By Sam Sooppersaud
The cricket games today, Saturday, August 25, 2012, according to the publicity on the various cricket websites is billed as the 2012 Guyana Inter-County Games, with the first contest commencing at 10:00 AM at the Idlewild Cricket Complex, 223 Street (147th Avenue), Rosedale, Queens, New York.
The counties of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo will compete for the coveted Inter-County Championship, and the various other benefits that come with that championship.
This is the duplicate of the classic Inter-County tournament that started in British Guiana over fifty years ago, and which has been revived in New York by the cricket-loving immigrants from Guyana. The title presently is held by Demerara, but Berbice; the Ancient County, and Essequibo, the Cinderella County, are determined to put an end to the domination by the Demerarians. On paper the three teams representing the respective counties appear to be evenly matched, position-to-position.
In this article I would try to recreate some nostalgia surrounding the Inter-County Games, for the older cricket fans that may have followed the tournament in the old country, and at the same time provide the younger fans with the background of the present tournament.
What is the Inter-County Games, the younger cricketers and fans may wonder. To give a better perspective to the question I would have to resort to some of the history surrounding cricket in Guyana (British Guiana), and tid-bits about the three counties. Unfortunately, I would not be able to write much about Demerara and Essequibo, because being a Berbician, most of my boyhood days watching cricket were spent in Berbice.
The Inter-County Games Tournament, as it is billed in New York is the offshoot, or the continuation of the original Jones Cup Inter-County Tournament in British Guiana (Guyana) contested by the counties Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo. The inaugural tournament was played some 58 years ago with Demerara taking on Essequibo at the famed Bourda Cricket Ground. During the earlier days of the Jones Cup the finals were almost always between Demerara and Berbice, as Essequibo had not been able to field a competitive side. Of course, Demerara dominated the tournament, for various reasons. By the way, The Jones Cup was given recognition by the West Indies Cricket Board as the only First-class tournament in British Guiana.
Why the name Jones Cup? Let me take you back to some cricket history in British Guiana. Prior to 1943, cricket in the colony was administered by the folks at G.C.C. (Georgetown Cricket Club), the owners of the famed Bourda. There are many stories on how these folks managed the cricket in the country. I would not get into the details, but let’s just say, “Things were not done in a kosher manner.” Most of the time and effort of the ruling body were spent on cricket played by the “town men,” the Georgetown city boys. Cricket in the country areas of Berbice and Essequibo was mostly neglected by the administrators of cricket, who were based in Georgetown. This was the pattern that kept the improvement of cricket in those two counties stagnant.
Then in 1943 a group of cricket administrators, Berbice and Essequibo included, met, and the British Guiana Cricket Board was born. The president of G.C.C. at the time was a William Stanley Jones. He was elected the first president of the BGCB. Mr. Jones was an avid cricket player and an astute cricket administrator. He traveled to various parts of the country looking at the development of the cricket talent, spending much time in Berbice and Essequibo. He was much impressed by what he saw in those counties and was determined to showcase the talents of the “boys from the country.”
Following his resolve to improve cricket in British Guiana, William Jones donated a trophy to the BGCB, to be aptly named The Jones Cup. The year was 1954. Thus was born the Jones Cup, to be contested for among Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo. Earlier, in 1939, Berbice had constituted the Berbice Cricket Board and with the inauguration of the Davson Cup, cricket talent in the Ancient County was spiraling upward. By the time that the first Jones Cup was held, Berbice had become a formidable and competitive side. The Essequibo Cricket Committee was able to field a side, but it was clear that they lacked the talent. Later the ECC formed the Essequibo Cricket Board.
But the Jones Cup was not the only Inter-County tournament. There was a forerunner. In 1917 the president of the East Indian Cricket Club (later renamed Everest) Thomas Flood, commenced the Flood Cup. If there was a bias on how GCC administered cricket in BG prior to the creation of the national board, then this may have stemmed from how the Flood Cup was run. Only players of East Indian origin from the three counties were eligible to play in the tournament. Even the Kawall Cup, started in 1919, only allowed players of East Indian origin to participate in the tournament.
The Jones Cup always had a large following, at least in Berbice. In the years when Berbice was the host most of the matches were played at the Rose Hall Cricket Ground in Canje. Again nearly all these games were finals between Berbice and Demerara. The roads would be busy with cricket fans driving in from various parts to watch the premier cricket extravaganza, featuring literally the best players in British Guiana. The stands were packed to the rafters, and ground seating was scarce. I grew up five blocks away from Rose Hall Cricket Ground. (In fact I learned my cricket playing on that ground). I personally watched many of the games that cricket fans from Demerara, would travel to Berbice just to watch the contests.
There was keen competitiveness among the players, as well as among the fans from the opposing counties. Camaraderie was always evident in the interaction of the fans, regardless of which team they were supporting. Cricket was the denominator that drew them together. Cricket was the ambassador of goodwill, at least for the four days of the Inter-County Jones Cup.
Toward the end of the 50′s, maybe in 1958 or 1959, I cannot specifically remember, Berbice met Demerara in the Jones Cup finals at Rose Hall. Of course I was right there in the stands keenly watching the action. By this time Rohan Kanhai, that stylish wicketkeeper and batsman from Port Mourant had been selected by the West Indies and had completed the 1957 tour to England. Rohan, of course, played in this game. Berbice took first strike. The scores of the match I cannot remember, but a bet between a Berbice cricket fan and a few Demerara cricket fans I remember vividly.
Rohan Kanhai batted and scored a stylish 69. When he was out the silence in the stands was deafening! Everyone wanted him to score that ton. But it was not to be. Captaining Demerara was one of the feared batsmen in BG at the time, the destructive Clyde Walcott, a member of the 3W’s. (The other two being Everton Weeks and Frank Worrell). As Clyde walked out to bat in Demerara’s reply to the Berbice inning, a half drunken Berbice fan waved a twenty-dollar bill in his upraised had and shouted, “Bet twenty dollar Walcott don’t beat Kanhai score.” There were no takers. Clyde blasted the Berbice bowlers all over the ground. The only bowler who commanded his respect was the wily “Sugarbor” Baijnauth. (He was the father of Amarnauth Ramcharitar who played cricket for Hillside in the Eastern American Cricket Association League). Sugar, as he was fondly called, contained Clyde who otherwise had a field day against the offerings of the other bowlers.
Let me now rewind and call the game as it is in progress. “…and with that lusty cover drive to the boundary Clyde Walcott in now on 52. It is now the end of the over. Bruiser Thomas tickled the first ball for a single. Clyde is on strike. He stepped forward and hit the ball straight over the bowler’s head for yet another 4. Clyde is now on 56.” At this stage the bettor was still strolling back and forth in front of the stands and still touting his bet, “Walcott don’t beat Kanhai’s score,” still waving the twenty dollar bill in his hand. Again, no takers. Let me point out that twenty dollars during that era was considered a “lot of money” for the ordinary man.
Clyde Walcott is now on 68. The offer of the bet is still on. By this time the fan may have taken another few drinks and he was more vociferous. “What happen, you town men chicken? Put up you 20 dollar, Walcott don’t beat Kanhai score”. Clyde on 68 and tearing the bowlers to smatterings. Surely he is able to score two more runs and surpass Kanhai’s score of 69. At this stage several Demerara fans confidently accepted the bet. The 40 dollars were given to a third party to hold in escrow.
Back to live commentary. “Baijnauth walks back to his mark. He turns around, looks around the field and then gazes intensely at the batsman. Walcott checks the field yet another time. He taps his bat a few times on the turf. Straightens up. Again looks around the field. He takes his stand and is ready to receive the next ball. Sugar boy starts his 10-step run-up. …6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and airs a slower ball to Clyde. Walcott moves forward and across the wicket and presumably covers his stumps. He is bowled. Walcott is bowled on 68. Baijnauth has bowled Walcott on 68…” Of course the Berbice fans were in euphoria. The half-drunken fan collect his winning stake. Yes, cricket fans, this was the type of atmosphere that existed during the Inter-County Games of yesteryear.
Another piece of nostalgia. Prior to another Jones Cup game at Rose Hall Rohan Kanhai and a few Berbice players visited the venue a few days prior to the start of the match. The local team was at practice. Kanhai walked to the practice area and the batsman offered him a knock. The bowler was a cricket player and enthusiast, W.A.R Taylor – William Adolphus Robert Taylor. He was a quickie with a smooth flowing action. In fact we called him Tyson because he mirrored the action of the then England fast bowler. Kanhai took the bat and was about to take strike. He had on neither pads nor batting gloves. Tyson warned, “watch it skipper I am fast. Don’t wanna hit you.” Tyson delivered his self-styled fireball only to see the ball sailing over the side screen and over the adjacent canal and into the senior staff compound. The ball was retrieved and ditto. Tyson to Kanhai..the ball again in the senior staff compound. Everyone including Kanhai had a great laugh. Kanhai shook Tyson’s hand. What fun! What memory.
There are so many memories of the Rose Hall Cricket Ground. In 1958 the Pakistani touring team played against the Berbice Colts, consisting of some of the upcoming stars. The Pakistani batsman Allamuddin had a batting feast against the young Berbice bowlers. He scored a brilliant hundred. At that time the groundsman at Rose Hall was one Benjie Solomon, whom we called Solo. He was standing in front of the stand when Allamuddin hit a 6, which flew to Solo. He caught the ball on the fly. At the end of his inning Allamuddin walked over to Solo and presented him with his bat.
In 1960, a team from the Marylebone Cricket Club in England (the E.W. Swanton tour) played a representative Berbice side at Rose Hall. Among the touring party were Abbas Ali Baig, The Nawab of Pataudi, Mansoor Ali Khan, and Colin Milburn. Two local boys from Rose Hall were in the Berbice side, Vic Harnanan and Sookraj Beharry who was nicknamed “Owl”. Two plays excited the fans. The Nawab was at short cover and Harnanan hit a full-blooded drive. The ball flew to Nawab who in a flash grabbed the ball and hid it under his left armpit. He then commenced to look around feigning wonderment as to where the ball went. Even Vic did not know that he was caught. Neither did most of the spectators. When he took the ball from under his armpit and showed it there was a loud laugh heard around the ground. Even the players had a good smile. The other play was when in the second innings Owl cleaned bowled Abbas Ali Baig with the second ball of the inning. The partisan Berbice fans screamed in joyful celebration. Beharry maintained for year afterwards, that hitting Abbas Ali Baig’s wicket was the most memorable play in his cricketing career.
I immigrated to the USA in 1969 and was therefore out of touch with cricket in Guyana. But in 1997, I made a visit to Guyana. On the day I arrived in Guyana the Inter-County finals was starting at Albion. Needless to say, as soon as I had deposited my suitcases at my relatives’ home, I took off for the Albion Cricket Complex. There I met Rex Ramnarace, a former Berbice captain and several other players that I knew when I played in the Davson Cup for Police. Among them was Leslie Amsterdam. Leslie was glad to see me and invited me to sit with the players and administrators in the VIP section. He also invited me to have lunch with the cricketers and administrators. Hey, there I learnt that lunchtime snack was lamb curry and rice and not the lime wash and biscuit that were staples at the time! (I was saddened to later learn that Leslie had drowned while disembarking a ferry at Blairmont).
During this game at Albion – the tournament was now the Banks/DIH Inter-County Tournament, no longer the Jones Cup, but the same idea. I met the late Neville Sarjoo, who had done so much for cricket in Guyana. He told me how he was responsible for bringing Ramnaresh Sarwan into prominence. In the match, Sarwan scored 56 runs for his Demerara side. Later Neville introduced me to Sarwan, who acknowledged that Neville had indeed done wonders for his career. I shook hands with Sarwan who exclaimed, “Yes uncle, Uncle Neville helped me to get here.”
There are so many memories of the Inter-County Games – Jones Cup or Bank/DIH, or Guystac Trophy, that to write them all down would take me such a long time. Not to mention the Internet space that it would consume. Records show that the Inter-County Championship was won by Berbice in 1976/77, 1977/78, and then again in1980/81. Demerara won the Inter-County Championship (Jones Cup) in 1972/73 and the Championship (Guystac Trophy) in 1984/85, 1985/86, and again in 1989/90. Numerous players from these games went on to represent the West Indies. From Berbice, John Trim, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon, Ivan Madray, Leonard Baichan, Sew Shivnarain, Narsingh Deonarine, Hemnarine Chattergoon, and many more. From Demerara Lance Gibbs, Roger Harper, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Carl Hooper, Clive Lloyd, Reon King…and many more.
So cricket fans there is a rich history in these Inter-County Games, regardless of the name of the tournament, be it the Jones Cup, the Guystac Trophy, or the Banks/DIH Trophy. So come out and enjoy a wonderful day of cricket. Come out and see the future stars display their skills as well as the more seasoned – not older – stars show their class.
See you at Idlewild today, Saturday, August 25, 2012.
Author’s Note: I wish to credit the Guyana Cricket Board’s documents for helping me immensely in preparing this article.