In this week’s edition of In Search of West Indies Cricket Roger Seymour looks at a period of history at Kensington Oval, Barbados through the eyes of a fan who was reputedly there at every match. The cricket data is factual, the speech is the writer’s imagination.
Sir Garry Sobers’ 80th birthday was celebrated in grand style with an ‘Honour Match’ at Kensington Oval on July 28 last. The occasion was filled with pomp and ceremony and during the interval, there was a spectacular 30-minute cultural presentation portraying some of the career highlights of the ‘Greatest All Rounder Ever’.
Drummers heralded the start of the show witnessed on the field by characters portraying nut sellers, mauby women, sno-cone vendors, conch shell players, and even Queen Elizabeth II (for the reenactment of the knighting of Sir Garry).
The Barbados Advocate captured the end of the spectacle in these words, “For the grand finale, 50 cheerleaders and dancers flooded the field dancing to tuk rendition of the Mighty Gabby’s song ‘Hit it’. Even as rain began to fall on the proceedings it seemed that even the heavens wanted to give their own salute to Sir Garry. And as the ground persons brought out the covers for the pitch and run up areas, the dancers weaved themselves in the formation of the number 80. The stilt walkers [dressed in whites] then revealed the letters on their backs which spelled ‘Happy Birthday’. Last to leave the field was a performer dressed as the local cricket legend, King Dyal, in his suit and his cane strutting across the field.”
Ah, the King! A man for all occasions!
“Dey started playing cricket at de Kensington Oval back in 1882, yuh hearing young mon, de white people used to play hey, Pickwick Club, all dem from England, de Queen people, my relatives dem, you onderstand meh, young fella,” the old man rambled.
It was 3.05 pm on a sleepy Thursday afternoon in March 1990; the speaker holding court was Redvers Dundonald Dyal, known to all of Barbados, ‘His Subjects,’ as His Majesty King Dyal. The King was enthroned, in his ‘reserved’ enclave, the left front seat of the Kensington Stand, Kensington Oval, Barbados. The ground was empty save for a solitary groundsman pushing a light roller in the area allocated for a net session for the local club cricketers later that afternoon. There was no match for another week and the King had granted me an audience.
His Majesty was displaying his renowned sartorial splendour. Bright, white, bug-house hat, perfectly cut, purple suit, mauve shirt buttoned up to his neck in the stifling heat, trimmed with a white bow tie. A pair of brightly polished white shoes adorned his feet. He sat with his legs crossed, surveyed me up and down, all the while spinning his walking stick nonchalantly across his thighs.
He adjusted the cheap pair of sunglasses, removed his lily white gloves, rested the cane on the empty seat on his right and removed the omnipresent pipe from his mouth. He meticulously began to refill his pipe with expensive English tobacco from a flat tin, retrieved from a trouser pocket, but paused abruptly, and withdrew a brown envelope from the right front flap pocket of his jacket.
It was a large brown manila envelope, with the words On Government Service printed across the top. Very gingerly he unfolded it and retrieved a newspaper clipping.
“Umm, umm,” he coughed, clearing his throat, “Dis is from de Barbados Advocate newspaper, dey bin ‘round dese parts since 1895 yuh know. Dis is from 1937 when they say I, the King, cause riots in Bridgetown.
“Clement Payne and others ask me to be a speaker on de platform, dey was tryin’ fuh change de society, de ‘planter class’ was in charge, places like Strathclyde de use to put up de chains in de afternoon, yuh couldn’t go in dey, de metal posts still at de side of de road, go see fuh yuhself.
“Love yeh one another, was de title of de speech. Dey come from all over to hear me speak at Tweedside Road, near Bank Hall in Saint Michael. Look wha de Advocate write.” Fumbling inside his left breast pocket, he extracted a pair of red rimmed reading glasses, and in a slow deliberate tone read,
“There is no other God but the God of Love that exists within the hearts of mankind. If a man loves God but does not live to the standard of what He says there is no God in his living,” he looked at me as he folded the clipping and returned it to the envelope.
“All de papers say I preach sedition and I had said there is no God. I had 17 charges against me, more than all de politicians who speak at de various meetings. A few nights later at Lower Green I had to tell dem that de Inspector General of de Police tell me ah can’t speak. Well, a hundred of dem get vex and left de meeting and went up de Wharf down de Pierhead, straight up Bay Street, where it is alleged de Government had Clement Payne.
“Payne was a trade unionist fighting fuh de people and de authorities was keeping all four eyes pon he. When dey deport he to Trinidad, dey riot fuh four days, chaos all over de island, dey push car into de sea, bruk shop window, dey cause all kind ah trouble, dese Bajans aint easy when dey get ready yuh know… Fourteen people dead, five hundred ah get lock up, millions of pounds in damage, de British hold Commission of Inquiry. I had fuh speak and yuh know dey agree with Payne and pass legislation for trade unionism.
“Social change don’t know happen easy or quick yuh know. I coming to Kensington since before de war, yeh I remember war times too. Yuh know from since 1930, dey say me does only back dey English but My Subjects never onderstand me.” There was a noticeable change in his intonation as he began to speak the Queen’s English. “As a King, you have to be a good host to your guests. How would it have looked if I, King Dyal of Kensington Castle, Barbados didn’t be a good sport and support the guests? If these Bajans were as cultured as us British royalty, they would have appreciated my etiquette.
“In ’30, ah was sitting up dey.” He motioned wildly with his cane. It could have been anywhere, but I dared not interrupt his sermon, he was now in full flow. “First Test ever in de colonies. Clifford Roach from Trinidad and Sandham from England mek hundreds, and de lil fella from Jamaica, Headley mak a big hundred in de second innings, yuh should see dat knock. I know he coulda’ bat, yuh see, I did see him bat at de nets before the match and he mek Constantine and Griffith look ordinary, ordinary. De Caires from British Guiana got two good innings [80 and 70], him wasn’t bad either but him couldn’t field.
“Talking bout fielding, dem people from New Zealand bin hey in ’72, dem could field ball, dey chase everything hard, dey diving all over de place, de one name Vivian in de covers, was among de best ah see. Dey bowl out de West Indies cheap and shoulda’ win de match, but Sir Garry  and Charlie Davis  bat and bat, and draw de match.
“Yuh see young fella, as long as King Dyal hey to welcome dem, de West Indies can’t lose. In ’35, when Grant declare twice pun de wet wicket, ah was sick de second day, since den ah never miss a day. Dat was de last time de lose a Test hey.
“January, ’48 was de first Test after de World War, Headley was Captain, people don’t remember dat. Dat match draw too, Christiani from BG get lbw at 99 pon he debut. He brother Cyril use to stand up to Constantine when he keeping. Poor fella he pass away early. Nobody mek a hundred, Hardstaff get 98 fuh England.”
The pipe was now filled, and he gratefully accepted my offer to strike the match, as he inhaled deeply. The King surveyed the landscape quietly as a gentle breeze blew a few leaves across the ground. After a few puffs, the oration resumed.
“‘Most sunshine hours in a year,’ that’s what it says on the cancellation stamp dey does use at de post office when you mail a letter from de island. The Good Lord really bless this place yuh know. Everybody want to come hey, believe me. George Washington, the first president of America bin hey, one of the two oldest Jewish synagogues in de west dey right hey in Bridgetown. Dat was long ago, nowaday nuthin’ aint change. De Concorde plane only fly to London, New York, Paris and Seawell Airport, dat de name we British give it. Dey call it some other name now [Grantley Adams], ah never bother to learn it.”
A small flask had appeared in the palm of his left hand, where it came from I cannot say. He held it up for me to see. It was silver and engraved in old English lettering: ‘To King Dyal, Kensington, Bimshire, From The Folks of Surrey, London.’ He polished the flask with his white gloves, then unscrewed the cap and took a large swig, before resuming
“Barbados has de oldest operating rum distillery in de modern world. Mount Gay 1703, some say dey can trace it back to 1663 in St Lucy. I can’t confirm dat, I wasn’t hey. No other rum taste like Bajan rum, yuh see,” he stole a glance in my direction, debated for a second whether he should continue or not, then shrugged, “It’s de water. Water is de key, de key to everything. Bajan water got to pass through de coral, is de coral it start with.
“We, the British came here in 1627, and 20 years later we had 120 taverns here. Besides Mount Gay, dey is Cockspur rum. De people who does sponsor de Cockspur Barbados Gold Cup horse race down at de Garrison Savannah dey, every year dey send me an invitation for de grandstand, mek sure yuh try de Gold rum before yuh leave de island.
“Yuh have to go to Hopefield estate down in Christ Church parish. It dey since de 17th century; everything there is tradition and full of Bajan pride, that’s how de British use to live when dey live hey. Sandford Prince, one of dey horses win de Gold Cup last year. Dey business name R L Searle and company, dey does mek Doorly’s Harbour Policeman rum and a thing dey does call E S A Field or Stade’s. Real connoisseurs of rum know it as ‘see through’, 43% alcohol. Bajans does drink it with water on de side or with lil bitters and ice. Then eat, sleep and forget.”
His Majesty took another swig from the flask. The rambling discourse returned.
“When you are a King, there are certain privileges that come with the territory. One that I enjoy is access to the coopers at the rum companies. I have a barrel at home and ah does blend the King’s Special, ah mixture of de best from all de rum companies, ah have me own formula.
“De fuss time de three Ws play in Test hey was ’52 ‘gainst de Indians. Dey beat dem in four days, Walcott get lbw at 98 and dey crowd mek one set of noise, ah had to calm dem down. Dese people have no behaviour, sometimes dey could be troublesome, yuh hear me. ’54, Hutton, May, Compton, Graveney, Bailey Statham, Laker, Lock lose hey. Big Clyde [Walcott] hammer dem all over de place for over 200. Dey play fuh six days, ah see every ball bowl. Dat was de Second Test, West Indies was leading two nuthin’, but ah know England would draw de series, ah tell Len [Hutton] when he was leavin’, he didn’t believe me.
“De first time de play ah Test in May hey was ’55, versus de Australians, when Clyde mek all dem hundreds. Benaud clean bowl him in de second innings for 83. Dat was de first time Sir Garry play hey in a Test and him open de batting too. Dat man born to play cricket yuh know Australia mek like half a thousand , and de boy from Wanderers was captaining de side, Atkinson. He put on 347 for de seventh wicket with de wicketkeeper Depeiaza, from up dey in Saint James Parish. It is still de world record, dey din bat a ‘hole day. Young fella Pickwick is my club. Dem from Wanderers don’t like Pickwick players since de last century.
“God bless me to see dat Pakistan team in 1958. Ah thought de match was gon finish in three days after dey mek only 106 in reply to the West Indies 579. Den lil piece of chap, Hanif Mohamed bat and bat and bat. Ah know ah fall sleep during dat match. Him bat from before tea on de third day until after lunch on de sixth day, and score 337! He must be de only mon who was awake fuh dat innings.
“January ’60. First Test Match ‘gainst my people from England, pon a wicket dat see only 18 wickets fall in six days. Sir Frank [Worrell] and Sir Garry spend from ten to five pon de Friday afternoon until ‘bout quarter twelve pon de Tuesday at de wicket. Dey put on 399. Dat Sobers fella really born to play cricket yuh know.
“Did I tell yuh ‘bout de Queen and de Garrison Savannah?” The King enquired without pausing the soliloquy.
“My family, distant cousins on my father’s side,” he was in the Queen’s English mode again, “paid an official visit in February, 1975. I was invited to tea at the Sandy Lane Hotel on the west coast, but had to decline due to prior commitments, but I did accept a seat at Sir Garry’s knighting at the Garrison Savannah.
“‘Arise Sir Garfield Sobers’, the sound of the applause was incredible. I think all of Barbados was there, who wasn’t, was either dead or in hospital or off the island.
“Speaking of royalty,” still in the Queen’s English mode, “I must tell you about the elevation of the Prince in Barbados. In 1962, the Indian Captain Nari Contractor was almost killed by a bouncer from the local fast bowler, Charlie Griffith in the territorial match. They had to appoint a new captain for the Test match. Umrigar and Borde both deferred to the twenty-one-year-old Nawab of Pataudi junior, a real Indian Prince. The Nawab was a fine cricketer who unfortunately loss an eye, but still managed to play Test cricket for some time. They say he was the best captain India ever had.
“Oh the memories of this castle are so many my son, and they are just memories…no film, what a pity…Seymour Nurse, another Barbadian, best cover driver, I have ever seen, Headley included, got 200 against Simpson’s Australians in 1965… Sunny Gavaskar defying the entire West Indies to save the match in 1971, he got a hundred in the second innings, only me and the wicketkeeper didn’t bowl to him… Then there was the other triple, Lawrence [Rowe] of Sabina, 302 versus Mike Denness’ ’74 English team, there was people everywhere, never seen so many people here before or since, the beaches had to be empty.
“The Pakistanis should have won twice… in 1977, Roberts and Croft, the last pair roared on by the crowd screaming ‘No’ with every forward defensive shot, survived most of the last 20 overs to save the match, and in 1988, the West Indies somehow got to 268 for 8, to win the match and level the series….”
Silence, save for the distant sound of willow on ball, nets had begun. The cane clattered to the ground, followed by the empty flask. The King had dozed off.
With the advent of live television coverage by International Management Group in 1990, King Dyal, previously just a character on radio commentary became a television personality to the entire Caribbean (and World) cricket loving community. Eagerly sought for interviews, his fashionably late re-entrance after the lunch and tea intervals, would routinely stop play on the field, as the television cameras captured the latest sartorial selection of the best dressed man in Barbados, who appeared in different suits with matching accessories, for every session of play.
The West Indies lost to England at Kensington in 1994, as the unbeaten streak came to an end. This writer was fortunate to see The King the next year for the Test versus the Australians. By pure coincidence, my brother had gotten tickets for the Hall and Griffith Stand, and we sat about 15 feet away from the King. As the match ended amidst scenes of jubilant Australian celebrations, I went in search of the King, only to find an empty seat. Had he abdicated?
My research indicates that it was his last appearance at the castle. He died in 1997 at the age of 96, having claimed to have never worked a day in his life. Former WICBC President Peter Short delivered a eulogy before his burial at sea.