John Veerasawmy: Forgotten

Date Published: 
Stabroek News
Winston McGowan

For at least the last hundred years cricket has been the most popular sport in Guyana. Guyanese are more acquainted with the history of cricket than with that of any other local sport. They are particularly knowledgeable of the period since the 1950's when Guyana first started to produce players, initially Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs and Basil Butcher, who gained international renown.

Guyanese, including ardent cricket fans, are far less acquainted with the history of the game before 1950, especially before 1928 when the West Indies began to play Test cricket. Most of the Guyanese players of this early era are unknown or completely forgotten. One of them is John Aloysius Veerasawmy, a left-arm bowler and right-handed tail-end batsman.

Veerasawmy, who was born in May 1891, first demonstrated his talent in sports during his secondary school career at Queen's College where he was outstanding not only in cricket, but also in football and athletics. He was the school's football captain in 1908 and its senior athletic champion in 1909, winning five events, the 100, 200 and 440 yards and the high and long jumps. In his later life, however, he concentrated on cricket.

Veerasawmy occupies a special place in the history of Guyanese cricket. Surprisingly, his importance does not lie solely or even mainly in his exploits on the field of play. His overall significance is due primarily to five achievements.

Veerasawmy's most notable achievement is arguably the fact that he was the first East Indian to represent Guyana in first-class cricket. This occurred in January 1910 when Veerasawmy, at the young age of eighteen, was selected to play against Trinidad at the Queen's Park Oval. It was an inauspicious beginning, with Veerasawmy failing to impress with both bat and ball in a game, which the Trinidadians won by the massive margin of an innings and 180 runs. Veerasawmy, batting at number 11, had scores of 0 and 1 not out, and did not take a single wicket, conceding 37 runs in 8 overs.

Veerasawmy did not represent British Guiana again until eleven years later. This gap was due to two developments. The first was his decision to pursue legal studies in England, where he qualified in 1913 as a barrister at the famous Middle Temple in London. The second factor was the outbreak in 1914 of the First World War, which completely interrupted regional cricket in the Caribbean.

Veerasawmy's second appearance for his country in a first-class match was in September 1921, again against Trinidad at the Queen's Park Oval, in British Guiana's first game after the war. His performance was much better than that in his debut. Batting at Number 11 and 10, he scored 3 not out and 5 not out and was his team's best bowler. He captured 5 wickets for 67 runs in 37 overs, of which 13 were maidens.

This game, which Trinidad won easily by an innings and 80 runs, was the only time that the Barbadian Cyril Rutherford Browne, the team's star player, led the Guianese side and one of the rare occasions in his long career that Browne was eclipsed by any other bowler on his side.

Veerasawmy's third and final first-class appearance for British Guiana was in September of the following year, 1922, against Trinidad at Bourda. In a keenly contested low-scoring game which Trinidad won by 29 runs, Veerasawmy, batting at Number 10, scored 12 and 2 not out and had virtually no success with the ball. In the first innings he took 1 wicket for 33 runs in 7 overs and conceded 9 runs in 2 overs in the second innings without taking a wicket. Cyril Browne, who captured 11 wickets in the match, was his team's best bowler in both innings.

Thus Veerasawmy ended up on the losing side in all three of his appearances for the national team, all these matches being played against Trinidad. His first-class career statistics were very modest - 23 runs in 6 innings with an average of 11.50 with the bat and 6 wickets at an average of 24.33 with the ball. Nevertheless, his selection for British Guiana inspired other Indian cricketers to strive to represent their country.

Although Veerasawmy continued to play domestic first division cricket at least until 1936, when he was 45 years old, he never played first-class cricket after 1922. The end of his first-class career at the age of 31 was due partly to the fact that from 1922 he became preoccupied with his judicial career, serving as a magistrate in Demerara and Essequibo for the following 22 years, that is, until 1944.

Veerasawmy's second notable achievement, which some analysts may regard as his most important contribution to Guyanese cricket, was two initiatives which he undertook to promote the participation and development of Indians in cricket. The first initiative was the establishment in 1914 or 1915 in Georgetown of the British Guiana East Indian Cricket Club (BGEICC).

This club soon became the leading Indian cricket club in the colony and helped to produce most of the Indians who represented British Guiana in cricket in the following forty years. Veerasawmy was not only the founder of the club, but also its president in 1925 and later its Honorary Life President.

The other major impetus which Veerasawmy gave to the development of cricket among East Indians in Guyana was by means of a periodic competition, which he started in 1919 between national Indian teams, representing British Guiana, Suriname and Trinidad. He himself was a member of the British Guiana East Indian Colony Team on two occasions, in 1919 and 1924.

(Veerasawmy's three other notable achievements, as an early Guyanese cricketer will be examined in the second installment of this article. John Aloysius Veerasawmy occupies a special place in the history of Guyanese cricket because of five achievements. Two of them were discussed in the first installment of this article. One was the fact that he was the first East Indian to represent Guyana in first class cricket.

The other was his immense contribution to the development of cricket among East Indians by his establishment of the British Guiana East Indian Cricket Club (BGEICC) and his inauguration of a periodic competition among national Indian teams representing British Guiana, Suriname and Trinidad. This second installment will focus on Veerasawmy's three other notable achievements in cricket.)

Firstly, Veerasawmy was one of the earliest Guyanese to play club cricket in England. During the period from 1911 to 1913 when he was pursuing legal studies in England, he played cricket for four clubs - Middlesex and Surrey County Cricket Clubs, the Clapham Ramblers Cricket Club in Wimbledon, London, and the Hyde Cricket Club in Kent.

In one second-class game in 1911 for Ramblers Cricket Club against Brunswick Cricket Club, he performed the phenomenal feat of capturing all ten wickets in an innings, including a hat trick. In that season he took over 100 wickets, winning his club's bowling prize. His development as a cricketer was aided in these years by the coaching which he received from the distinguished former Surrey County and England cricketer, Robert Abel, an opening batsman and useful slow bowler.

Another notable achievement of Veerasawmy related to his long, diverse and successful involvement in domestic cricket in British Guiana. He had the rare distinction of playing first-division cricket for three different clubs, the BGEICC, the British Guiana Cricket Club (BGCC), and the Malteenoes Sports Club. He captained BGCC twice (1917-1918) and Malteenoes for one season (1936).

Veerasawmy had many outstanding performances in local cricket, almost invariably in bowling. He won the BGCC's annual best bowler prize on three occasions. His best match analysis was in a game in 1917 when he took 15 wickets for 71 runs. His most memorable domestic game, however, was a match in 1924 when he had a brilliant all-round performance on a wet wicket, scoring 42 and 24 not out and capturing 12 wickets for 16 runs (5 for 12 and 7 for 4), routing the opposing team for a total of nine runs, a national record. He continued to be effective as a bowler until his retirement from the game.

Veerasawmy's fifth notable achievement was that he was the first, and for a long time the only, Guyanese who wrote a book on cricket. This little-known manual was first published in 1936, with a second edition appearing in 1945. This second edition was revised and amplified to include the subjects of Fielding, Captaincy and Training not addressed in the original publication.

Both editions of the book bore the same title, "How to Become A Great Batsman and A Great Bowler." The title was somewhat ironic for the author's ability with the bat was very limited, though admittedly on one occasion he did manage to score a century (149 runs) in a second-class game. The book clearly demonstrated that Veerasawmy was a fine well-read student of the game.

In spite of Veerasawmy's important achievements, some of which were unique, he is virtually forgotten today. This is understandable for he never played Test cricket and represented Guyana in only three first-class matches. Nevertheless, he should always be remembered for the role he played by example as well as precept in stimulating and organising the participation in cricket of Guyanese East Indians. Without him there may never have been a Rohan Kanhai. Alvin Kallicharran or Shivnarine Chanderpaul.