Clifford McWatt - Wicketkeeper

Michael DaSilva
Date published: 
Stabroek News

Clifford McWatt was the best wicketkeeper-batsman ever produced by Guyana. The career of his closest rival Cyril Christiani was too short - 24 Inter-Colonial matches and 4 Tests - whereas McWatt represented Guyana 35 times in Inter-Colonial games, and West Indies 6 times in Tests. While his rival only managed 98 runs in his Test career for an average of 19.60, McWatt accumulated 212 runs for West Indies, for an average of 28.85. Behind the wicket, while Christiani took six catches and made one stumping in Tests, McWatt caught eight victims and achieved one stumping as well.

Christiani's over all career aggregate of 658 runs and 16.45 average are also no match for McWatt's parallel figures of 1673 runs and 28.84. Christiani's career wicket-keeping record is impressive, however, with 44 catches and the remarkable number of 20 stumpings. By comparison McWatt was responsible for 45 catches and 6 stumpings.

McWatt's Inter-Colonial cricket career began in March 1944 when he was picked as Guyana's wicket-keeper for two matches in Trinidad. In the first match which Guyana lost by 101 runs, he managed 52 runs and claimed two catches. In the second game in which Guyana suffered a more humiliating defeat by an innings and 217 runs, McWatt's contribution was again modest - 38 runs - but he at least stumped Kenny Trestrail when he was on 85 and going great guns.

In picking McWatt the Guyana selectors preferred him to his arch-rival Carlton Reece, a Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) player who was generally acknowledged to have an edge over McWatt in batting, while the reverse was true in their wicket-keeping. It is not exactly clear how this rivalry affected McWatt's career, but the fact that both men often played together on the same team for Guyana suggests that they were highly valued players and that the competition must have been very keen when one replaced the other.

Reece and McWatt appeared together, for example, in two matches against Barbados during September/October 1944. In the next two matches, however, against Trinidad at Bourda in October 1945, Reece played as wicket-keeper and opening batsman while McWatt was in England, serving with the Royal Air Force. McWatt returned to Guyana in mid-1946, and later that year also returned to the Guyana side for two matches against Barbados at Bourda.

In one of these matches against Trinidad in March 1947, when Jeff Stollmeyer and Gerry Gomez flogged the Guyanese bowlers - Gaskin, Trim, Baijnauth and Norman Wight - during a third wicket partnership worth 434 runs, McWatt came to Guyana's rescue in their second innings with a superbly defiant knock of 123 not out. It was his first inter-colonial century which, together with his first innings score of 56 run out, gives him a total of 179 runs in the match for only once out. To the end of his days he was slightly rueful about this run out: after his partner J.L. Thomas had executed a splendid square cut that was certain to bring runs, McWatt had charged down to the other end, only to find Thomas still there, in his crease, admiring his stroke.

Between 1947 and 1953 McWatt represented Guyana regularly as a wicket-keeper-batsman, although he never again equalled the success he achieved against Trinidad in March 1947. In 1952, because he felt that his wicket-keeping form had fallen off, he requested selection purely for his batting; but the selectors would not listen, and he was forced to miss both games against Jamaica in October that year. As if to confound the selectors, he returned to the Guyana side as a batsman in the first game of the Trinidad tour of 1953, and vindicated himself with an innings of 128 that remains the highest score of his career. His 54 not out in the next Trinidad game meant that he had an aggregate of 208 runs in the two Trinidad games for an average of 104. He had reached his peak, and set himself a standard that could not be realistically maintained in the remaining three years of his career.

McWatt's career typifies the circumstances of many of the best Guyanese cricketers in the decade immediately following the end of World War Two. Some, like Carlton Reece, Bill Westmaas, Sugar Boy Baijnauth, Bertie Christiani and J.L. Thomas, never made the West Indian team, while others, like Berkeley Gaskin, John Trim, Robert Christiani, Bruce Pairaudeau and McWatt himself made the team, but never flourished in it. The circumstances of each of these cricketers may differ in detail, but the end result of limited international exposure and success is roughly the same. In McWatt's case, he was picked for the West Indian tour of India in 1948/49, although he did not appear in any of the five Tests because of the established presence of Clyde Walcott as wicket-keeper-batsman.

McWatt was not picked for the West Indian tour of England in 1950 when his own team mate from the British Guiana Cricket Club (BGCC), Robert Christiani served as deputy to Walcott. Then he lost his chance to be considered for the Australian tour of 1951/52 when he sustained a fractured finger in taking a hard return from Ganesh Persaud during the first of two Guyana/Jamaica matches in March 1951. Thus are the careers even of humble cricketers guided by the controlling hand of inscrutable Providence! And when, finally, he did represent West Indies in all five Test matches during the 1953/54 English tour, McWatt scored a total of 198 runs for an average of 33. Not at all bad for a number eight batsman!

All this confirms that McWatt showed enormous promise as a talented wicket-keeper and reliable, left handed, middle order batsman, both for Guyana and West Indies, during the years immediately following World War Two. More interestingly, it suggests that, for complex reasons that have to do with the social relations and administrative structure of Guyanese and West Indian cricket during the 1940s and 50s, and the infrequency of Test series during this period, the promise not only of McWatt, but of team-mates like Gaskin, Trim, Pairaudeau and Robert Christiani could not be fully realized. For all that, McWatt achieved more Test appearances than any of his Guyanese contemporaries except Robert Christiani; and although we have to acknowledge the tragically premature death of his main competitor, Cyril Christiani, at the age of twenty-five, this does not contradict his claim to be regarded as the best wicket-keeper-batsman ever produced by Guyana.