Indo-Guyanese Cricket Pioneer

Date Published: 
Norman Gonsalves

John Veerasawmy was a left-arm medium pacer who was the first East Indian to represent Guyana in first class cricket. He was born on 12 May 1891, in Georgetown, Guyana and died on 12 Apr 1947, in Guyana.

He first demonstrated his all-round talent in sports at Queen's College where he was outstanding in cricket, soccer and athletics. He was the school's soccer captain in 1908 and its senior athletic champion in 1909, winning the 110-, 220- and 440-yard sprints, high jump and long jump. Later, however, he concentrated on cricket.

He made his first class debut for Guyana in January 1910, against Trinidad at the Queen's Park Oval, but did not take a wicket. Shortly after, he went to London to study law in mid 1910, where he qualified in 1913 as a barrister at the famous Middle Temple. First class cricket in the West Indies, however, was suspended from 1914 to 1920, because of the First World War.

While in England, Veerasawmy played cricket for several clubs - Middlesex and Surrey County Cricket Clubs, the Clapham Ramblers Cricket Club in Wimbledon, London, and the Hyde Cricket Club in Kent, and the Gentlemen of Surrey.

In one second-class game in 1911 for Ramblers Cricket Club against Brunswick Cricket Club, he captured all ten wickets in an innings, including a hat trick. In that season he took over 100 wickets, winning his club's bowling prize. During this time he benefited considerably from the coaching of the distinguished Surrey County and England cricketer, Robert Abel, an opening batsman and useful slow bowler.

After completing his studies in England, Veerasawmy visited several major cities in India before returning to Guyana in 1914. With first class cricket on hold, Veerasawmy set about elevating East Indian interest in cricket in Guyana, perhaps to strengthen unity among East Indians and enhance their integration in West Indian society.

In 1914 he founded the East Indian Cricket Club (EICC), which later became Everest Cricket Club. The club opened in Queenstown in 1915, on land leased to it by Veerasawmy, on which a pavilion was built. Veerasawmy was the club's secretary-treasurer and JA Luckhoo its captain.

He also helped to organise inter-county matches between East Indians, for the Flood Cup starting in 1917, and matches between East Indians of Guyana and Trinidad, starting in 1914. This led to the introduction of the Kawall Cup (in 1941), for annual competition between East Indians of Guyana, Trinidad and Suriname.

EICC initially participated in the second division Garnett Cup. In a Garnett Cup match against the Georgetown Cricket Club in September 1916, Veerasawmy made 148 and took 7 wickets for 10 runs. Wanting to participate in first division cricket, he joined British Guiana Cricket Club (BGCC, later Guyana Sports Club) in 1917, and almost immediately took 15 wickets for 71 runs in a match, his best bowling analysis in first division cricket.

Veerasawmy captained BGCC twice (in 1917 and 1918) and won the BGCC annual best bowler prize on three occasions. In May 1919, he took 9 for 23 to help Guyana East Indians defeat Trinidad East Indians. By this time the First World War finally came to an end.

Guyana resumed first class cricket after the First World War in September 1921, with a match against Trinidad at the Queen's Park Oval. Veerasawmy, playing his second match for Guyana, took 5 for 67 in Trinidad's only innings. He played his third, and last, match for Guyana in September 1922, against Trinidad again, this time at Bourda. He took 1 for 33 and 0 for 9.

After this he concentrated on his legal career, serving as a magistrate in Demerara and Essequibo from 1922 to 1944. Nevertheless, he played his most memorable domestic game in 1924 when he had a brilliant all-round performance on a wet wicket, scoring 42 and 24 not out and capturing 12 wickets for 16 runs (5 for 12 and 7 for 4), routing the opposing team for a total of nine runs, a national record.

He continued playing first division cricket at least until 1936, when he was 45 years old. He had the rare distinction of playing first division cricket for three different clubs: EICC, BGCC and Malteenoes. In addition to captaining BGCC in 1917 and 1918, he also captained Malteenoes in 1936. He continued to be an effective bowler until his retirement from the game.

In 1933 Veerasawmy coached students of Queen's College (his high school), helping them to win the Hing Cup. He also presented a series of lectures on how to play cricket to students and the general public at Queen's College.

Veerasawmy was the first, and for a long time, the only Guyanese to write a book on cricket, called "How to Become A Great Batsman and A Great Bowler.". It was published in 1936, with a second edition in 1945, which added sections on fielding, captaincy and coaching. The book showed, among other things, that he was a well-read student of the game.