Celebrating 100 Years of Competitive Cricket – 1913 to 2013
This year, 2013, marks the centenary of Dominica's participation in competitive cricket involving the Leeward and Windward Islands. In 1913, Dominica, then a colony in the Leeward Islands group, participated in the Leeward Islands cricket tournament and this continued until Dominica moved to the Windward Islands group in 1937. During this hundred year period, Dominica's cricket has moved into different phases, ranging from the standard of play to the social aspect of the game.
As far as the standard of play is concerned, the game has been shaped and changed by some great players in each generation, from the days of Merrill Anthony, undoubtedly the fastest bowler Dominica has produced, Hughes Shillingford, Sydney (Bobby) Pemberton and Lawrence (Cocky) Jerome. There was William Murphy, a native of Barbados who lived and worked in Dominica, who scored the first tournament century (120) for Dominica in a Leeward Island's tournament. This was done in a record partnership with young Ivan Shillingford who scored 60. It was said that Ivan's father had promised him a car if he scored a century but having scored 60, he was given a motorcycle instead.
Then there are players of the Fifties to today. If we live long enough and are blessed with leisure time, as I do, to look back at the performances of those players who played during the early Fifties, Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, we would need no device of modern science to show us the famous square-drive of Ivan Shillingford; Val Felix's princely look on the field as captain, a grand cricketer, few better in my view; Leroy Shillingford's straight drive for four; Clem Shillingford's exquisite cover-drive, a mixture of soundness and aggression; Augustus Gregoire; the forceful and aggressiveness of Irving Shillingford, undoubtedly the finest batsman of his time; the all-round performance from Cecil Larocque; Kaleb Laurent's and Thomas Kentish's variation of spin bowling; Grayson Shillingford's and Norbert Phillip's fast-medium pace bowling; Lockhart Sebastien's flick off the pad for four and Roy Marshall's ferocious hit over boundary for six. These are memories we will always cherish.
That great game has passed through many stages which have had certain implications on segments of Dominican society, especially those who were not blessed with any degree of social or economic standing, thus placing them in the lower bracket of our cricketing society. They were placed into different categories; for example, this chap was too poor to be on a team with the son or sons of Mr. So and So, or was too poor to travel with a Dominica team abroad. One would often hear also that this chap came from the country district and as such he cannot mix with that so-called top brass in the team; or this man is not used to the table etiquette of the persons on a touring team. But perhaps the most unkindest cut of all was when, some years ago, I was shocked when I heard a boy from the country who had established himself in town by virtue of having to attend secondary school and then became a national cricketer, and got into a cricket discussion on the field with a player on a country team, and then he asked him in a degrading tone: 'What part of the bush you come from'?
So you see, you cannot blame those in the past who looked down on certain players. It was a question of 'once I am on top, there is no one bigger than I am' situation. Looking back at the records, and I note with particular interest the records from 1913 to 1937 when Dominica played in the Leeward Islands, the nine persons who were chosen to captain Dominica during that period were persons who had distinguished themselves in Dominican society in various fields and with family background as the main criteria. Such selections inevitable made the Dominica captaincy seem to be a very unattainable thing to a Dominican player of humble background.
Then, when Dominica became a member of the Windward Islands grouping, that was from 1937, this trend continued until 1956 when Val Felix was entrusted with the captaincy. Here then, the policy was based on the so-called best man for the job, until Augustus Gregoire's selection in 1967 proved otherwise. The late Augustus Gregoire, the man after whom the current Gregoire League is named in order to perpetuate his memory, was one of the leading cricketers in Dominica at the time of his untimely death in 1973 which shocked our cricketing community.
Gregoire was chosen as captain of the Dominica team in 1969, and, I as a member of the selection committee at that time, received a lot of criticism for such a selection on the grounds, I must state was entirely outside cricket, and because Gregoire never wore a school tie. The choice also did not meet with the unanimous approval of all members of the Dominica Amateur Sports Association (DASA), as it was called then, but because of Gregoire's determined leadership and sound temperament, he was a success with a capital 'S'.
One may say that situations like these took place long before such changes in the major cricketing countries of the world, where only persons of high standing were selection to captain their respective countries. I here make reference to the late Lord Hawke, one of the most celebrated of Yorkshire's amateur cricketers, who said: 'Pray God, may no professional ever captain England'. (Strong words indeed). What Lord Hawke was saying was that the professionals were such ordinary people that they should never ever captain England. When the late Len Hutton, who became Sir Leonard Hutton, the first professional to captain England in 1950, some 30 years after Lord Hawke uttered these words, Hutton said in an interview that Lord Hawke's bones ought to be quaking in his grave at his appointment. It may very well be that situations like those may have prompted what existed in Dominica many years ago.
This article would not be complete if I didn't mention the names of those persons who captained Dominica from 1913 to 1937, when Dominica was part of the Leeward Islands group; they were: P.J. Boyd, J.R.M. Bridgewater, W.A.C. Potter, Eddie Joseph, J.R. Squibbs (a white man), J.R.A. Branch (a former captain of Police), J.J. Daway, E.A. Trotter and B.J. Cools Lartigue. From 1938 to 1994 ( when Dominica played in the Windward Islands): J.R. Cools Lartigue, B.J. Cools Lartigue, E.A. Trotter, J.A.M. Trotter, I.N. Shillingford, E.R. Richards, D.K. Burton, H.M. Frampton, Val Felix, Donny Robinson, Clem McIntyre, Leroy Shillingford, Einstein Shillingford, Clem John, Augustus Gregoire, Irving Shillingford, Norbert Phillip, Grayson Shillingford, Lockhart Sebastien, Thomas Kentish, Hazel Pacquette, Joel Pierre and Mervin Thomas. The list goes on.
On a personal note, my cricketing experience spans about five generation of cricketers, given the fact that the cricketing life of a player lasts approximately ten years, in most cases. Thus I have had a reasonably good term of service to this great game for well over five decades. Looking back, I must say that they were years well spent. All things considered, I must say that the game today is as great as it ever was, and no matter what changes have taken place with modern ideas and technology, as long as we have the raw materials we will see cricket revitalized time and time again. But cricket as a game can only survive if it is played by civilized people with the highest standards of sponsorship and good humour.