Cricket in Guyana
Wherever the British Empire spread in the 19th century, cricket and tea (later to inextricably intertwined in the traditions of the game) were principal exports and took root in most colonies; not least in Guyana and the West Indies. As all the full members of the International Cricket Council have emanated from this source, this is clearly the genesis of international cricket as we know it today.
In Guyana, cricket was concentrated in the capital, Georgetown. The Parade Ground in Middle Street became the venue for important matches and it was there in 1865, that Guyana won the second Inter-colonial match, defeating Barbados by two wickets.
In 1858, the Georgetown Cricket Club, the oldest cricket club in the West Indies was founded and used the Parade Ground as its base. Its new ground at Bourda, for over a century, the headquarters of the game in Georgetown and Guyana, opened in 1885. Two years later, the first International match was played at the new Bourda venue and resulted in a victory over Barbados, by 108 runs. It was a propitious beginning.
For cricket to develop and flourish there was the need to establish a central administration to organise the game. All over the world, this mantle generally fell to the senior established club, which had the necessary experience and resources. In Guyana, this was assumed by the Georgetown Cricket Club; in Trinidad, the Queen's Park Cricket Club; and in Jamaica, the Kingston Cricket Club. Further afield in England, this had been the responsibility of the M.C.C. since 1787, and in Australia, the Melbourne Cricket Club was almost as influential.
In Guyana, this meant the organisation of cricket throughout the country, inter-colonial cricket, and after 1927, representation on the West Indies Cricket Board. The stewardship of the G.C.C. ended inevitably and correctly in 1943, with the formation of the Guyana Cricket Board of Control, of necessity, a broader based entity, whose time had surely come. It is instructive to note that the Queen's Park Cricket Club held these responsibilities until 1980, and the M.C.C. performed a similar role until the 1970's, and is still today the custodian of the laws of the game.
It must be emphasised that while the writ of cricket administration extended over the entire country, in reality, because of the lack of communication and finance, this was concentrated in Georgetown and its environs. Indeed, clubs in Georgetown were members of the Guyana Cricket Board of Control and exercised influence over the running of cricket as a whole.
The investment in cricket, by the Guyana Sugar Producers Association, on the sugar estates in the 1950's, was a watershed in the development of the game in Guyana, and led not only to the formation of the East Bank Cricket Board, the East Coast Cricket Board and the West Demerara Cricket Board, but also to the strengthening of the Berbice Cricket Board, both administratively and financially. The later resuscitation of the Essequibo Cricket Board and the natural evolution of affairs, has led to how cricket is run in Guyana today.
Because of my formative years at the time, you may excuse me, if you disagree with my view that the late 1950’s and the 1960’s were the halcyon days of cricket in Georgetown. During the season, all the grounds were fully utilized, with the flannelled fools flitting between wickets, and on pastures such as King’s Ground, now partially occupied by the Pegasus Hotel, there would be as many as three impromptu matches in progress.
The pre-war Parker and Garnet Cups, had been replaced by the Case and Wight Cups, while the Northcote Cup had been introduced as an intermediate competition. The Rajah Cup, played on alternative Sundays, could also produce good and competitive cricket. At that time, as participation in county cricket in England was virtually inaccessible, all national and Test players participated in the Case Cup.
As there were only eight teams, the competition for selection was intense, attendance at net practice was mandatory and the standard of play extremely high. Each team had its own core of largely vocal supporters and big crowds attended key games. Crowd support was not only peculiar to the Case Cup, as I remember crowds attending matches in the Northcote Cup between the Police Sports Club and the Everest Sports Club, the two preeminent teams at the time.
Umpiring was in the hands of a dedicated group of men who every weekend, combated the elements as well as poor recompense, and were generally the unsung heroes of the piece. Being human, there was however the odd occasion when one perhaps wondered whether the camaraderie of umpires with opposing captains, after a day’s play, led to the correct decisions on the following day!
Then, there was the famous occasion, when a certain umpire after stating at tea time, that he wished to attend the Saturday afternoon movie at the Empire Cinema, put on his sunshades at the resumption of play, and seven l.b.w. decisions later, he was able to arrive at the cinema on time! In retrospect, transgression of the Laws of the Game, was probably only illusory and respect was obvious for umpires on the field.
The written media also played their part, as there were full scorecards of both Case and Northcote matches, as well as summarized details of the Wight Cup, and the batting and bowling averages were published after each round of matches, which stimulated much interest. As for the radio, who can forget B.L. Crombie’s reports, which were awaited with bated breath.
I have always thought of West Indies cricket in terms of a pyramid. In the particular case of Guyana, the schools and the clubs were the base, followed by the youth competitions and the inter-county tournament, with national and then international recognition at the apex. It should now be abundantly clear that this foundation, not only in Guyana, but throughout the West Indies, has weakened and is now under threat with grave consequences for the future.
A lack of direction, little or no money or facilities have occasioned a waning of interest in the primary schools. In the high schools, no longer is the Jacob Cup played between Queen’s College, St. Stanislaus College and Bebice High School. The Chin Cup has faded into oblivion, while house matches are a relic of the past.
The clubs, so vital a link between school’s cricket and the game at first class level, are also largely in decline. The major factors being uninspiring leadership, failing finances, reduced facilities, and diminishing membership. These factors are further compounded by the challenge of alternative sport and competition for leisure time.
Few players conform to the prescribed standard of fitness, personal preparation for matches has been honoured more in the breach than in its observance, and personal gain has overtaken pride, as the main criterion for participation. In short, a new culture has permeated West Indies cricket, with dire results, not least of which is the adverse effect it has had on the young players, now making their way. It is, therefore, no surprise, that Shivnaraine Chanderpaul, one of the very few players to maintain these standards, is now, by far and away, our best and most consistent player.
In this regard, I cannot help but reflect, on the entirely different scenario, which obtained, when I made my debut against England in 1968. Sobers, Kanhai, Griffith, Gibbs, Hall, Butcher, Lloyd, Nurse, Murray and Holford. Even today, the names trip so easily off the tongue. We assembled in the foyer of the Queen’s Park Hotel on the first morning, resplendent in suits, (blazers not being considered good enough for the first day!), blue, West Indies’ home tie, with shoes brightly burnished. There was a clear resonance to all, of pride in appearance, pride in individual ability, and most importantly, pride in representing West Indies and respect for the game.
I feel it would be remiss, if tribute was not paid, to four titans of Guyana cricket, who in their time, bestrode the game and each in turn graced the Presidency of the Guyana Cricket Board.
John St. Felix Dare, as an all rounder, represented Guyana for several years in the 1920’s and 30’s. An assistant secretary of the W.I.C.B. in his youth, he is credited with the design of the West Indies players’ home tie (now defunct). Never one to seek office, he was elected, by acclamation, president of the Guyana Cricket Board, and in due course, unopposed as President of the West Indies Cricket Board: the last Guyanese to have had this honour. Admired and respected by both players and administrators alike, he was a man of impeccable manners and in Chaucerian terms, “truly, cricket’s parfit gentil knight”.
Berkely Bertram McGarrell Gaskin represented Guyana, as a right arm swing bowler, between 1929 and 1953, and was capped by the West Indies, just short of his 40th birthday. Passionate about life, cricket and jazz, he was one of the most erudite men I have ever known. He gave valuable service as a WICB member, a Guyana and West Indies selector for many years, and managed the West Indies team on the epic tour of the UK in 1963. He would surely have become the President of the WIBC, had circumstances not dictated his temporary absence from Guyana. Almost a second father to me, history, in my view, should have been far more generous to his memory.
Kenneth Leslie Wishart scored 52 in his only test match, against England in 1935, although experts felt that he should have been picked five years earlier, when in better form. An outstanding administrator, he later became secretary of both the Guyana and the West Indies Cricket Boards, whose business was carried out with a rare efficiency during his tenures of office. A respected member of the WICB, he was also the first Guyanese to be made a director of Booker’s…an achievement in those days. A legend in his own time, he was not a man easily crossed.
Clyde Leopold Walcott - Of his cricket, mention is surely superfluous. Employed in Guyana, by the Sugar Producer’s Association in 1954, he among other accomplishments, did an exceptional job in moulding and giving opportunities to many talented, young, Guyanese cricketers, several of whom, became household names in the world of cricket. He was also a successful captain of Guyana, who imbued his players with a belief in themselves, and a will to win.
The only non-Guyanese to be President of the Guyana Cricket Board, his talents later took him to the Presidencies of both the West Indies Cricket and I.C.C. An outstanding chairman of the West Indies Selection Committee, his insistence on a settled policy, was the cornerstone to success. A proud man, he did not court popularity, and as a consequence, was not always everyone’s favourite person. Despite this, he retained the respect of all.
Unique in their personalities, diverse in their talents, their contribution to the game in Georgetown, Guyana, and the West Indies, has been profound and cannot be overestimated.