Like the good old days – Cricket on Boxing Day – Searchlight Newspaper

On Tuesday I was given the privilege to share some of my reflections and research on cricket in SVG as keynote speaker at the Annual Awards Gala Dinner of the SVG Cricket Association Inc. held at the Spring Gardens Resort. Cricket on Boxing Day was a feature in some of the communities.
I experienced this as a school boy in Barrouallie but later realized that it had a long history, going back to 1901. As we are now moving into Christmas and Boxing Day I consider it a golden opportunity to share some of what I presented then.
As Britain built its colonial empire cricket was carried as part of its package. In the Caribbean colonies it took root on the estates and wherever there were garrisons. In St. Vincent it was mainly on the estates and also at the Grammar School which was patterned after those schools in England. It was transferred with British values of order and respectability and responsibility that were to be imposed in the colonies. It was an elite game; it was a “Gentleman’s game”. You were not supposed to question the decision of the umpires. There were tea breaks and you were expected to adhere to a certain level of decorum. It fitted in with the class and racial organization of Vincentian and West Indian societies.
It was not surprising that when a cricket club was formed at the Grammar School in 1899, many “gentlemen” of the island subscribed as honorary members. The Grammar School then was a school for the sons of the elite. The students were expected to share a code that distinguished them from the rest of the society.
On the estates, when the game was played, the whites batted and the black workers bowled. When games were played against visiting teams from other estates or other islands, the proprietors and managers had to buy shoes for the black workers who had been accustomed bowling barefooted.
In the communities even though some middle class individuals might have organized some of the games, the people did not consider it a gentleman’s game and certainly never accepted the view that the decision of the umpires should not be questioned. Some of the estates had cricket fields to which the workers were attached. In 1935 after the riots there was a great deal of anger against plantation owners but when Allan Richards of Mt. Bentinck estate returned from holidays he was greeted by workers from the estate and also from the Mt. Bentinck village. During his absence their cricket field was taken from them. Their call when they welcomed him home was to give them back their cricket field.
When a Government Land Settlement scheme was established and arrangements were made to encourage the peasants to live on the settlements, a survey done in 1937 said that to get the peasants to live on the settlements they had to be provided with certain village amenities, among them was a cricket pitch and a school, church and shop.
When a cricket match was to be played in a community on a holiday, the peasant worker would go early to his holdings to attend to his animals or produce, then return to watch the game. The women who remained at home to complete the house work would later journey to the cricket field. The Sentry newspaper of December 27, 1901 reported on what happened in Barrouallie on Boxing Day. “ . . . It was indeed a gala day. There was a cricket match on Albert Park between a team from Byrea and the Peters Hope club. The latter batted first and made the splendid score of 246 to which the Windward team made a very poor response, compiling only 38 runs, thus sustaining a disastrous defeat . . . In the evening there was a tea meeting at the Weslyan school which attracted large numbers. And at the Anglican School House a theatrical performance was given . . . “ On another matter it was of significance that when West Indian teams first went to England in 1900 and 1906 two outstanding Vincentian cricketers made the team, brothers, Charles and Richard Ollivierre. Charles went in 1900 but stayed on to play County cricket for Derbyshire. Richard made the team in 1906 and also played against an MCC team in 1913. But later there was a period of discrimination against players from the small islands, as they were called. I want to end with the case of Frank Mason, F O Mason and this came, as I said from the ‘horse’s mouth’.
Sir Garfield Sobers states the following in his autobiography, “Trials for the West Indies were very much like our trials for the Barbados team; there were players you wanted on your team and players you wanted to knock off. Wes Hall and Frank Mason were competing for one of the places for a fast bowler. At the time Frank was a better bowler than the young- up- and-coming Wes but Everton Weeks and I decided that we would take on Mason and knock him out of the firing line to try to get our fellow Bajan Wes in the team. Poor Frank could not believe what was happening to him as the ball flew to all corners of the boundary. Good balls were hit for four and bad balls for six.
By contrast we played a straight bat to everything Wes bowled, saying “good ball” as we played a half volley back down the wicket. I was only a youngster, not yet 21, but Everton wanted our fellow islander in the team and coached me in the politics. I was sorry for Frank because he was a darned good bowler but it was Wes who was picked.”
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian


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