Andy and the 'Establishment'
It's about time that the other side of one of cricket's most puzzling stories was placed on record. February 13 next year will mark 60 years since Andy Ganteaume joined the select group of players to score a century in his very first Test innings.
That in itself is worthy of the highest commendation, whatever the circumstances in which those 112 runs were compiled in the second Test of the four-match series in 1948 against England at the Queen's Park Oval.
But as anyone who knows anything about the history of the game around here would be aware, Ganteaume claims a unique niche in the annals of the game, for that knock was to be his only Test innings, for reasons that are best explained by the man himself in his autobiography, My Story: The Other Side of the Coin, which was launched last Monday at the Oval Pavilion.
Just for the record, it should be noted that Rodney Redmond scored 107 and 56 in his one and only Test for New Zealand against Pakistan at Auckland in 1973. However, the left-hander would surely have added to that notable debut but for problems he experienced wearing contact lenses on the subsequent tour of England that resulted in a loss of form. He was then out of the game for an entire season and never managed to score enough runs at domestic level to seriously address the selectors again.
Ganteaume's case, of course, is very, very different, as his omission and complete discarding until the 1957 tour of England (when he was 36 years old and well past his best) have much more to do with the politics of the day and the considerable influence of the white hierarchy in the colonial British West Indies.
Heading into his 87th year, the former Maple and Trinidad and Tobago right-handed batsman and wicketkeeper is known for his cheery disposition at any local gathering, cricketing or otherwise. Yet no-one reading the book is left in any doubt as to his utter contempt for "the Establishment", as he refers to them regularly in a manner that would not be out of place were it Luke Skywalker or Han Solo commenting on Darth Vader's evil "Empire".
However, unlike those two heroes of the original Star Wars movie trilogy, Ganteaume was no dashing hero wielding the willow in a cavalier spirit. Indeed, his overall first-class record (averaging 34.81 in 50 first-class matches spanning 1941 to 1958) is nothing more than ordinary.
And with the incomparable trio of Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell making their Test debuts in the same series, it is understandable if the erstwhile employee of the Wartime Control Board suffered by comparison.
Yet none of that justifies the treatment meted out to him by the decision-makers of the day. Imagine the outrage now, especially in the player's home territory, should a batsman be dispensed with after scoring a hundred on his Test debut. Yet, in keeping with the entrenched social order of the time, barely a dissenting word was uttered in his defence, certainly not often and vociferous enough or from an influential enough source as to make any difference.
And this really is the most revealing aspect of Ganteaume's musings, for it paints a picture of an orderly, disciplined society in which people of the wrong colour, class, status or attitude could be shoved to one side, especially if they were not blessed with such exceptional ability as to embarrass the overlords into recognising them.
While he goes to some lengths to rubbish the theory that he was dropped for slow scoring (112 runs in four-and-a-half hours), the reality is that only those who chose to be conveniently deaf, dumb and blind would have even entertained such a notion.
Yet the fact that he devotes so much time to give his perspective on the most critical period of his sporting life suggests that behind the ever-present smile is a deep sense of hurt at not only the blinding injustice but also what he maintains is a blatant misrepresentation of the facts by the likes of "Establishment" heavyweights Jeffrey Stollmeyer and Gerry Gomez.
Ganteaume doesn't put water in his mouth to systematically dismantle the aura that, for many, still surrounds the memories of his two compatriots. The irony is that the Mapleite, who played most of his cricket in the Queen's Park Savannah, got his Test chance in the "Establishment" bastion (the Oval) courtesy of an injury to Stollmeyer, while it was Gomez, the captain for the match, whose note to the two debutants (Ganteaume and Worrell) to press on with the scoring is used as evidence to support the claim that the opener's apparently slow progress in the first innings cost the West Indies victory on a rain-affected final day.
By waiting almost 60 years before deciding to give his side of the story, Ganteaume can be accused of besmirching the characters of those who are no longer around to defend themselves. Yet he takes in front by refuting that contention in his introduction, adding that he has actually restrained himself from spilling everything.
In any event, he states that he has "no fear of successful contradiction". No doubt, a few, upon reading a book that is more a documentary of life in colonial times than a literary masterpiece, will attempt to succeed where he expects them to fail.
So long after his only Test innings, old Andy is still ready to face the music.