C.R. Browne, Forgotten Hero

Winston McGowan
Date published: 
Stabroek News

The period from 1910 to 1939 may be described as "the Browne era", because of the outstanding performances of one man, Cyril Rutherford "Snuffy" Browne. Well-known and highly esteemed in that era, Browne is virtually forgotten today.

Browne was a  right-handed lower-order batsman, leg-break/googly bowler  and a brilliant fieldsman. A Barbadian by birth, he migrated to British Guiana in 1916 and spent most of his first-class cricket career representing his adopted homeland. As the cricket historian, Christopher Nicole, rightly observed, Browne "was born and learnt his cricket in Barbados, but gave the benefit of his skill to British Guiana", for whom he played from 1921 to 1939.

Browne was born in Bridgetown, Barbados in October 1890. He was the most accomplished member of a distinguished Barbadian cricket family, being one of four brothers who represented the island, the others being Alfred, Clement and Chester Browne. They were all products of Harrison College, especially during the tenure of office of Horace Deighton (1872-1905), the school's longest serving headmaster.

Deighton made this prestigious educational institution one which also excelled in, especially cricket, which he made an integral part of the curriculum. As one modern writer observed, "Under him, the school became one of the most important cricket nurseries in the entire world".

Cyril Browne was a bowling all-rounder a hard-hitting aggressive right-handed lower-order batsman and a medium-pace leg break - googly bowler. He bowled his leg spin so quickly that he was frequently required to open the bowling, a rarity for a spin bowler in first-class cricket. Browne's first-class debut at the age of eighteen was inauspicious. It occurred in January 1909 in a game for Barbados against British Guiana at Kensington Oval where he scored 19 runs in his only knock and took 2 for 60 and 1 for 24 with the ball.

In the following two years Browne represented Barbados in six other games, four against other Caribbean teams and two against visiting MCC tourists. He also was a member of a West Indian XI which also played two matches against these tourists. In all these games he failed with the bat, scoring a total of only 75 runs in 12 innings. He however, bowled impressively, capturing 52 wickets at an average cost of 15.15 runs each.

It was in two of these matches in September 1910 that Browne first appeared at Bourda, enabling Barbados to defeat British Guiana by eight wickets and Trinidad by an innings and 48 runs.

After playing four more games for Barbados and a West Indian XI against the MCC the following February, Browne's first-class cricket career was disrupted for ten years by the pursuit of legal studies at the Middle Temple in London, England and the outbreak of the First World War which completely interrupted regional inter-territorial cricket.

During the war, Browne migrated to British Guiana where he was admitted to the bar in 1916. He resumed his first-class cricket career in September 1921 when in his maiden game for his new home, he was asked to lead the British Guiana team in a game against Trinidad at the Queen's Park Oval. British Guiana lost the match by an innings and 80 runs, with Browne performing moderately, run out for 0 and 19 and capturing three wickets for 45 runs in 27 overs.

Browne was never again asked to lead the national team of his new homeland, though in domestic cricket he was captain of the British Guiana Cricket Club for several years, He was, however, a pillar in the British Guiana team for the following 18 years, i.e. until 1939 when he played his final first-class game at the age of forty-eight.

This game, in which he represented British Guiana against the Trinidadian Rolph Grants's XI was a trial match for the 1939 West Indies tour of England. In these years Browne's performances showed that he is one of the best all-rounders to have represented British Guiana, eclipsed then in the Caribbean only by the Trinidadian, Learie Constantine.

In 21 games which Browne played for British Guiana he scored 891 runs, including one hundred and six half-centuries, with an average of 26.50 and took 104 wickets at an average of 19.91 runs each. His bowling was not only penetrative but also accurate and economical. He conceded an average of only 2.16 an over.

Almost invariably Browne was the team's best bowler in the games in which he represented British Guiana. In the 27 innings in which he bowled for the colony in 14 inter-colonial games between 1921 and 1937, he took at least five wickets on 11 occasions and at least 10 wickets in five such matches. He failed to capture less than two wickets in only four of these 27 innings.

He was the first, and for a long time, the only bowler to take more than 100 wickets in regional inter-colonial matches. In his long career for British Guiana Browne had numerous memorable performances.

One of them occurred in a game against Barbados at Bourda in October 1925, when his brilliant all-round performance was the main factor responsible for the comfortable victory by eight wickets gained by his team. In his only knock Browne scored a century (102) the top score in the match, out of the British Guiana total of 374. He also was the main wicket-taker, capturing 13 wickets for 135 runs, 5 for 77 in 39 overs in the first innings and 8 for 58 in 35 overs in the second, enabling his adopted country to dismiss the Barbadians for two moderate scores of 230 and 205.

Also impressive was his performance in his penultimate inter-colonial game against Barbados at Bourda in
September/October 1937, a week before his 47th birthday. Browne, batting at No.8, contributed 69 runs to his team's massive total of 629, to which the main contributors were Peter Bayley (268) and Chatterpaul Persaud (174), who shared a record fourth-wicket partnership of 381. The Barbadians, who made 301 in their first knock, were routed for 99 in their second innings by Browne who amazingly took seven wickets for 13 runs in 10 overs.

Browne was largely responsible for British Guiana's victories in the regional inter-colonial tournaments in 1929 (its first win since 1895), 1934, 1936 and 1937. The only blot on his distinguished career for British Guiana was that he was not particularly successful in three games against the visiting MCC in 1926, 1930 and 1935.

Browne's earliest appearances for the West Indies occurred before the region began playing Test cricket in 1928. He first represented the region in two games in February 1911 for a "West Indies XI" against M.C.C. tourists, the first official M.C.C. visit to the Caribbean. He scored 21 runs in four innings, thrice not out, and took 11 wickets for 288 runs. His bowling was particularly impressive in the first game at Kensington Oval in Barbados, where he took 4 for 99 in 39.3 overs in the first innings and 4 for 43 in 19 overs in the second innings, opening the bowling on both occasions.

Twelve years were to elapse before Browne again represented the West Indies. This was as a member of the regional team which toured England in 1923 under the leadership of the Barbadian, Harold Austin. This tour has been rightly described by Michael Manley as "the first great turning point in the history of West Indies cricket", for the good impression created by the team convinced the English authorities that the region was ready for Test cricket.

On the tour, during which the West Indies won six, lost seven and drew seven matches, Browne failed dismally with the bat, scoring only 258 runs in 18 innings, with a highest score of 24 and a paltry average of 10.75. However, he performed well with the ball, capturing 75 wickets at an average of 22.29, with a best spell of 6 for 66 against Somerset.

In Browne's next appearance for the West Indies the reverse occurred. He distinguished himself with the bat, but his bowling was disappointing. This was in three representative games in 1926 against a M.C.C team led by Freddie Calthorpe, the first post-war English team to visit the Caribbean.

In these matches Browne in 112 overs took 8 wickets for 339 runs at a high cost of 42.37 runs each and in four innings scored 189 runs, including a hundred (102 not out) and a half-century (74), with a good average of 63.00. His knock of 74 in the first innings of the second game at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad was the top score in the team's moderate total of 275. It was a brilliant attacking innings, including one six and 12 fours and lasting only 55 minutes.

Browne's undefeated century in the final game at Bourda in Georgetown was also a superb innings. Forced to retire with his score at 83 after receiving a blow on his temple from a rising ball, he returned later to complete his hundred, enabling his team to compile a formidable total of 462 runs. Browne shared a record seventh-wicket partnership with the Guyanese, Vibart Wight (90), in a drawn game in which the tourists were saved by a heavy downpour of rain.

Browne's next appearances for the West Indies were on the tour to England in 1928, when the region was accorded Test status. He was then over 37 years of age and probably past his peak. His performance in the first-class games on the tour was certainly moderate. Browne scored 469 runs in 29 innings with an average of 17.37 and took 30 wickets at an average of 32.86 runs each. His best efforts were against Derbyshire, when he took 8 wickets for 81, and a match-winning century (103) in an hour against Kent.

On the tour Browne made his Test debut, playing in the first two of the three Tests, in all of which West Indies suffered an innings defeat. In the first Test at the famous Lord's ground, Browne, batting at Number 9, made 10 and 44, his team's second highest score, and failed to take a wicket in 22 tidy overs in which he conceded 53 runs. In the second Test at Old Trafford, he had scores of 23 and 7 and took 2 wickets for 72 runs in 25 overs. He finished fourth in his team's poor Test batting averages, scoring 84 runs in 4 innings with an average of 21 and sixth in the bowling averages, capturing 2 wickets for 125 runs in 47 overs.

Browne's final games for the West Indies occurred eighteen months later when the region contested its second Test series against England. In the first Test at Kensington Oval in January 1930, Browne, batting at Number 7 and 8, had the dubious distinction of becoming the first West Indian batsman to achieve "a pair" (two ducks) in a Test match. He was not particularly successful with the ball, taking 2 for 83 in 37 overs and 0 for 19 in 13 overs in this drawn game.

He performed much better in the third Test at Bourda, a historic occasion when the West Indies gained its first ever Test victory, by a convincing margin of 289 runs. In this match Browne had scores of 22 and 70 not out and bowling analyses of 1 for 29 in 10 overs and 1 for 32 in 33 overs.

In short, C.R Browne had a short Test career of 4 matches. In these Tests he scored 176 runs in 8 innings with one half-century and an average of 25.14 and captured 6 wickets for 288 runs at an average of 48.00 runs each.
In 42 other first-class games for the West Indies, he scored 937 runs in 63 innings, including 2 hundreds and 3 fifties, with a highest score of 103 and an average of 17.03 He also took 124 wickets at an average of 26.48 runs each.

In his entire first-class career, including Tests, Browne in 74 matches scored 2077 runs, including 3 hundreds and 10 fifties, with an average of 19.97. In these games he took 59 catches and 278 wickets at an average of 22.40, with a best innings bowling performance of 8 for 58 against Barbados at Bourda in 1925.

During his cricket career Browne had a number of notable achievements. His 30-year first-class career is one of the longest in the history of West Indies cricket and he was the first bowler to take over 100 wickets in regional intercolonial matches.

Browne was a member of the West Indies team in its inaugural Test matches abroad and at home, including the one that ended in the region's first Test victory. He is the fifth oldest player (37 years and 259 days) to make a Test debut for the West Indies, eclipsed only by Nelson Betancourt of Trinidad (42 years and 242 days), Charles Wiles (40 years and 345 days) and George Challenor (39 years and 360 days) of Barbados and Berkeley Gaskin of Guyana (39 years and 306 days).

Some of Browne's batting feats are memorable. For example, he has the sixth fastest fifty (34 minutes) in the entire history of Test cricket dating back to 1877. At the time of that innings at Bourda in 1930, it was the fastest half- century by a West Indian in a Test, but it was later eclipsed by Clifford Roach (33 minutes) against England at the Oval in 1933 and Ernest Williams (30 minutes) against England at Kensington Oval in 1948.

Browne is one of the finest all-rounders in the history of West Indies cricket. One cricket historian has described him as "the most dangerous all-rounder produced by the West Indies prior to the emergence of Learie Constantine". Another historian rates him as "easily the greatest of all West Indian all-rounders until the emergence of Learie Constantine."

C.R. Browne is also one of the finest players to have represented Guyana in its long history of first-class cricket dating back to 1865. He is certainly the best wrist spinner to have played for this country, one of its finest all-rounders and arguably the most successful bowler for Guyana in first-class cricket. He would be a member of my dream team of the best eleven players to represent this country, batting at No.9 and sharing the spin attack with the off-spinner Lance Gibbs.

In 1941, two years after his retirement from first-class cricket, Cyril Rutherford Browne became the first black West Indian to be elected to honorary life membership of the M.C.C. Yet, in spite of all Browne's achievements, especially his numerous outstanding performances for what was then British Guiana, he is regrettably virtually forgotten today.