February 19, 2016

More to Ganteaume than his average

The late Trinidadian was a popular sportsman, sharp cricket analyst, witty, and never openly bitter about his short-lived Test career

Andy Ganteaume (standing, far left) with the West Indies touring party in England in 1957. He did not play a Test on that trip © PA Photos

Andy Ganteaume's is not a name numbered among the great West Indies batsmen. His peculiar distinction is based on the instructive circumstances of his exclusion after scoring a hundred in his solitary Test innings, against England in 1948 in his native Trinidad, and, equally bizarrely, his selection on the tour of England nine years later, when he was 36.

Even with West Indies cricket in its constant state of turmoil, it is impossible to imagine such a scenario in the present day. Ganteaume, a black civil servant, was a popular sportsman in Trinidad, a regular player in the national cricket and football teams. Yet he had no players' association to represent his cause, no indignant public to protest on social media, no team-mates to raise a hue and cry on his behalf. That was how it was back when a white hierarchy held sway in every aspect of life in the cricket-playing British colonies; it would only change over the next two decades with the advent of political independence.

"He was a real gentleman and a great friend," Sir Everton Weekes, now the only surviving member from Ganteaume's Test and, 91 on February 26, West Indies' oldest Test cricketer, said on hearing of Ganteaume's passing on Wednesday. "He was never argumentative but would listen to what anyone had to say with understanding, if not necessarily agreement."

Over several seasons sharing radio commentary with him for regional and international matches in Trinidad, I believe I came to know Ganteaume well enough to be more than just a casual acquaintance. Never once did he show any bitterness about the clearly unfair treatment he received; I can't recall him ever discussing it. His analysis of the game and his reasoning as long-term adjudicator of Player of the Match was sharp. It was away from the play that his typically quick Trinidadian wit, sense of fun and infectious laugh were most evident, with cricket invariably its theme.

I took it that Ganteaume was content enough with his belated recognition beyond the pitch, as long-serving Trinidad and West Indies selector and West Indies team manager for home series against England and Australia, that it tempered whatever feelings he might have had about the 1948 episode. I was wrong.

His grievance was inevitable and understandable. He finally released it in his autobiography My Story, the Other Side of the Coin, 59 years after the event. In it, he left no doubt over the identity of those influencing the curious end of his Test career. They were what he termed the "Establishment", refuting "with no fear of successful contradiction" the contention that he was dropped for slow scoring as Jeffrey Stollmeyer, the appointed captain who did not play in the match through injury, and Gerry Gomez, his replacement and fellow Queen's Park Cricket Club member, had it.

I came to know Ganteaume well enough to be more than just a casual acquaintance. Never once did he show any bitterness about the clearly unfair treatment he received; I can't recall him ever discussing it

A neat, diminutive batsman and wicketkeeper, Ganteaume was consistent, rather than dominant, in regional cricket following his debut. In that first match, at 20, he kept wicket and scored 87, batting at No. 8 for Trinidad against Barbados at the Queen's Park Oval in February 1941.

He was in the form of his life leading into the second Test, in Port-of-Spain, in a series marking the resumption of Test cricket in the Caribbean after World War II. In the 1946 season, he compiled the first two of his eventual five first-class hundreds, 112 against Barbados and 159 against Jamaica. In Trinidad's two matches against the English tourists, his scores were 101, 47 not out, 5 and 90.

Ganteaume was not included in the original Test team, but Stollmeyer's injury led to him being called up as opener. It was his eighth season of first-class cricket; he was determined not to let the chance pass him by.

Never a dasher but rather a steady accumulator of runs, he and George Carew, a gum-chewing 37-year-old in a brown felt hat playing his first Test since 1935, started with an opening partnership of 173 against England in Barbados. Carew fell for 107; Ganteaume proceeded to his historic hundred in partnership with Frank Worrell, carrying West Indies past 300 in reply to England's 362.

At that point Gomez dispatched a note to the two in the middle. "I want you to push on now," it read. "We are behind the clock and need to score more quickly." Ganteaume kept the note over the years, eventually using a copy of it in his autobiography.

Stollmeyer concurred with Gomez's decision. It is widely felt in Trinidad that he prompted it. "Andy's innings in its later stages was not in keeping with the state of the game," wrote Stollmeyer in his autobiography. "His captain was forced to send a message out to him to 'get on with it'."

Before Gomez's note, Ganteaume spent four and three quarter hours, with 13 fours, over his hundred; Worrell took an hour less for his 97, which included a six and nine fours. West Indies eventually gained a lead of 135, but with rain intervening, couldn't press for victory over the last two days.

Ganteaume's success presented the team with a dilemma, detailed by Stollmeyer: "Who should be dropped in British Guiana for Ganteaume to play without unbalancing the team?"

As it was, it was unbalanced by the need to accommodate John Goddard, the previously appointed captain (under the system of the time that chose a different leader for each Test). The answer was to jettison Ganteaume and use the left-handed Goddard as opener, though he was out of form and had no experience in the position.

Carew was retained. Goddard's contributions were 1 and 3. They improved to 17 and 46 not out in the fourth Test, with the fit-again Stollmeyer.

There was a strong case for arguing that Ganteaume was deliberately targeted, given he was not chosen for the inaugural tour of India later in the year. The Jamaican Allan Rae and the ageing Carew were expected to partner Stollmeyer. Rae and Stollmeyer forged their strong partnership that endured through the 1950 series in England and West Indies' historic 3-1 triumph; Carew played one Test in India, his last, scoring 11 and 9 batting at No. 6.

Ganteaume was ignored in 1950 and again for the 1951-52 tour to Australia and New Zealand. Then, with no compelling reason to pick him, he was chosen for the ill-starred 1957 tour of England, when West Indies were thrashed 3-0. Past his best, his highest score in 32 innings on the tour was 92, his average 27.58. His career ended in 1958 against the touring Pakistan side, where he scored 13 in his only innings.

What did his fellow players make of it all?

"Myself and Frank [Worrell] simply couldn't follow what was happening, although we had a pretty fair opinion of what was behind it," Weekes says. "We were baffled as to why he couldn't make the side for India. It says a lot about Andy's character that he kept his emotions to himself for all that time before choosing his moment to state his case."

Ganteaume goes to his grave as a statistical oddity, with a Test average of 112, higher than Don Bradman's. There was much, much more to it than that.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for over 50 years

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