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If you take a trip across Newfoundland, you could play cricket on rocky beaches, clover-covered grounds, and at a famous geological site
August 15, 2010
It had to rain. It would have been inappropriate to relaunch cricket in Newfoundland without it.
The floodlights of the King George V football stadium shone brightly, however, and the Labrador Ducks defeated the Newfoundland B'ys by 27 runs, under the Duke of Duckworth-Lewis Method*. It was surely the first cricket match Labrador has ever won.
At this point I should probably give a quick overview of Atlantic Canadian geography for those of you unfamiliar with this neck of the woods. Labrador is roughly as large as Italy, while Newfoundland is about the size of Ireland. They combine to form a province that, if it were a US state, would be the fourth biggest. Its population, however, is not much over half a million souls - equivalent to that of the Solomon Islands - and most of them live in and around St John's. Reviving cricket in the capital is one thing, therefore, but what hope is there of making Cricket NL truly provincial?
With bat, ball and sun hat in car, and a mileage to line the pockets of the car rental company and the select band of provincial petroleum vendors, I set out on a cricketing tour of Newfoundland.
I began with a lucky boundary at the toe of the boot-like Burin Peninsula. Fortune Head is a geological site of global importance, preserving the juncture where life in the seas began to flourish, so I felt compelled to carry a cricket bat to the outcrop and hit an ancient boundary.
In Trinity, about 300km to the north-east of Fortune, I arrived too late to inspect the antique cricket bats that are apparently on display in the village museum, though I did stumble upon some unlikely sporting action. In a sandpit opposite the old church, a cluster of local kids were playing that summer game so quintessential of windswept, rocky North Atlantic coastlines. Beach volleyball.
Despite its name, things were no better in Griquet. I'd been told that the very northern tip of Newfoundland, over a thousand kilometres from St John's, had a place called Cricket. After two days' worth of driving, it materialised, but it seems the name may actually be pronounced "gricket" (or even "griggit"), and, sadly, beach cricket on Griquet beach was a thankless task.
And then I arrived in Twillingate, and dreams of provincial cricket matches in outport Newfoundland burst back into life. This beautiful little harbour town, its saltbox houses scattered across the hilly shoreline like grains of salt on a crumpled tablecloth, is a hotbed of cricket, provincially speaking. Its tourist brochures boast that Twillingate once had a championship-winning team, but whatever the veracity of this, there's one thing it definitely does still have: its own cricket pitch. What's more, you can book yourself into the Cricket Field Cottage and have the ground as your own personal plaything. Well, where else could I stay?
Until I trundled in from the Back Harbour Road end, it hadn't been played on in years, and the grass was rather lush, but what a magical little ground it is. Blueberried barrens behind the bowler's arm, butterflies and bumblebees in the clover-covered outfield, and a glorious view out across Notre Dame Bay. I doubt there has ever been a more picturesque place to play. Twillingate is also the "Iceberg Capital of the World", thanks to the chilly Labrador Current that drifts along the coast here, so if you time your match right, you could probably use a vast mass of frozen water as a sight-screen.
The grand colonial-style house overlooking the cricket field was built in 1880 for the new town magistrate, Francis Berteau, a native of Jersey. It hosted numerous visits from Georgina Stirling, later better-known as the opera singer Marie Toulinguet - "The Nightingale of the North" - though it is unclear whether Ms Toulinguet ever provided pre- or post-match entertainment. The online archives of the Twillingate Sun do show that the Berteaus liked their cricket. Magistrate Berteau acted as umpire for an 1890 match between the Reds and the Blues, being commended by the paper for "the impartial manner in which he discharged the duties of his position". One would hope for nothing less from a member of the judiciary, but then an E Berteau - one of his sons, either Edwin Hugh Le Goyt or Ernest Falle - did play for the Reds, so nepotism could have been a risk. The fact that Berteau Jr only managed a single run in his two innings must quickly have put paid to such scurrilous suggestions.
The ground was pretty tiny, less than an acre in size, but high scores were never a problem. In 1886, Twillingate were all out for 12, and an innings total of more than 60 was exceptional. Perhaps the pitch was full of demons: the efforts of Tobin (19 not out and 10), Aitken (10 and 6) and Hughes (8 and 1) were described in an 1890 match report as "very good", whilst extras (especially byes) often contributed a significant total. Fielding skills may have come into it too - in the game umpired by Magistrate Berteau, the Reds were criticised as having "lacked proficiency" in enabling the Blues to reach a massive 75 all out.
Startlingly, Twillingate had more than one pitch, with a second ground (Mrs Preston's meadow at Ragged Point) also being used, but the numbers were no better. This may have led to the introduction of some new means of scoring, as the Reds v Blues game in August 1894 "terminated in a magnificent victory for the former, beating the latter by an innings and tree runs". This could just be typographic misunderstanding of the Irish-infused Newfoundland accents, but I prefer to imagine it was something equivalent to the fours awarded when you hit the lime tree that stood within the boundary of Canterbury cricket ground in Kent.
The last Twillingate cricket game I could find evidence for took place in September 1909, and the Berteaus moved away too. They are all buried in Forest Road Anglican cemetery in St John's, but there, even in death, there is a neat cricketing connection. The graveyard happens also to be the last resting place of Newfoundland's greatest ever cricketer, John Shannon Munn, who hailed from another bastion of outport cricket, Harbour Grace. But Munn's extraordinary and tragic life is another story.
*a hastily cobbled-together calculation used when the groundsman tells you that he will be switching the floodlights off in 10 minutes.
Liam Herringshaw is a medium-paced palaeontologist who moved to Newfoundland from the UK to improve his chances of opening the bowlingFeeds: Liam Herringshaw
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