The Harry Ramanand Story
In 1955 Harry Ramanand created cricket history by becoming the first schoolboy, and the youngest player ever, to be called to Berbice trials. Before that, you didn’t allow a youngster to be within two miles of the cricket ground. But wait until you hear the juiciest part of the story. The diminutive Harry was the only player who turned up at Mental Hospital ground in short pants.
It was rather unusual those days for someone, anyone to play in short pants. I too was in short pants, but as a mere spectator. That by itself created quite a stir, if not, some amusement among the players and spectators. The next day, Harry was seen ‘struggling’ along the ground in a pair of long pants.
In 1960, schoolboy right-arm spinner “Reds” Singh from Albion was also in short pants on the opening day of the trial games in preparation of the MCC’s visit to the Ancient County.
The young leg-spinner found his line, length and confidence from the very first ball he had bowled, and ended up with the most wickets-24 in all-never before or after had any bowler taken so many wickets in the trial games. Despite his excellent performance, Singh however, was not included on the Berbice side. At the end, the president of the Berbice Cricket Board (BCB) Victor De Cambra told Singh in a rather subtle manner: “Sorry son, you’re too young.”
The three-day match at Rose Hall ‘Oval” Canje was a run fiesta. It produced over 1000 runs for only eight wickets, the total including five centuries, one a double and four personal scores of 50 runs and over. The scores were: Berbice 387-2; MCC 641-6.
The Berbice bowlers came in for a lot of stick. Police off-spinner Lloyd Benjamin took three for 172 off 46 overs. “SugarBoy” Baijnauth at the twilight of his distinguished career bowled his heart out without taking any wicket. He sent down a marathon 69 overs of which 19 were maidens for 182 runs.
Singh made an early exit from the game after showing much promise of achieving great things. Singh and “SugarBoy” Baijnauth apparently played for the same club-Albion-and it was customary then for Baijnauth to seal up one end from the first over. It allows Singh and the rest of the bowlers very little scope to ply their wares. Singh was never happy with this arrangement and disenchantment leaving so many people wondering what might have been.
In those days, trial games would be extended to as long as 5-6 weekends, and you are easily eliminated, after a failure in the early rounds, unless you were one of the more established players-a la Vic Harnanan. So keen it was then, that if you want to make the side you simply cannot afford to fail.
Harry recognized the seriousness of the situation and, there and then, produced some excellent bowling to secure five for 58 runs. It was indeed a commendable effort by the youngster when you consider the top-notch batting line-up that read: Charles Paul, Rohan Kanhai, Vic Harnanan, Basil Butcher, Robert Christiani, Sony Moonsammy, Leslie Amsterdam, Joe Solomon, Hamil Murray, Ancel Hazel and Henry Pestano.
The schoolboy left-arm spinner continued to bamboozle the batsmen in the remaining trial games and culminating his sterling performances by taking six wickets in the final trial game. There was much debate as to whether the youthful and inexperienced Harry should be favored to the more matured and versatile Joe “Cobra” Ramdat, who created havoc, a year ago in Essequibo.
The selectors had the last say and opted for new and young blood in Harry Ramanand. There was much jubilation around the ground at his selection on the Berbice team.
Before I do a brief summary on the Berbice-Demerara clash at Bourda, allow me to digress a little - my friend, Sam Sooppersaud loves this part of my column – and touch on a rather sensitive matter, which I was able to solve after so many years. Mental Hospital had a reputation of providing the best tea at cricket matches in Berbice, and I was only too curious to find out, if it was so!
I remember, sneaking into the Dining Hall with Harry, posing as his kid brother, and to my amazement I was simply stunned when I drank the tea and tasted the sumptuous raisins filled sweetbread. Instead of one cup of tea, I had four cups, with a lot of milk, of course. As for the sweetbread, I had myself filled to the point where I could have hardly moved.
From then on, I never missed out whenever tea was served at the dining hall. Too bad, you don’t get the tea and more particular, the tasty sweetbread anymore. Doubt me! Ask Saranga Baichu! Ask Randolph Ramnarace! Ask Joe Sukwah! Ask Leonard Baichan! Ask Romain Etwaroo! Those guys are still around.
But there was far more to the sweetbread than just simply meeting the palate. We were made to believe that on Fridays, mind you, you could take someone to the Mental Hospital for admission, if for some obvious reason, that person had been acting strangely or of unsound mind. The person would be rewarded with $5.00 and a hefty loaf of sweetbread.
I guess you might have heard that story so many times before and, like me, believe it to be the gospel truth. You wouldn’t believe it, but it was not until I began working at the institution in 1962 that I found out the true meaning of the Friday’s admission, the $5.00, the sweetbread and such like.
It was the rule then and even now to admit the inmates from the Georgetown Hospital Psychiatric Ward to the Mental Hospital on a Friday. This is how the myth associated with the sweetbread; unsound mind, and admission to the institution came into being.
This incidentally, is not the end of the sweetbread saga. Friday traditionally was sweetbread day when everyone who is working at the institution can be seen with a sweetbread or two, even three. Friday is also the day when some people would simple stop whatever they were doing and chase after a sweetbread.
Some years later, I was transferred to the New Amsterdam Hospital there I witnessed something rather revealing. It was Friday alright, and it was sweetbread day. I observed two porters conveying a patient to the x-ray department and suddenly one of them had vanished out of sight.
I was curious to know what had become of him. I asked the porter who was with the patient where the other guy went. This would shock you! The guy had gone to get sweetbread! Sweetbread!
What sweetbread? I enquired? At first the porter was hesitant, but eventually he spilled it out. “On Friday, we does dey on the look out for Uncle Dan Bourne dray cart-he usually transport the sweetbread from Mental Hospital to New Amsterdam Hospital-and once it entered the compound, we does left wha we doing, and go fuh a sweetbread. Need I say more!
Back to my boyhood hero, Harry! While he didn’t do anything spectacular with the ball, Harry nonetheless played a great part to help Berbice retain the inter-county title. In a finish full of drama and tension, Berbice held on to the end to draw the final with archrivals Demerara in the 1955 inter-county cricket tournament at Bourda. Scores in the match were: Demerara 441 for eight declared, Berbice 260 for nine.
Interest in the game was kept alive until the last ball, when the Berbice pair at the wicket and the umpires acquiesced to the third appeal for bad light. Basil Butcher batted well for his 46 runs, which came in 90 minutes and in, which he struck seven boundaries. Earlier, Rohan Kanhai was caught at the wicket by Mc Watt off “Bruiser” Thomas for 19, making an injudicious cut.
Lance Gibbs, in his first spell sent down seven overs for six maidens and had only on run scored off him for two wickets. Berbice skipper and former BG and West Indies star batsman Robert Christiani, who missed out on the Berbice side on the qualification rule the year before, was cheered to the wicket at the crucial point. He stayed three quarters of an hour and scored 14 runs.
Then came the Solomon-Amsterdam stand for the sixth wicket that was mainly responsible for the match petered out in a tame draw. Left handed Leslie Amsterdam, the little man with the broad bat, was not afraid to hit the ball as he settled scored some attractive shots to all parts of the ground.
It was when skipper Bruce Pairaudeau tried Neville Thomas that he got Amsterdam caught and bowled for a classy 45 Solomon and Ivan Madray also defied the regular bowlers and it was left to Neville Thomas to once more break the stand.
From then, the game seemed to be in Demerara’s hands. But although Neville Thomas disposed of “SugarBoy” Baijnauth and Lance Gibbs bowled Saranga Baichu, fifteen-year-old schoolboy left-arm spinner Harry (last man) and Madray stayed through the remaining overs and batted as though their lives depended in not getting out, until bad light forced the stoppage with Berbice precariously placed at 260-9.
The most successful bowlers for the Demerara side were Lance Gibbs three for 31 in 25 overs and Neville Thomas three for 33. Look at Gibbs’ figures again, three for 31 in 25 overs against the likes of Charles Paul, Kanhai, Harnanan, Butcher, Christiani, Amsterdam and Solomon. The guy had class then, no wonder he turned out to be one of the finest, if not the finest, off-spinners the world had seen.
Demerara batted first on a batman’s paradise, with Glendon Gibbs and “Bruiser” Thomas featuring in an opening stand of 115. Thomas was first to go for a well-made 62. It is interesting to note that “Bruiser” Thomas made a brilliant 250 against Essequibo in the preliminary match. Demerara ended the first day’s play on 270 for two; Glendon Gibbs 123 and Bruce Pairaudeau 69 both undefeated.
When play resumed on the second day, the first success came to Berbice when Bruce Pairaudeau was stumped off Baijnauth for 85. His third wicket with Gibbs had put on 154 runs. Neville Thomas helped Gibbs put on 51 runs before he was caught Christiani off Madray for 21. Colin Wiltshire, the leading run-getter in the Case Cup that season, left five runs later, leg before to Harry for one run.
The Gibbs long innings, which started from the opening over on Saturday, came to an end when he was bowled by Madray for 171. His knock included seventeen boundaries. Pairaudeau did not declare during the interval, as many had expected, and Demerara lost two more wickets before the declaration was made eventually at 441 for eight.
At the time, Edun was 35 not out and Lance Gibbs on 13. Leg-spinner Ivan Madray was the main wicket-taker for Berbice with three for 129. Medium pacer Saranga Baichu chipped in with two for 98.
The teams were: Berbice: Robert Christiani (Capt), Charles Paul, Rohan Kanhai (Wkt), Vic Harnanan, Basil Butcher, Leslie Amsterdam, Ivan Madray, “SugarBoy” Baijnauth, Saranga Baichu and Harry with Sony Moonsammy as emergency fieldsman.
Demarara: Bruce Pairaudeau (Capt), Glendon Gibbs, “Bruiser” Thomas, Neville Thomas, Leroy Jackman, Colin Wiltshire, Clif Mc Watt (Wkt), Wilfred Edun, George Green, Lance Gibbs and Julian Archer with Lance Jonas as emergency fieldsman.
Clyde Walcott informed the selection committee that on account of his close association as Coach for the Berbice players he was reluctant to take part in the tournament.
The next week, a Berbice XI took on a Rest Side led by Clyde Walcott in a feature match at the Mental Hospital ground. It was in that match that fifteen-year-old, left-arm spinner my boyhood hero Harry Ramanand bowled Clyde Walcott, one of the illustrious three Ws for a first ball duck. It is believed that it was the first time that this great batsman had ever failed to disturb the scorers.
At his peak, like Viv Richards later, he was one of those rare power-packed batsmen to whom bowlers preferred not to bowl on a long afternoon. Walcott who has the unique distinction of scoring a century in each inning of a Test series (twice against Australia in 1955), and, whose work on the sugar estates cannot be evaluated in how many players he brought to national and international prominence.
Rather, it must be seen in the light of creating an abiding interest in the game that on the sugar estates, if you are not a cricketer and aspiring to be another Kanhai (Rohan), Butcher (Basil) and Solomon (Joe) it is because you are incapacitated, or past when anyone cares much what you are.
And his contribution to West Indies cricket, and as a cricket administrator in Guyana when he was solely instrumental in in-earthing Kanhai, Butcher and Solomon from the sugar estates in Berbice; and as a national coach, manager, director and West Indies Cricket Board president are all now forgotten.
Harry’s reputation grew by leaps and bounds with every passing game. Eventually, he was invited by his eldest brother Seepersaud to play league cricket in England. Harry jumped at the offer, hoping, of course, that it is once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop his cricketing skills and at the same time to enhance his career.