Roland Butcher was in conversation with Clayton Goodwin
It was Friday the 13th (1981) …. Not the most propitious day for history to be made, but it was. The England cricket team that took the field that day at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown included 27 year-old Roland Butcher. He was the first Black West Indian to represent the country in a Test Match. Not the first West Indian – that was the patrician Lord Harris, captain in England’s first home Test Match (1880). Butcher, however, was from the people, and, indeed, from these very people who had flocked to the Oval in such numbers and with such enthusiasm. “Our boy, their bat” the local newspapers proclaimed, but that didn’t matter – he was “our boy” which was enough for the cricket-loving Barbadians.
“My first Test Match was a memorable occasion for several reasons. To be the first Black West Indian to play for England was a fine achievement and to make my debut in Barbados the place of my birth. It really was a family and friends affair, with family travelling from UK, Canada, USA and other parts of the world to be part of this celebration. The Test started out as a very happy occasion, but finished up on a very sad note. On day two our Assistant Manager Ken Barrington had a heart attack and passed away. This event devastated the entire team and made the Test Match a bitter sweet occasion”
This was already a match of incident. The third match scheduled in the series it was touch-and-go whether it would go ahead after the previous Test had been cancelled due to the Guyanese government’s dissatisfaction with visiting fast bowler Robin Jackman’s connections with South Africa then in its apartheid era. During this match, too, Ken Barrington, England’s extremely popular assistant manager and former prolific international batsman, died suddenly of a heart-attack in his hotel room. And it contained THAT over. Yes, the six balls which Michael Holding delivered at express pace to Geoff Boycott which has gone into history and legend. Roland came to the crease shortly afterwards to face the rampant Holding, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft and Joel Garner.
“Walking into bat for the first time in Test Cricket was quite unbelievable. The moment I stepped onto the field from the pavilion, the entire stadium erupted in applause. The noise was deafening and every man, woman and child were on their feet as I made my way out to the middle. Normally you make this journey by yourself, but on this occasion I had company. A spectator came out of the crowd and escorted me from the pavilion out into the middle. Only after taking guard did he leave the middle and go back to his seat in the stand. Can’t believe that this has ever happened in a Test Match before”.
Butcher, whose early aspirations had been towards a career in football, was a key player in the Middlesex team which dominated English county cricket in the early-1980s. While Wilfred Slack, the Vincentian left-handed opener, sought to blunt the opposing new-ball attack, Roland took the onslaught to the bowlers from the middle-order. He was the stroke-maker of the ensemble. An injury suffered against George Ferris, the Antiguan paceman, in a county match curtailed his prospects of a longer international career. Yet on the English circuit he was the batsman the public came to watch from a very watchable team. After he retired from the professional game, Butcher remained in cricket, putting his experience to good use in a number of capacities, and for the last seventeen years has been back in Barbados.
“In 2004 I was offered and took up the position of Director of Sports at The University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus. I was charged with developing a sports program, professionalising sports, developing sports facilities for 14 sports, developing a pathway for student athletes to play sport at the highest levels, scout and bring talented athletes to Cave Hill and to make sure that they balanced academics with sport. This was a very rewarding, successful and satisfying period of my life and retired from this position at the end of 2019, after 15 years of service. I have been a Director of the Barbados Cricket Association for over 10 years and a member of the Cricket Committee of Cricket West Indies”.
Now England are about to return to the West Indies this Springtime. Cricket, and these two teams, are in a very different place to where they were when Roland Butcher made his historic debut. There will be another Test Match at the Kensington Oval, also in March (2022). Matches between West Indies and England have always had their special flavour, and this one should be no exception. Whether it is walking out to bat just after seeing Garner, the towering Big Bird, shatter Graham Gooch’s stumps or in the contemplation of maturity Roland Butcher is placed uniquely to weigh the traditions and prospects. Our Boy, Their Bat, and Our Friend at the game.
“In life you can’t turn the clock back, but I would have loved playing now the different forms of cricket that they play now. Especially the T20 form, which is gaining popularity all over the world and attracting large crowds. Why would I not want to play T20 cricket. The game is played with big bats, a white ball that does nothing after 2 overs, small boundaries and fielding restrictions. Add to that very few fast bowlers”.
Indeed, Roland Butcher’s stroke-play was made for T20. That is our loss!