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Winston McGowan, The Origins and Development of Guyanese Cricket: The 2004 Walter Rodney Chair Lectures, Guyana, Pavnik Press, 2006, pp.83. ISBN 13:978 976-624-022-6

Reviewed by Frank Birbalsingh

Guyana Journal, December 2009


The Origins and Development of West Indian Cricket: The 2004 Walter Rodney Chair Lecturesconsists mainly of two lectures given by the author in 2004: “as a part of the events commemorating the 75th anniversary of the involvement of West Indies in international cricket.” (p.vi) The first lecture “The Origins of Guyanese Cricket From Early Times to 1928” covers the period from the mid-nineteenth century when cricket was first played in Guyana and the Caribbean to the year when a West Indies team played their first international or Test match. The second lecture “Guyanese Cricket: The Last 75 years from 1928 to 2003” then brings the record more or less up to date.

According to Professor McGowan, cricket was probably first played in Guyana by British residents, plantation owners and their white employees before the game spread to Blacks and Coloreds, Portuguese, and later to Chinese and Indians. This ethnic chronology is not merely random, but a direct product of the structure of nineteenth century Caribbean plantation society in which white owners and their employees formed the ruling class, Blacks and Coloreds took a middle position, while indentured immigrants like the Portuguese, Chinese and Indians appeared as the lowest class.

The first and most important cricket club in Guyana - the Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC) - was formed in 1858, its members drawn, as one would expect merely twenty years after the end of slavery, from a colonial elite of British proprietors, attorneys, plantation managers, wealthy merchants and senior Government officers. Since GCC shared the Parade Ground in Georgetown with other groups, and felt uncertain about its future use, they moved in 1885 to Bourda, a ground destined to become the hallowed home of inter-territorial and Test cricket in Guyana until 2007 when the venue of Providence was inaugurated.

For more than half a century, until the British Guiana Cricket Board of Control was formed in 1943, the Bourda club presided over the destiny of cricket in Guyana. And even after 1943, in spite of the emergence of other clubs, for example, several Portuguese clubs, the British Guiana Cricket Club, catering to black and colored professionals for members, several Chinese clubs, and the British Guiana East Indian Cricket Club, GCC maintained national control over Guyanese cricket by the sheer dominance of its business and commercial contacts, social prestige and financial resources. GCC's historic dominance was crucial, stretching beyond providing a venue for inter-territorial or Test cricket to influencing the actual selection of teams representing Guyana.

Still, even if ethnically restricted, Guyanese cricket flourished under GCC leadership which encouraged competition both with local and foreign teams, for instance, playing host to Bermudan cricketers in 1859, and touring the US and Canada in 1886. In 1887-1888 the Club also crossed swords with the visiting “Gentlemen of the U.S. A.,” and between 1895 and 1926 played host to several touring English teams. No wonder Professor McGowan can write: “British Guiana occupies a pivotal place in the origins and development of this inter-territorial cricket in the Caribbean.” (p.12) But, alas, it seems the Club's playing skills did not match their enthusiasm for organizing the game: up to 1928, out of 18 inter-territorial matches, Guyana won only 2; they lost 7 out of eight games to Barbados; and 9 out of 10 to Trinidad. For all that, Guyana produced one or two outstanding players in this early period, for example, the Barbadian-born all rounder C.R. “Snuffie” Brown, and Edgar Wright, an English-born Inspector of Police, who scored the first century in Caribbean first class cricket, and was described by C.L.R. James as: “the first great name in West Indian cricket.”(p.20)

All this illustrates the unequal colonial conditions in which cricket was able to foster resistance and nation building. After all, in 1928, the British Guiana cricket team “consisted entirely of players of African descent and those of mixed race, all of whom were residents of Demerara, especially Georgetown,” (p.32) - this, in a country that consists of three counties of which Demerara is the smallest! Ethnic exclusiveness had clearly combined with the dominance of urban centers like Georgetown to disfigure the democratic development of politics, economics, culture, sports and much else in Guyana and other British Caribbean colonies. If there is an underlying theme in The Origins and Development of Guyanese Cricket, it is that cricket was the most effective instrument for challenging this disfigurement.

Thus, by the 1950s, not only had cricket spread outside Georgetown, but also Berbice had produced Indian cricketers like Baijnauth, Kanhai, Solomon and Madray, in addition to Butcher who had become internationally known, and were accepted as household names throughout Guyana. Not only that - Georgetown's historic claim to dominance was challenged by the appearance of grounds in Berbice like those at Rose Hall and Albion where first class matches began to be played. The author admits that, to date, there is still limited involvement of Chinese, Amerindians and women, or people from Essequibo in cricket. But, as we have seen from his information about Berbice cricket, solid steps have already been taken to achieve a Guyanese cricket team and general cricketing practices more representative of the whole Guyanese nation.

Despite the volume's modest size - merely 83 pages - The Origins and Development of Guyanese Cricket evidently yields rich dividends in information about Guyanese history, cricket and nationality - the result of hugely energetic research that delves into dusty, half-forgotten files of newspapers and periodicals to ferret out priceless discoveries or make unsuspected revelations. How else would we know that the Demerara Cricket Club whose membership, for a half-century or more, has come from the black lower middle class, was originally a Portuguese club! Or that, in 1956, Guyana was reputed to have the best batting side in the Caribbean! None of this changes anything. But it illustrates the rich serving of cricket lore on which the reader will feast in Professor McGowan's splendid work.


Frank Birbalsingh is Emertus Professor of English, York University, Toronto, Canada.

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