May 2013 Volume 10

Mr. Gladstone Beecher: The Last of the First Cut

Ray Ford
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There must have dancing in the streets of the Caribbean and the Caribbean enclaves in England on August 16th, 1950, when at The Oval in London, England tumbled from 79 for 5, to 103 all out, and the West Indies won not only that Test against England, but in England to take that Test series 3-1. It was the first that the West Indies had won a Test series in England.

One can imagine the same sort of dancing on the field, and in the stands by their supporters in 1941, when Kingston College gained their first lien on what remains even today a most coveted schoolboy cricket trophy – the Sunlight Cup.

The long and illustrious history of schoolboy cricket at Kingston College had to start somewhere. And it was not until 1938 when the school led by F.A. Williams won what was called the Geddes Cricket Cup. It was the school's first cricket trophy yes, but the team which won it was made up of a mix of Kingston College students and old boys. And the captain F. A. Williams was indeed (Mr.) F. A. Williams – the school's sports-master.
And so it must have been some relief to the players, the school and their supporters when in 1941, the team comprising of Kingston College students only, won the whole shebang, all on their own. The first cut, as usual, is the deepest, and that one certainly was.

The team's batting line-up must have been influenced by its coach - the legendary Jamaica and West Indies quick-fire batsman, Ken `Bam Bam' Weekes. Bam Bam, a cousin of the great Sir Everton de Courcy Weekes, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and who represented Jamaica and the West Indies, got the moniker `Bam Bam' for his no-nonsense scoring, as evidenced by the 137 he blasted in the third England-West Indies Test at The Oval in 1939. It came in 110 minutes and for which, Wisden Cricket Almanac described Ken as, (quote): "A fearless hitter with an unorthodox stance and footwork."

Three of Bam Bam’s protégés on the 1941 KC team got centuries that season: JK Holt, Jnr., got 124 against Wolmer’s; the captain Leslie Williams got 108 not-out, and John Prescod Snr, got 101, the latter two, as it is written, against Jamaica College.

But no matter how strong any batting line-up might be, in Sunlight Cup cricket, a team must get ten (10) wickets to win. And as true as that is, the only Sunlight Cup bowler who has to this day taken command of the spotlight is the legendary Michael Holding, who as everybody knows went on to play for Melbourne Cricket Club while in school, then on to Jamaica and then ultimately for the West Indies.

On that 1941 KC Sunlight Cup cricket team, Gladstone Beecher was a right arm seam bowler, akin to the right hand medium fast bowler (Sir) Alec Bedser who played fifty-one (51) Test matches for England. And so, true to form, little in the annals of Kingston College cricket is written of him.

“Beecher used to keep things tight,” recalls Easton McMorris, “and that was how he got the nick-name `Bedser.” And for his in-between off-speed stuff, one can imagine Beecher preying on the impetuousness of his youthful opponents, and then leading them to their downfall. I would also bet good money that `Bedser' played a far bigger role in helping Kingston College to their first Sunlight Cup victory in 1941, than mention of him in the KC annals might suggest. And so, let’s give Mr. Gladstone Beecher his final and well-deserved salute, for helping Kingston College to get their cricket ball rolling.

 “I used to see him a lot out at the Cable Hut Beach in St Thomas where I used to swim,” McMorris the opening batsman played thirteen (13) Test matches for the West Indies between February 1958 and August 1966, also remembers.

Kingston College's first appearance in the Sunlight Cup cricket competition was in 1928 and our first match was against Calabar High School in which replying to Calabar's `mammoth' total of 177 for 3, KC held on, with 56 for 4, for a draw. In 1939, Joe Prescod and JK Holt Jnr., each at 15 years of age, made their debuts. Joe, whom I got to know through his nephew John Prescod Jnr, was a jazz connoisseur, who played football as well, also played on the cricket team in 1940. But no one to-date has been able to verify for sure whether or not Joe was part of the cricket set-up in 1941. His brothers John and George though, certainly were.

And then there was the man JK Holt Jnr, himself, who quite a footballer within his own right, went on to open the batting for the West Indies in seventeen (17) Test matches beginning with the fourth Test of the 1953-54 Test series against England at the Queen's Park Oval in Trinidad. He only the second Kingston College to go on to play Test cricket at the time, must have had to, with his bat, played a vital role in the 1941 victorious KC Sunlight Cup cricket team as well.

In fact the full list of Kingston College students who went on the represent the West Indies senior cricket team reads:

      • Francis J. Cameron
      • John Kenneth Holt, Jnr.
      • Easton Dudley Ashton McMorris
      • O'Neil Gordon `Collie' Smith
      • Michael Anthony Holding
      • Robert Christopher Haynes;
      • Robert George Samuels and,
      • Marlon Nathaniel Samuels.  

To-date, Kingston College old boys in a total of 173 Test appearances for the West Indies, have so far scored 7,161 Test runs, and taken 333 Test wickets.

 I feel privileged to have been asked to pen something on Mr. Beecher, and in researching for this tribute, I have found that he and I share a few things in common. First, the 1941 KC team had to beat Wolmer's Boys School to win the coveted cricket trophy. Likewise in 1970, the winning Sunlight Cup team on which I was so fortunate to have played, had to beat Wolmer's to win as well. Secondly, the Wolmer's team that KC beat in 1941 had a (Allan) Rae and (probably) a Dujon on it. Likewise in 1970, Wolmer's had a (Phillip) Rae and for sure, a (Jeff) Dujon in its midst. Allan Rae and Jeff Dujon of course, went on to score a combined 4,338 runs and featured in 282 dismissals in a total of 96 Test appearances for the West Indies.

Thirdly, back in 1967-69, in my Sunlight Cup matches for Kingston College, I used to field at third man and fine leg, and so acted as a courier between John Prescod Snr., and his son John Prescod, Jnr., who was the captain for those years. John Snr., would often give me a note to pass on to John. Now and then I would take a little peek at it, as I ran it in.

And sometimes it read, (quote): "Bowl the left-hander." That would irritate John Jnr., to no ends. And probably, just to show his father who was in charge, I might have suffered for it. And if I am not mistaken, it was from Mr. Prescod’s unending presence around cricket boundaries when John Jnr., was playing that the latter got the nick-name, `My Son John.'

Then there is Mr. George Prescod, who for a while was Operations Manager of the Jamaica Cricket Board (JCA) under then president Rex Fennell. He (George) probably held the shortest cricket press conference known to man. It was the day before the first England-West Indies Test match at Sabina Park on February 23, 1990.

The West Indies armed to the teeth with Patterson, Bishop, Marshall and Walsh, had England quaking in their boots. But as it turned out – winning by 9 wickets, the English men needn’t have been. Be that as it turned out, a group of England press men, press women and cameras swarmed around George like a hive of bees out in the middle. It was their intent to glean how fast the wicket might be, and then deliver the bad news to England, biting their nails in the dressing room.

On occasions such as that one, operations managers usually show off themselves, as to their knowledge of the local environs. Not George. When the dreaded question finally came, George was as usual, as cool as a cucumber. With that wry smile of his, the expert overseer of pitch preparations in Jamaica said, “Folks, if you can bat, you will make runs. And if you can bowl, you will take wickets. Ladies and gentlemen, have a good day.” And just like that, George was off.

Much like, I would imagine, how `Bedser’ walked off and left us a few days ago. Rest well my `pioneer’. Rest well!

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