Cricket Broadens My Outlook
Guyanese off-spinner Roger Harper had his training on the rough and bumpy field at the Demerara Cricket club outfield, and became known from that humble beginning as one of cricket’s finest players.
Roger Andrew Harper was born March 17, 1963 in a home in Georgetown which nurtured his passion and love for cricket. “My very early years were spent in Newtown, Kitty then I moved to Queenstown. Well, my elder brother was a cricket fanatic, and my father was a sports lover, so the love for the game grew naturally,” he told Guyana Times Sunday Magazine.
The cricket legend attended the Fountain AME, now the Queenstown Community High, and after graduating went to Queen’s College. “In high school I was already representing Guyana internationally, and although after school I worked as an insurance salesman, my love for the game didn’t suffer.”
At 6 feet, five inches, the spinner made his debut for Guyana in the 1979/1980 First Class season when he was only 17 years old. In 1981 he went to Ireland to play professionally, and in 1982 he was chosen to captain the West Indies Youth Team. His early start propelled him into the game and into making a name as one of the best fielders and bowlers.
Harper caught the eye of the West Indies selectors in October 1983, when he made his One Day International (ODI) debut for the West Indies in Srinagar, India. He had an outstanding debut, taking three wickets for 34 runs to help the Caribbean side to victory against India.
It was no surprise that the outstanding fielder earned a Test debut in December 1983 against the same opponents. “I was in England at the time playing professional league and was living with relatives there. When I got up the morning, the man of the house said he couldn’t wait to see me, so I was wondering why, and then he smiled and gave me the papers and pointed to the sports section. I saw the cricket team chosen to tour India to play against them and my name was on the list. I felt a great sense of achievement and pride.”
Harper said that to prepare himself for a game, he would usually first study his opponents, because after playing against them for a while he learns their weaknesses and strengths. He added that the subtleties of bowling or batting are what make a cricketer consistent in his abilities to spin the ball and to impart subtle changes of pace and flight and those subtle variations help to deceive the batsman.
Reminiscing on special moments in his career, Harper said, “We tend to look at special moments as primary unforgettable moments, but we must not forget the little steps we took to reach to the great moments in life. I think my first little steps in the game playing for my senior team at Queens College and playing my first game for the Demerara Cricket Club first team were the most memorable; then going on to represent West Indies for the first time were all just great moments in my life.”
His first victory with the Guyana Senior Team was winning the Shell Shield cricket tournament under Clive Lloyd’s captaincy. They then went on to win the Geddes Grant Haslin One Day tournament under Roy Fredericks’ captaincy. In 1987 the team won the last edition of the Shell Shield tournament.
The Guyanese off-spinner also had a stint with English County side Northamptonshire. Overall, Harper played 200 First Class matches, taking 567 wickets and scoring 7,480 runs (with 10 centuries and 36 half-centuries).
After he retired from playing, Harper became an international coach. He coached the West Indies and Kenya, in addition to coaching Guyana at domestic level. Harper coached the West Indies A-Team for a few years and then took charge of the Senior Team.
He was asked to manage the West Indies Under-19 team in December 2005, but quit after a month to coach the Kenyan national side where he rebuilt a squad that was close to shambles when he arrived. “I had applied for the post as a coach for the Kenyan team, but didn’t hear anything from them. That was when I decided to take up managing the W.I. under-19 team; however after a month applying for the post, the Kenyan committee called to say I was accepted – that’s why I left to go there.”
All in good time, for he arrived in Kenya to revive the cricket team and as it goes, he became their saviour.
His peeve is that in our “skill-filled” country we do not push sports as it ought to be.
Commenting on what cricket has done for him personally, Harper said, “It has taken me around the world; I have been able to meet with kings and princes, and have cocktails with presidents and prime ministers. It has afforded me the opportunity to experience various cultures and meet different people all over the world, and it has really broadened my outlook on life. There have been a number of challenges and difficulties – but that’s life. Cricket is like life in a way in that at one time in life you’re known as the greatest because of something great you did, and the next you’re known as the circus clown."