Remembering Charlie Stayers

Winston McGowan
Date published: 
Stabroek News

Older Guyanese cricket fans were saddened last week by the news of the death overseas of two of our country's finest cricketers of the pre-independence era. Robert Julian Christiani passed away in Canada at the age of 84, while Conrad Sven Stayers, better known as "Charlie" Stayers, died in England at the age of 67. This writer was particularly saddened by the news, for Christiani was my boyhood cricket hero and I was personally acquainted with Stayers, with whom I grew up in close geographical proximity.

Christiani and Stayers had at least two features in common. They both attended St. Stanislaus College and played domestic cricket for the now defunct British Guiana Cricket Club (B.G.C.C.), whose once prestigious ground in Thomas Lands, reduced to a garbage dump in modern times, sadly languishes today. On the cricket field, however, they were different. Christiani was primarily a specialist middle-order batsman, while Stayers was a bowling all-rounder, a fast bowler who was an able lower-order batsman.

Stayers was born on June 9, 1937. My earliest memory of him as a cricketer is that of a young "tearaway" fast bowler. Bowling with frightening pace "with the breeze" from the northern end of the St. Stanislaus College ground bordering the sea wall, he terrified opposing batsmen while representing his school in the local Wight Cup competition in the mid 1950s.

It was a few years later in March 1958 that Stayers made his debut for British Guiana at the Georgetown Cricket Club ground at Bourda against the Pakistani touring team during its historic initial visit to the Caribbean. Then 20 years old, he was the only debutant in the national team led by the Barbadian, Clyde Walcott. The other nine members of the side in batting order were Glendon Gibbs, Bruce Pairaudeau, Rohan Kanhai, Basil Butcher, Joe Solomon, Ivan Madray, Edwin Mohamed, Ian Jordan and Patrick Legall. The Berbician, Sonny Moonsammy, was the 12th man or emergency fieldsman.

Batting at Number 10, Stayers contributed only a single to his team's substantial total of 441 which was due mainly to centuries by Butcher (122) and Solomon (121) and much smaller contributions of (48) by Kanhai, (28) by Gibbs and Madray and (25) by Walcott.

Stayers was asked to open the bowling with Legall, another 20-year-old, the first time in many years that a Guianese team had a pair of genuinely fast opening bowlers. He immediately created an impression, capturing a wicket with the third ball of the initial over of his first-class career. His first two deliveries were pitched wide of the off-stump, the second being ruled a wide by the umpire. With the third delivery and the Pakistani score at one, however, he dismissed their star player, Hanif Mohammad, who in the first Test against the West Indies at Kensington Oval in Barbados six weeks earlier in January 1958 had scored a triple century (337 runs) and had broken the world record for the longest innings in Test cricket.

Stayers forced Hanif to play the ball on to his stumps and later knocked back the off stump of Waqar Hassan who made a duck. The score was then 38 for the loss of three wickets and by the end of the day's play 104 for 4. The headline in the report on the day's play which appeared in the next day's issue of the Daily Chronicle newspaper was appropriate: "Furious Stayers And Legall Have Pakistan In Trouble."

Pakistan was eventually dismissed for a score of 227. This was due mainly to the performance of Stayers, who captured 4 for 78 in 25 overs and was his team's best and most successful bowler. The visitors were asked to follow on and in their second innings compiled 414 for 5, owing mainly to centuries from the opener, Alimuddin (133) and the middle-order batsman, Wazir Mohammad (102 not out). The game ended in a tame draw. Stayers again bowled with pace, but with little success, taking one wicket for 81 runs in 22 overs.

This performance proved to be the beginning of a successful career, which Stayers had especially for British Guiana. It prompted local sports writers to call for his inclusion in the Test team for the fourth Test at Bourda as the partner for the fiery Jamaican pace bowler, Roy Gilchrist. This call, however, went unheeded and, as will be seen later, four more years were to elapse before Stayers was able to make his Test debut.

Stayers was a tall elegant cricketer. As a bowler he had a somewhat leisurely approach to the wicket and a comparatively short run-up and delivered the ball from a high upright position. His bowling had several virtues. He had genuine pace and was usually hostile, especially with the first new ball. He was an aggressive bowler who usually employed an attacking field, a factor which adversely affected his economy rate. He was also quite accurate, forcing the batsmen to play. Furthermore, he swung the ball both ways and had an effective bouncer, which he used judiciously.

Stayers was a free-scoring batsman who had a relaxed upright stance. He hit the ball hard and cleanly, specialising in drives in the arc between extra cover and mid on. He was particularly comfortable against pace bowling, but also able against spin. He normally batted at Number 8, but occasionally at No. 7 or No. 9. As an all-rounder, he reminds this author of Malcolm Marshall, though he could not match the latter's skill as a bowler.

Stayers in spite of his undoubted ability, had a relatively short first-class career of about five years, beginning in 1958 and ending in 1963, when he was only 26 years old. In these years he represented his homeland, British Guiana, in nine games, six against other Caribbean territories and three against touring teams from overseas.

In the six matches which Stayers played against Barbados, the Combined Leeward and Windward Islands, Jamaica and Trinidad, he scored 315 runs, including one hundred and one half century, in 9 innings, at an average of 39.37 runs an innings. In these games he also bowled 202 overs, of which 25 were maidens, conceded 702 runs and captured 34 wickets, at an average cost of 21.23 runs a wicket. In three of the eleven innings in which he bowled, he took six wickets and four wickets in two of the others. Three of these six games were played at the Georgetown Cricket Club ground at Bourda, one at Rose Hall in Berbice and two at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Sayers' team-mates in the national team included some of the finest cricketers produced by Guyana, such as the middle-order batsmen, Basil Butcher, Rohan Kanhai, and Joe Solomon, and the off-spinner, Lance Gibbs. Among them also were the opening batsmen, Glendon Gibbs, Bruce Pairaudeau and Colin Wiltshire, the middle-order batsmen, Victor Harnanan, Sonny Moonsammy and Leslie Amsterdam, the all-rounder, Brian Patoir, the spinners, Basil Mohabir, Edwin Mohamed and Norman Wight, the medium pacers, Saranga Baichu and Carlyle Miller, and the fast or medium-fast bowlers, Colin Heron, Pat Legall, and Nigel Slinger. The team's captain was the famous Barbadian batsman, Clyde Walcott, and its wicket-keeper, Ivor Mendonca, who was also an able batsman. Some of these players are hardly remembered today.

Stayers' best performances with the bat for his country were both against Barbados. The first occurred at Kensington Oval early in 1959, when he was 21 years old and playing only his third first-class game. Batting at Number 8, Stayers came to the wicket with his team in deep trouble with a score of 87 for the loss of six wickets. He proceeded to make a century (120 runs), the only first-class hundred of his career, sharing a productive seventh-wicket partnership of 198 runs in 217 minutes with the left-handed opener, Glendon Gibbs, who also made a hundred. (123).

This remarkable unexpected stand enabled British Guiana to recover to reach a total of 316 in reply to Barbados' mammoth first innings score of 539 for 8 wickets declared. In that innings Stayers was his team's best bowler, taking four wickets for 117 runs in 32 overs. His fine all-round performance, however, could not prevent his team from eventually losing the five-day game by 121 runs.

Stayers' other memorable feat with the bat occurred in October 1961 against Barbados at Bourda in the final of the region's first five-way tournament, involving also the Combined Leeward-Windward Islands, Jamaica and Trinidad. Batting again at Number 8, Stayers came to the wicket to join Joe Solomon at a critical juncture, with his team's score 202 for 6, 66 runs behind the Barbadian first innings total of 268.

He and Solomon, the last pair of recognised batsmen, shared a productive seventh-wicket partnership of 87 runs. Eventually Stayers was the last man out, run out for 83, including 12 fours, made in just over three hours. His effort, aided by useful contributions from Lance Gibbs (31) and Carlyle Miller (15), enabled his team to reach the respectable total of 387 and thus gain a sizable unexpected lead of 119 runs. Stayers' innings was his side's second best score, being eclipsed by a fine century (146) by Solomon.

The Daily Chronicle cricket reporter described Stayers' innings thus: "Stayers, playing freely and handsomely, went on to nail home the fact that he is one of the best all-rounders in the West Indies today. He drove, cut and pulled with power, and he glanced nicely for a chanceless knock of 83 before being last man out - and run out. Even his staunchest critics have now been silenced: he has certainly played himself into the West Indies team to play India next year.

So inspiring was his performance that the British Guiana tail of doubtfuls wagged more vigorously than it has ever done. So much so that instead of the narrow lead which was hoped for at lunch, the homesters gained the sizable one of 119".

On the last day of the game Stayers again rescued his team with the bat. British Guiana, having dismissed the Bajans for 244 in their second innings, was required to score only 126 runs to win the game. The team with a score of 100 for two, seemed destined to reach the target easily, but then lost four wickets quickly.

Stayers came to the wicket with the score at 116 for 5 and one player, Mendonca, retired hurt. The atmosphere was very tense and his team and its supporters were beginning to panic. At 117 the team lost another wicket, increasing the alarm. However, Stayers immediately hit the winning runs - two boundaries off the backfoot through the covers and an on drive for a single. He made 10 not out and enabled British Guiana not only to win the game by four wickets, but to retain the title of regional champions which it had been holding since 1956.

Stayers' bowling was also crucial to his team's victory. He was its most successful bowler, capturing nine wickets in the game - 6 for 70 in the first innings and 3 for 64 in the second innings, when he was eclipsed by his opening partner, Patrick Legall, who took 5 wickets for 24 runs.

Stayers' bowling, like his batting, evoked considerable praise from the Daily Chronicle reporter. In an article entitled "Charlie Stayers Sends Barbados Reeling", the reporter observed:

"British Guiana's fast bowler, Charlie Stayers, sent Barbados plunging yesterday when the Inter-Territorial Cricket final opened on the GCC ground, Bourda. In a non-stop spell during the 90 minutes before Lunch, Stayers delivered three stunning blows. Then he came back late in the afternoon to clip another one, and leave the tourists struggling at 235 for 8 by stumps.

Stayers was magnificent…Bowling at top speed on a wicket which was giving lift before lunch, the BG all-rounder sent back Seymour Nurse, Conrad Hunte and Everton Weekes, the last for a duck. He forced the batsmen to play all the time, and kept swinging the ball in and out. He also made judicial use of bouncers, nailing home the fact that he is the best new ball bowler in the West Indies today."

This game, which proved to be the last in which Stayers would play for his country, witnessed the finest all-round performance of his career. It was the culmination of a season in which he enjoyed unprecedented success. In the first game of the championship two weeks earlier, Stayers had achieved the finest bowling figures in an innings in his first-class career - 6 for 63 in 18 overs against the Combined Islands at Bourda. His bowling and a fine innings of 197 by Colin Wiltshire were mainly responsible for the massive Guianese victory by an innings and 144 runs.

In the three matches which British Guiana played in this October 1961 regional competition, Stayers captured 23 wickets for 401 runs with an average of 17.43 runs a wicket and scored 117 runs in four innings with an average of 39 runs an innings. This impressive all-round performance enabled him to gain selection for the West Indies in the Test series in 1962 against an Indian touring team led by the Nawab of Pataudi.

From the beginning of Stayers' first-class career in March 1958, when he bowled impressively for British Guiana against the visiting Pakistani national team, there were calls by local journalists for his inclusion in the West Indies Test side. Understandably, however, these calls for the selection of a player with only a single first-class appearance went unheeded. The regional selectors decided instead to entrust the new ball to the more experienced Jamaican pair, Roy Gilchrist and Tom Dewdney.

The local calls for Stayers' inclusion in the Test team were renewed late in 1959 when an English team, led by Peter May, arrived in the Caribbean to play a series of five Test matches. His candidature was now stronger in the wake of a good all-round performance in regional inter-territorial games earlier in the year against Barbados at Kensington Oval and Jamaica at Bourda. In three games Stayers had scored 198 runs, including a century, at an average of 39.60 runs an innings, and had captured 12 wickets at an average of 26.75 runs each.

Stayers was chosen in the squad of players selected to travel to Barbados with a view to selection for the first Test against the Englishmen early in January 1960. However, he failed to make the final eleven, preference being given to the Jamaican, Chester Watson, as the partner for the Barbadian, Wesley Hall, who by then had become the region's leading fast bowler. Guyanese journalists complained that Stayers had been given a "raw deal", especially as he was a more able batsman than Watson.

Stayers eventually was able to force his way into the West Indies Test team as a result of his impressive performance in the historic regional competition held in British Guiana in October 1961 and involving five teams for the first time. Particularly impressive was his success in the presence of the West Indies selectors in the keenly contested final in which British Guiana defeated Barbados by four wickets. Stayers was the main architect of his team's victory, taking 9 wickets in the game for 134 runs (6 for 70 and 3 for 64) and scoring 83 and 10 not-out, including the winning run.

Stayers' Test debut occurred at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad in February 1962 in the first Test of a series against India. He failed with the bat, scoring only four runs, but performed satisfactorily with the ball, taking 3 for 65 and 1 for 20 in a game which the West Indies won by 10 wickets.

Stayers represented the West Indies in the following three Tests at Sabina Park, Kensington Oval and again at the Queen's Park Oval, where the fourth Test was shifted from its scheduled venue at Bourda because of political disturbances in Georgetown. Stayers was therefore deprived of the opportunity of playing a Test before his home crowd.

In these three games Stayers' highest score was 35 not-out, which he made batting at Number 9 in the second Test at Sabina Park. He shared a productive eighth-wicket partnership with another Guyanese, the wicker-keeper, Ivor Mendonca, who was making his Test debut and scored 78 runs. Their stand enabled the West Indies to reach a mammoth score of 631 for 8 wickets declared, which was due mainly to centuries from Easton McMorris (125), Rohan Kanhai (138) and Garfield Sobers (153).

The match ended in a West Indian victory by an innings and 18 runs, with Stayers taking 1 for 76 in 23 overs and 0 for 25 in 10 overs in the two Indian innings. It was a historic game for Guyanese cricket, for it was the first occasion that as many as five Guyanese - Stayers, Mendonca, Kanhai, Joe Solomon and Lance Gibbs - had represented the West Indies in a Test match.

Stayers' best bowling performance after the first Test was 2 for 24 in 18 overs in the second innings of the third Test at Kensington Oval, when he captured the first two wickets, those of Jaisimha and Surti. The other eight wickets were taken by his compatriot, Lance Gibbs, for only 38 runs, enabling the West Indies to gain another innings victory. This was a historic event, the only occasion in Test cricket that all ten wickets in an innings were captured by Guyanese bowlers.

Stayers' performances in the next Test in Trinidad was very disappointing. Batting at Number 10, he scored only 12 in the West Indies' substantial score of 444 for 9 wickets declared and had unimpressive bowling figures of 0 for 23 in 8 overs and 1 for 50 in 10 overs. Not surprisingly, he was dropped for the final Test in Jamaica. His replacement, the Jamaican fast-medium bowler, Lester King, justified the selectors' decision with a brilliant performance on his debut, capturing 5 for 46 in 19 overs and 2 for 18 in 13 overs, helping the West Indies to win not only the game, but also all the Tests in a series for the first time.

In the series Stayers scored 58 runs in four innings with an average of 19.33 runs an innings and captured nine wickets for 364 runs in 106 overs at a high cost of 40.44 runs a wicket. His surprising ineffectiveness with the ball was due partly to the fact that he bowled at reduced pace, apparently because of an allegation that his action at top pace was somewhat suspect.

Later in the year, Stayers, Lester King and Chester Watson proceeded to India, where they were contracted by the Indian cricket authorities to play and coach with a view to promoting and developing fast bowling in the sub-continent. While he was there, Stayers played four first class matches - two for Bombay in the domestic Ranji Trophy competition and the others for West Zone against South Zone and for the Chief Minister's XI against the Governor's XI.

Stayers was quite successful in these matches. He took 14 wickets for 321 runs in 72 overs or an average cost of 22.92 runs a wicket and scored 91 runs in four innings, with a highest score of 53 and an average of 30.33 runs an innings. In one of the games for Baroda, statistically he had the best bowling performance in an innings in first-class cricket in his entire career, 6 for 36.

At the end of his contract in India Stayers remained overseas to pursue higher studies. Surprisingly, he never played first-class cricket again.

Thus unexpectedly and regrettably, the contribution of this able all-rounder was lost to Guyanese and West Indies cricket prematurely, at the young age of 25 before he reached his peak. Few players, if any, in the history of Guyanese cricket with his ability, potential and success, have had such a short first-class or Test career.

In spite of the brevity of his career, Stayers' contribution to Guyanese cricket was substantial. It, however, has never been sufficiently acknowledged. His main contribution lies in the fact that he played a major role in enabling British Guiana to maintain ascendancy in Caribbean inter-territorial cricket in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In these years he was by far his country's most successful bowler, even eclipsing his more highly esteemed team-mate, Lance Gibbs, who began his Test career before Stayers made his first-class debut.

This little-known fact is clearly reflected in the statistics for that period. For example, in the four inter-territorial games in which Stayers and Gibbs represented British Guiana, Stayers took 28 wickets for 512 runs or an average cost of 18.28 runs a wicket, while Gibbs had 14 victims for 524 runs or a cost of 36 runs a wicket.

Stayers was one of the most hostile bowlers produced by Guyana. He was particularly hostile and effective with the first new ball in the first innings of a match. On the rare occasion, however, when he failed to make an impression with the first new ball, he was particularly dangerous when he returned for his second spell, as occurred on the first day of a game against Jamaica at Bourda in October 1959.

The Jamaican opening pair, Allan Rae (65) and Easton Morris (92) put on 132 runs for the first wicket, enabling their team to reach over 200 by tea with the loss of only two wickets, one to Stayers' fellow paceman, Patrick Legall, and the other to the off-spinner, Norman Wight. Play after the interval was described by the Daily Chronicle reporter in an article entitled "Stayers stakes claim for Test Pick" thus:

"A brilliant post-Tea bowling spell by Charlie Stayers wrecked Jamaica's hopes of putting a mammoth total here today. Stayers with no wicket in the opening spell during the morning came back after tea with the second new ball, skittled through three wickets for 18 runs and caused a batting slump from 208 for 2 to 223 for 5."

Stayers' effectiveness as a bowler is reflected in the fact that in three of the fifteen innings in which he bowled for British Guiana he captured six wickets and in three others four wickets. In his nine games for his homeland he took 45 wickets at an average cost of 24.22 runs each. His value as a player was enhanced by his productive batting in the lower order. In 13 innings for British Guiana, he scored 336 runs, including one century (120) and one half-century (83), achieving an average of 30.53 runs an innings.

Stayers developed a reputation of being a reliable batsman, with excellent temperament, especially in times of crisis. He rescued British Guiana on several occasions with the bat. On one such occasion in 1959, when he and Joe Solomon put on 43 runs for the seventh wicket in difficult circumstances to enable their team to gain a first-innings lead over Jamaica, the Daily Chronicle Sports Editor, Charles Chichester, described them as "our two best crisis batsmen."

Stayers, in fact, is one of the finest all-rounders produced by Guyana. Only four players who represented Guyana in its 140 years of first-class cricket have matched or surpassed Stayers' career performance as an all-rounder. These cricketers are Edward Wright, an Englishman who played in the 1880s and 1890s, Cyril "Snuffy" Browne, a Barbadian who played for British Guiana between 1909 and 1939, Roger Harper and Carl Hooper.

Stayers has a good claim to join Colin Croft as the pair of fast bowlers in an imaginary best Guyanese cricket team. Admittedly, the Berbician, John Trim, has a far better Test record (18 wickets at an excellent average cost of 16.16 runs each). Trim's performance for British Guiana, however, was very moderate (38 wickets in 15 games at a high average cost of 42.47 runs each) and far inferior to that of Stayers, who was also a much better batsman than Trim, whose career batting average is only 11.69.

Charlie Stayers ought to be remembered and honoured as a fine bowling all-rounder who in his entire first-class career of 17 matches took 68 wickets at average of 26.10 runs each and scored 485 runs, including one century and two fifties, at an average of 28.52 runs an innings. He is one of only seven Guyanese opening bowlers who have represented the West Indies in its long history of 77 years of Test cricket. He will also always be ranked among the finest Guyanese cricketers of the pre-independence era.