By Mark McGowan
There is a special place in the rich history of cricket in the Caribbean reserved for the Bourda Cricket Ground, the home of the Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC). As one of the oldest cricket grounds in the Caribbean spectators over the years have witnessed thousands of runs, hundreds of wickets, and of course—given Guyana’s weather patterns—countless raindrops.
Founded in 1858, the GCC is the longest surviving cricket club in the Caribbean. Initially, the club’s members practised and played matches on the Parade Ground before difficulties prompted them to acquire a ground of their own. Soon, construction of the ground commenced at its current location. Stephen Camacho, a former GCC captain, notes that the ground was formally opened on December 26, 1885, with a cricket match played between teams representing “the World” and the “West Indies”. Later in 1887, Bourda hosted its first inter-colonial match between British Guiana and Barbados where the local side emerged victorious. And while the GCC may primarily be a cricket club, it has also been home to other sports such as hockey.
Bourda, however, is a truly special ground for cricket. Writing on the popular cricket website espncricinfo.com, Martin Williamson described Bourda as “the first Test venue on mainland South America and the only one in the world below sea level,” while adding that it “has a very old-world feel about it with the splendid wooden pavilion at fine leg an imposing structure.” He also spoke about the passionate, but occasionally volatile, crowd noting the propensity for “mini riots” and “pitch invasions.” In fact, the completion of at least two One-Day Internationals (ODIs) played at the ground was adversely affected by spectators running on to the field of play before the match was officially over.
However, for Travis Dowlin, a former Guyana and West Indies player, the intimacy of the ground and the passionate spectators were what made playing cricket at Bourda a joy. The intimacy between players and spectators, was a result of the proximity of some of the stands to the action in the middle. The spectators, he added, constantly engaged the players and were never afraid to advise them. This intimacy between crowd and players, he suggested, is now absent at the Guyana National Stadium in Providence − the ground which has been hosting all international cricket matches held locally since 2007.
Dowlin also remembers spectators travelling from far flung areas such as Berbice and sleeping at the nearby Merriman Mall simply to be able to get into the ground early in order to soak in every ball of the game. For him playing at Bourda was always a privilege as he had a deep appreciation for the rich history associated with the ground.
For the true cricket fan there are a lot of memorable performances that occurred during regional and international matches at
Bourda. Significantly, it was the first Test match played at Bourda that saw the West Indies Cricket team recording its first ever Test victory. The local boys defeated the Englishmen by 289 runs in February, 1930, on the back of outstanding performances by George Headley, Clifford Roach, Learie Constantine and George Francis.
Known as a batting paradise given the generally flat nature of the pitch, it is no surprise that a number of the more memorable feats there were accomplished by batsmen. The great Sir Gary Sobers scored 853 runs in seven Tests at Bourda, at an average of 94.77 runs per innings. Cricket fans would recall Alvin Kallicharran’s unbeaten 100 on debut against New Zealand in 1972, which made him the first batsman to achieve this feat in a Test at Bourda. It was in this same match that New Zealand’s opening batsman, Glenn Turner, scored 259 runs, the highest Test score recorded at the venue. Others may recall the match in April 1988, when the great Pakistani cricketer, Imran Khan, recorded match figures of 11 for 121, the best bowling figures recorded at the ground in Tests.
Fast forward a few years, it was at Bourda that Brian Lara scored his first Test century in the Caribbean, 167 against England in 1994. This was the same match where Shivnarine Chanderpaul made his Test debut and scored a classy 62. It was also here in 2003 that Shiv Chanderpaul scored a 69-ball century against the Australians, which at that time was the third fastest hundred in Test cricket. Not surprisingly, he also registered his first Test double century of 203 not out at Bourda against South Africa in 2005. This remained his highest Test score which he equalled in 2012 against Bangladesh in Dhaka. It was also at Bourda that another Guyanese, Carl Hooper, registered his highest Test score of 233 against India in 2002.
So when Bourda held its last international game and One Day International (ODI), on May 7, 2006, it marked the end of more than 76 years as a venue for international games. Some regional cricket matches, however, are still played at the ground.
For several years there was talk of merging the Bourda cricket ground with the neighbouring Georgetown Football Club ground so as to create a grand sporting complex. The irony was that at that point in time, the playing of cricket at this venue was not on the agenda and the mere idea drew the ire of many fans.
Later, in November 2013, media reports surfaced that local businessman Dr Ranjisinghi Ramroop had made a proposal to acquire both the Bourda Cricket Ground and the Georgetown Football Ground, proposing to invest approximately US$30 million to revamp the two facilities. According to these media reports, the proposal involved constructing a new stadium with modern amenities as well as establishing an academy for football and cricket. The proposal was subsequently pulled and not much has been heard about it since.
At this juncture in our nation’s history, the future of Bourda is anyone’s guess. What is sure though is that this important part of our national heritage should not be allowed to go the sad way of disrepair like many of our other historic sites. For the preservation of a nation’s built, cultural and social heritage is integral to sustaining its identity.