Famous QC Boys: Roger Harper
Roger Harper entered Queen's College as a gangling twelve year old in 1975. Even then his cricketing talents were so obvious that he was immediately drafted into the College's First XI. That was the year the school's cricketing administrators, for reasons I never quite understood, made the decision to withdraw from the Northcote Competition, in favor of playing only in the Wight Cup with a supposedly stronger team.
That decision of course meant exposure to League cricket for fewer of the school's cricketers. Combining the previous Northcote and Wight Cup teams into a single unit for the latter competition also resulted in the availability of more staff members and at least three, "Chalkie" Wailoo, "Oiseaux" Austin and Stanton Seegobin played during the 1975-76 season.
The competition for places on the school team that year was therefore extremely tough. Even I who had finished second in the Northcote bowling averages the previous season with my gentle medium pacers, found myself at the selectors' mercy, omitted for the first few matches in favor of a four pronged pace attack of Gordon, Boxhill, Rooseveldt and Victor Agard. These guys were for their ages phenomenally quick and as such it was not surprising that the coach "Chalkie" Wailoo initially opted for their pace over my trundlers.
Harps' inclusion in the team as a first-former, quite a unique achievement in QC's illustrious cricketing history, was an altogether different matter. By the time he entered Queen's his older brother Mark, had already made a mark, no pun intended, for himself as a batsman at what was then the West Indies Cricket Board of Control Benson & Hedges U19 Competition and was on the verge of selection to the Guyana national team for the Shell Shield Competition.
Like his brother, Roger had also learned his cricket in the environs of Queenstown which had produced such national and regional greats as Robert Christiani, Lance Gibbs and Clive Lloyd.
Undoubtedly influenced by Gibbs, Harper who was already such a gifted athlete that he really could have done whatever he wanted on a cricket field, decided to concentrate on bowling off-spin. Within the span of four very short years he had so perfected the art that by the time he was only sixteen he was making his debut for Demerara in the inter-county championship against Berbice for the Jones Cup.
I remember clearly the first time I met Harps, or "Stumpie" as he was fondly called. It was at a Saturday morning training clinic that the school's coach “Chalkie” Wailoo had organized with three national players Sydney Matthews, Keith Glasgow and Lonsdale Skinner, the Surrey based wicket-keeper who had returned home. Matthews had brought an extra pair of boots that he was willing to give to any of the bowlers it could fit.
The problem was that it a size thirteen and was too big for any of the five front-line bowlers - the previously mentioned four and myself ( by that time I had made it back into the team as a result of having taken 4-17 to help the students demolish the star studded Masters (Staff) XI in the annual grouse match, a game attended by almost the entire student and teaching corps). Roger tried on the boots and to everyone's amusement declared them to be " a little tight".
He didn't actually play too many games for the school, for he was recognized very early by the cricketing brass at the Demerara cricket Club, including Fred Wills and was almost immediately drafted into the club's Case Cup team, which included no less a personage than Roy Fredericks.
He made his debut for Guyana in 1980, at age seventeen not surprisingly under Fredericks' captaincy, and went on to represent his country in 53 Shell Shield/Red Stripe Cup matches scoring 2,472 runs at an average of 32.53 per innings. His three Cup centuries included a mammoth 202 against the Windward Islands at Bourda during the 1995 season.
That 1995 match against the Windwards at Bourda, was probably Harper's most memorable for Guyana as he also recorded his best ever bowling figures of 6-24. Altogether, bowling his off-spinners initially in a style which often aroused vivid memories of Lance Gibbs in his heyday, Harper claimed 186 wickets at a measly average of 21.98. He also played 41 regional One Day matches taking 50 wickets at an average of 21.68 and scoring 680 runs at 23.45 per innings.
Harper's exploits with bat and ball soon captured the attention of the regional selectors. He captained the West Indies Youth team to England in 1982 and he made his debut for the West Indies against India in Calcutta during the 1983 tour. He recorded his best ever Test figures in the Old Trafford 4th Test of the 1984 tour, taking 6-57 to help the West Indies defeat England by an innings and 64 runs.
Harper's outstanding performance during the entire 1984 tour led to his signing by Northamptonshire the following year and he remained with the county until 1988. His best ever season was in 1986 during which he took 62 wickets at 26.93 apiece and also recorded his highest ever first class score, an innings of 234 against Gloucestershire which included twelve sixes and twenty-five fours.
His Test career which seemed so promising at the start, to the degree that he was even identified as a future West Indies captain, was however stymied by a knee injury he suffered during the 1989 domestic series which ruled him out of selection for India's tour that year. Attempting perhaps to rush his recovery, he was selected for the tour of England the following year, but almost completely lost his bowling action and was never again quite the force he had been before.
In all, Harper played twenty five Tests for the West Indies, taking 46 wickets at 28.06 runs apiece and scoring 535 runs at an average of 18.44 runs per innings. In One Day Internationals, he represented the West Indies in 89 matches, scoring 705 runs at an average of 16.78 runs. His 79 wickets were taken at a cost of 36.69 runs per wicket.
If Harper's Test career proved in the end to be less fulfilling than anticipated, the same cannot be said about his performances in One Day Internationals. An electrifying fielder in any position, Harper's mercurial all-round talents made him an almost automatic pick for the West Indies. He played in his first World Cup in India and Pakistan in '86 and a decade later was still enough of a force to be a huge part of the West Indies 1996 campaign which ended with a semi-final loss to Australia.
Having retired from first class cricket, Harper is however still very much involved with the game. He is now occupied in transferring his immense cricketing knowledge to the potential future stars of West Indies cricket and was recently appointed coach to the West Indies A team for their current tour of Bangladesh and India.
With all his experience and knowledge Harper is in his new role as coach, destined to make his old school Queen's College as proud as it has ever been of his cricketing exploits.