|My First Test Match
by Shan Razack
Guyana Journal, August 2009
There can be few joys more satisfying than the memory of one's first Test match, especially if one was still in short pants and in primary school, as I was in 1954, when England arrived in Guyana (then British Guiana). My father took me to my first Test match, sometime in March of that year. It was such an unforgettable experience that I can still recall images from that game today, as if it just happened yesterday. I remember my eyes taking in the beautiful green field, the players, the pitch and the outfield. That day has stayed with me throughout these 55 years and I can see it just as clearly as way back then.
At a time when, though no fault of my own, my mind was indoctrinated by the dominant values - wish they were still there - of a British Caribbean colony, the prospect of witnessing our English overlords performing against us, on local soil, invoked feelings of awe and majesty such as one might expect from divine visitation.
You read about these players: Willie Watson, Len Hutton, Peter May, Dennis Compton, Tom Graveney, Johnny Wardle, Trevor Bailey, Godfrey Evans, Jim Laker, Tony Lock and Brian Statham on the England side and on the West Indies side: John Holt, Jeffrey Stollmeyer, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Robert Christiani, Gerry Gomez, Dennis Atkinson, Clifford McWatt, Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine, now, unbelievable, you are seeing these very players in the flesh. How would I relate to the boys at St. Patrick's Anglican School, Rose Hall Estate, Canje? As youths we were not only innocent but, by and large, we were also great imitators. You know something, you could be anyone you want to be!
I was a great admirer of the versatile all-rounder Trevor Bailey. As easy action, medium pacer, who gets the ball to go either way and concentrated mainly on line and length. As a matter of fact, one of the basic techniques I picked up was when Bailey was fielding. He would use his back foot to cover in the event the ball escapes his hands. In this way, he tends to save a lot of unnecessary runs. It seemed as if it were by design or purely accidental, my friend Alfred Archibald, always refers to me as “Trevor”, through high school.
More on that game later! I am always indebted to my Dad who took me to see my first Test match, West Indies v England in March 1954 at Bourda. Mum went along with us. It was my first train ride from Rosignal to the Garden City. Indeed, Georgetown was simply gorgeous - clean, spic and span - I'd be able to tell everyone that I was there.
I was told that my dad was a reasonably good cricketer in his days. An opening batsman/wicketkeeper who represented Bath Estate and later on Rose Hall Estate.
Dad related to me that he and Aladat Khan, the first player to score a century in the Davson Cup-Berbice's premier first-class tournament; he opened the innings for Bath. In a fierce encounter with the fastest bowler then, speed-merchant, burly John Trim, dad in attempting to hook Trim out of the ground, missed and sustained a nasty bruise at the back of the head. No one thought of helmets and protective gear then. This in no way deterred him, and he continued batting, as though nothing had happened. At lunch, he was still there with 11 runs. What was remarkable, however, was, as he made his way to the pavilion, scores of ecstatic spectators raced towards him and began putting pennies, yes, pennies, for those who could remember, into his pockets.
Why the pennies? I asked him many years later! He was rewarded for his efforts in defying the likes of Trim and “wizard” left-arm spinner John Naipaul while the rest of the batsmen fell like ninepins at the other end. Trim struck again, a few years later. This time the poor victim was Mental Hospital and Berbice opening batsman Bertie Minty. Minty, however, was not as fortunate as my dad. He struck Minty a severe blow, just a few inches below his heart and was forced to retire.
The next batsman in was diminutive stroke player Joe Balgobin. Balgobin, no more the five feet five inches seemed to possess all the shots in the book and some of his own and able and willing to play them all with much precision and gusto. Immediately, he went after his shots and behaved as though nothing had happened.
At this stage allow me to reminisce a little on my first Test match. I can still remember to this day, exactly 55 years ago, the seat on which Mum, Dad and I sat. It was not the usual South Stand (renamed after the Berbice icon, Rohan Kanhai) where Berbicians frequent most, and where my son Shan Razack Jr. and I sat over the years, until the Guyana Cricket Board start sending us complimentary tickets to the Main Pavilion. We were comfortably seated in the North Stand, which is now dismantled and replaced with the Lance Gibbs Stand. We were seated at the top left hand side, just side of the sightscreen where we had a panoramic view of everything in the middle. Imagine it took me the whole lunch session to get three soft drinks, all because I was unable to get past the big crowd at the booth.
Dad took us to lunch on the rest day, Sunday, as it was traditional in those days. We went to the New City Restaurant and had three portions of Canterbury Steak. Over in America, the Diners dished out Porthouse Steak with baked potatoes. I was really looking forward to that meal. After all, it was a case of a 'country boy' coming to town, and Dad ensured that we got the very best, well, at least, the things, which we wouldn't normally get at home.
That reminded me very much, when I first came to America, I was exposed to a variety of dishes, but no sooner did I settle down to my Guyanese delicious, spicy and exotic foods, well not really, because, occasionally, I would 'spoil' myself with biriani rice and tandoori chicken.
Sitting at almost handshake distance in the restaurant were two West Indies players, Sonny Ramadhin and Dennis Atkinson. I need not tell you how excited I was. So much so, I did not even bother to touch my steak. All the while my eyes were glued on to those two guys. That itself was a great treat for me.
You know something, when I came to live in Georgetown in 1983, I was looking around for the New City Restaurant, but I couldn't find it. Out of curiosity, I just wanted to know where the location was.
But of course, what made the match more enjoyable than anything else was the showing of both the West Indies and England teams. Len Hutton's 169 in the first innings left indelible memories. Equally ineradicable, however, was the grace of Stollmeyer, the patience of Bailey, the exuberance of Compton, the crisis-dependability of Holt and our own Clifford McWatt, and the amazing in-fielding and workman performance of Robert Christiani and out-fielding of Peter May.
Then there were the picture book batting displays of Graveney or the brutal power of Everton deCourcy Weekes on the go with an aggressive 94. Batting at No.3, tall and elegant, Peter May made only twelve runs with two crisps on-drives, but it was his brilliant fielding, which caught my eyes. So much so, that it was May's throw from the boundary into the gloves of Godfrey Evans to run out Cliff McWatt, which resulted in the (in) famous bottle-throwing incident, the first of its kind in cricket history.
May, moved to his right, picked up and returned the ball like a bullet to the wicketkeeper, a la Kallicharran. The whole thing was done with a feline quality, with the fluidity that is the hallmark of the athlete who goes beyond skill into some other extraordinary realm of unconscious co-ordination.
Cliff McWatt of BG and J.K.Holt Jr. of Jamaica were leading a grim rearguard action for the West Indies in the third Test. Batting with determination and obviously intent in getting the West Indies back into the game, they had added 99 respectable runs for the eight-wicket when disaster struck. McWatt was unfortunately run out for 54 and “Badge” Menzies made no hesitation in raising his finger. There was no doubt McWatt was out, but his brave innings had inspired hope of a West Indies revival, so when “Badge” gave him marching orders, a section of the crowd reacted badly.
One man threw a bottle unto the field, and then, as if by some given command, a rain of bottles littered the field, forcing the English team to run off. It was some time before the field could be cleaned and at the end of the day, “Badge” had to be escorted to the pavilion after some spectators hurled insult at the hapless man afterwards. A police guard was stationed outside the ground man's house.
Brian Statham, working up a pace from the Southern End flattened the West Indies for 251 in the first innings. In action, he is beautiful to watch as he glides to the wicket like a man moving on a cushion of air, and then attacks the batsman with that beautiful action, which seems like poetry in motion. So sure he was!
Left-arm spinner, Tony Lock, reminded me very much of our own Joe “Cobra” Ramdat, only that he had, to my mind, a suspect action. This apparently, was proven in no uncertain manner in the Barbados Test when umpire Keith Walcott called him for chucking. In Guyana parlance, it was nothing short of “pelting”, “chucking” called it what you may. Anyway, Lock survived a very colorful Test career. Lock managing with every ball to display as much hostility as any quick bowler that ever lived.
Indeed, to look at Lock after a delivery one had to reconstruct the flight in one's mind to remember that he bowled at only a quick spinner's pace. That was the era when spinners reign supreme. In fact, there was a proliferation of spinners, five in all on both sides. 'Those little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine on the West Indies side, while England had to their advantage Laker, Lock and Johnny Wardle and among them, they had sent down over half the number of overs 260, out of 462 bowled in the match.
Charles Palmer, manager of the England's tour of the West Indies in 1953-54, reminisced 50 years later. With local men appointed in each island, the eight umpires in the series had stood in only seven previous Tests between them. So alarmed were MCC were about the umpiring in the warm-up match in British Guiana that fresh officials had to be appointed for the third Test, one of them, “Badge” Menzies, having to combine his duties with those of head grounds man. “I would never accuse them of cheating,” Palmer said. “Indeed, I made a point of this in my report to the MCC. They were just incompetent. They hadn't the experience.”
On the fourth evening of the Test the groundsman Menzies put up his finger when his fellow Guyanese Cliffford McWatt was short of his ground, going for the 100th run of his partnership. Was the riot fuelled by drink, or gambling, or political unrest at the removal of power of their left wing prime minister? Whatever the cause, Hutton refused to leave the field. “I want to take these last two wickets this evening,” he said, and play resumed. With no fielders in the deep, Johnny Wardle defusing the tension by swigging drunkenly from a bottle.
Then there was the matter of Tony Lock's quicker ball. He had been no-balled in one match in England by Fred Prince, at The Oval in 1952, and he would eventually, in the aftermath of the “chucking” controversies of the 1958-59, tour to Australia, have to remodel his action. But in the first Test and again in the match against Barbados he was called, and he had to cut out his deadliest weapon. “The no-balling caused quite a rumpus,” Jim Laker wrote. “Yet to my eyes his quickest ball was a genuine throw, and it looked glaring in Barbados.” To his surprise Charles Palmer recently discovered some cine film that he had taken on the tour and a sequence of frames confirms Laker's judgment. It certainly shows up Tony Lock's action.
Again, I am so grateful to my parents. I know, wherever they are, they are looking over us - for the early exposure to sports, cricket in particular, and for their unstinted support and encouragement in my writing.
Perhaps, one day my son, Shan Razack Jr., would relate his experience on his first Test match, West Indies v India in 1983 at Bourda. Right, Shan?