By Clayton Goodwin
“This schoolgirl (Ebony) we now know very well. But Ollivierre: who was he?” the author asks in his very first paragraph and then proceeds to tell us. We do not propose to spoil your enjoyment of the article by revealing too much here, except to say that Ollivierre, a black Vincentian, was the star batsman of the first (non-first-class) West Indian tour of this country in 1900 when her august majesty Queen Victoria still ruled what was then the British Empire. He made quite an impression.
So much so that he was invited to play for Derbyshire. At least one of his exploits has become legend. When Essex came to Chesterfield in 1904, they scored a massive 597 and yet still lost the match by 9 wickets. That was because Ollivierre hit a massive match-winning 229 and 92 not out. Most telling in the social context is the picture of C.A. Ollivierre, a black man, sitting next to Dr W.G. Grace, the epitome of the Victorian age – it is said that, in an age of few photographs, the Doctor and prime minister William Gladstone were the only two men who could be recognised automatically by the general public – in a London County team in 1901.
Author Scott takes the opportunity, too, to draw attention to other Vincentians, a much over-looked island, who contributed much to cricket in England. They include batsman Wilfred Slack, and fast bowlers Neil Williams and Winston Davis. The lovable Slack, whom I knew well, was one of the nicest men ever to lace on a pair of pads or hit a cricket ball. There is a tribute also en passant to the role, and shameful closing, of the Haringey Cricket College in North London.
I must admit, however, that my interest is not entirely disinterested. Neville starts his piece by referring to the first award in the memory of C.A. Ollivierre being made to then 16 year-old schoolgirl Ebony Rainford-Brent in 2000 following a church service to mark the centenary of that maiden tour. Thereby hangs a story. In fact, I, myself presented/promoted that service and was the instigator of the award.
When the cricket authorities in England and the West Indies turned down my proposal for them to present an “occasion” to honour the centenary the Vicar of St Martin in the Fields and H.E. Laleshwar Singh, High Commissioner for Guyana and dean of the Commonwealth Caribbean high commissioners, suggested that I should go ahead with the proposal – even though my promotional experience related more to beauty contests, fashion shows, and music events rather than church services.
The support of a “big name” was needed to set the ball rolling – preferably somebody with connection to both cricket and the church. David Sheppard, former England captain and former Bishop of London, fitted the bill ideally and replied in the affirmative as soon as he received my letter. He agreed let his support be known publicly and to preach one of the sermons, and Wesley Hall replied similarly for West Indies. Soon the proposal gained support across the board from former cricketers (Everton Weekes, Allan Rae), commentor/reporter Reds Perreira, several bishops, actors (from Brian Rix to Rudolph Walker), Trevor Phillips of the Commission for Racial Equality, and the Lady Mayor of Westminster …. not forgetting the entire ensemble of Commonwealth Caribbean high commissioners.
It was intended initially that the collection taken at the service should be for the charges of hiring the church, paying the choir, printing the programmes etc. When Peter Iland of BWIA airways said that his company would pick up the tab, we decided that the money collection should be donated instead to supporting a young cricketer who represented the Caribbean/English traditions. The choice fell – rather naturally at the time – on Ebony Rainford-Brent (no, I am not going to set out all her forenames or initials). Jasmine Baksh, manager of the St Vincent & the Grenadian tourist board UK, and keen cricket enthusiast, suggested that naming the award after the outstanding cricketer of that first tour would be appropriate. Jasmine, Peter and myself agreed to administer the award which was presented to Ebony by Trinidadian actor, and another ardent cricket fan, Rudolph Walker during a cricket match – between MCC v Australians women ? – at Southgate.
Alas, the award was not repeated. Jasmine was transferred back to the Eastern Caribbean, voices in St Vincent were raised that a person from that island was not recipient of the award named after their famous son, and BWIA hit troubled waters and later ceased business. Nevertheless, Ebony’s successful career and the fact that Neville Scott and the Cricketer have referred to the award – and maintained the memory of a fine batsman/cricketer – show that the initiative was not entirely in vain.