agreed but asked him to show the public his winning smile. To my surprise he did, and broadly. He was a warrior on the field but a man with a caring, soft heart off it.
That smile was on display for weeks on end in England in 2007 when his wife Leiselle and daughter joined him on tour. On cold English days every sight of his daughter, waiting for him in the hotel lobby when the team bus returned from practice, brought him warm delight.
People who knew Runako knew he was a good genuine man. Captains willed him to do well because they wanted soldiers with the attitude Morton had in their side. He feared no one, never backed down and would shed blood for his team. He may not have scored as many runs as his talent hinted he could but it was not for lack of effort. A warrior is gone. Not many warriors of his calibre are left. May his warrior spirit infect generations of West Indian cricketers to come.
• Imran Khan is Corporate Communications Officer of the West Indies Cricket Board. He was West Indies Team Media Officer from 2004 to 2007.