Prof. Ravi Chaturvedi*
Musing over the history of the Queen’s Park Cricket Club of the twin island of Trinidad & Tobago, the words of Winston Churchill echoed in my ears, “History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passions of former days.”
Recalling the initial days of club, the celebrity writer C. L. R. James (author of Beyond A Boundary) wrote, “”they were for the most part white and often wealthy and that a black man in the Queen’s Park was rare and usually anonymous.” But from there onwards it became a nerve-centre of cricket not only in Trinidad but in the entire Caribbean.
The Queen’s Park Cricket Club is the most scenic cricket venue in the Caribbean which made a humble beginning in 1891. The Club undertook the workmanship and in course of time came up with a pictorial cricket park. It is one of the earliest established cricket stadia in the West Indies. The club brochure points out that It has capacity to accommodate nearly 20, 000 cricket lovers. The club museum is the storehouse of the history of the West Indies cricket. In addition, the facilities include club house, indoor and outdoor cricket nets, gym., squash and tennis courts. To augments its income club rents out its premises for football matches and even musical evenings.
The club came into international cricket reckoning when it hosted a match between Lord Hawke’s touring English and Queen’s Park Club teams in 1891. West Indies became member of the elite Imperial Cricket Conference in 1926 and the Queen’s Park Cricket Club staged the first ever home Test series against England in 1930.
The stadium has staged various formats of international cricket like Tests, ODIs and the most recent innovation of Twenty20 cricket. With the bulk of the West Indies cricketers joining Kerry Packer’s radical bandwagon, the stadium was the venue of the1979 World Series Cricket game and subsequently the first-time staged the ICC 2007 World Cup. The venue is the home of the Trinidad & Tobago Red Steel team of the Caribbean Premier League.
My “romance” with the Queen’s Park Cricket Club commenced on March 24, 1976 while covering the India West Indies series for All India Radio. Since then, the venue has emotional appeal with this cricket-crazy commentator. It is a “Sanctum Sanctorum” of cricket, the scene of the cricketing deeds of the greats of the game.
The day of March 24 started eventfully with a surprise meeting with CLR James on the breakfast table in the Queen’s Park Hotel. He had come with a BBC TV team for filming the events leading to the rise of the West Indies team. Later, I learnt about his varied contribution to the Caribbean from cricket writer Brunnell Jones in the press box. It was my instant admiration for this genial giant who espoused the cause of the independence to break the shackles of colonialism. He shared his vision of free Caribbean with the leading politicians of the region Eric Williams and Chedi Jagan.
During lunch time while walking over to the Indian dressing room, I saw James in the press box (those days adjacent to the pavilion) involved in conversation with Jeff Stollmeyer (author of the book – Everything Under the Sun) then President, West Indies Cricket Board. I recalled having seen Stollmeyer (vice captain of John Goddard’s 1948 India touring team at Feroz Shah Kotla in New Delhi). After getting needed information from the Indian dressing room when I walked in the press box, I saw James surrounded by Brunnell Jones (covered cricket for The Hindu a daily of Madras), and sports editors of many dailies-Rudy Raghbir (Trinidad Express), Bootins Alkins (The Trinidad Guardian) and Tony Becca (Jamaica’s Gleaner) sharing his views on how game has transformed over the years.
Author’s 1976 Trinidad visit was rewarding on many counts to find my long-lost brother in Ramcharetar Rickhi (secretary, West Indies Cricket Umpires Association, headed by ex Test stalwart Gerry Gomez) and Jai Parasram from Trinidad television whose brother Sham was my contemporary in the Delhi University’s Zoology Deptt., Babooram Rambisoon (later came to India as a diplomat) who briefed me about security concerns in Jamaica, two academicians from the UWI-Profs. Syed Haq and Birla. My personal interaction with the local communities made me realise the exploitation, suffering and struggle they had to overcome before settling down. The amiable and open-hearted Caribbean people left a lasting impression on me. The warmth and hospitality of the people made Trinidad my second home.
My second Trinidad visit was a stopover on my way to Guyana as a member of the Indian Cultural delegation in 1988, followed by similar sojourn in 1995 for the 150
th anniversary of the Indian arrival in Trinidad. But my fourth call at the port was in 2002 again as commentator and saw a huge stadium, compared to a small ground of 1976. It was a massive concrete structure mostly covered stadium with well-equipped modern gadgets media centre named after Gerry Gomez (also a commentator after his playing days), located opposite pavilion and adjoining vibrant Trini Posse (like the cheerleaders of the IPL) Stand. In the media centre I met my old friends from the Caribbean cricket commentators community- the doyen among them Tony Cozier, “Reds” Perreira, and David Lamy. Lamy, later published my interview on the changing facets of cricket and nostalgia of my Caribbean visit in the Queen’s Park Club magazine Parkite.
During the 2002 visit I was distressed to note a dip in the interest of cricket in the Caribbean. It was a melancholy moment for a man who had followed the fortunes of West Indies cricket with awe and interest over the years. There was light at the end of the tunnel as cricket still made headlines on the pages of the dailies in the Caribbean. But my meeting with Wes Hall (family friend since 1983 when he came to India as manager of the West Indies team) was most memorable.
In the ups and downs of my 2002 Caribbean cruise, the ominous point was that frosty death had laid its hands on one-time India’s versatile spinner “Fergie” Gupte, who after retirement was living at St. Fernando. At Gupte’s memorial service were his numerous admirers, besides H.E. Virendra Gupta, the Indian High Commissioner, the little master Sunil Gavaskar and yours truly.
While sitting in the Gerry Gomez Media Centre, waiting for the telephone lines to become alive to start my commentary to India in 2002, the memories of my childhood days of 1948 when India and West Indies played their maiden Test at Delhi came rolling back. I vividly remembered Gomez compiled a century (101) along with Clyde Walcott (152), Everton Weekes (128) and Robert Christiani (107) that saved the Windies from the batting blushes. The visitors were down in dumps with Allan Rae (3), Jeff Stollmeyer (13) and great George Headley (2) fell cheaply with team total reading a dismal 27 for 3. The rear guard action of the foursome swelled the score to 631. The home team saved the Test after follow on through obdurate batting. It was my first Test as a spectator at the age of 10 years.
My last Trinidad trip was in 2014 to collect information on the history of cricket commentary. By now the stadium had stands named after illustrious cricketers like Learie Constantine, Brian Lara Pavilion and an unique Trini Posse Stand whose members with coloured clothing and their bands provided another dimension to the ambience.The two ends of the ground now are the Pavilion End and Media Centre End which has been renamed Willie Rodriguez End (after former Trinidad Test player).
While coming to Piarco International airport in Port of Spain for my homeward journey in 2014, my thoughts were engrossed on the past and the present of the Queen’s Park Cricket Club- a cricket monument of Trinidad. It reminded me of the lines of romantic English poet Shelley, “History is a cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of Man.”
Prof. Ravi Chaturvedi is a retired professor of Zoology at Delhi University, a pioneer Hindi Cricket Commentator, author of 23 cricket books, bestowed the national award of Padma Shri for popularizing and providing credibility to Hindi cricket commentary. He has planned to celebrate his 80th birthday in Trinidad on June 27.