In this week’s edition of In Search of West Indies Cricket, in the first of two parts, Roger Seymour looks at the early cricketing life of Jackie Grant. The writer has prepared a speech for Grant’s induction into the West Indies Cricket Hall of Fame (it is hoped that there will be an official one in the future). The cricket data and information is accurate, the presentation is the writer’s imagination.
Saturday, March 1, 2031, 5.30 pm: The Tenth Annual West Indies Cricket Hall of Fame Induction ceremony, Bridgetown, Barbados
After opening remarks by the Chairman of the event, Hall of Fame President Alexander Ferguson, Lindsay Geddes Grant, a great nephew of Jackie Grant, steps forward to give his speech:
“Thank you, Mr Chairman. Good afternoon, Mr Chairman, members of the head table, members of the Diplomatic Corps, distinguished guests, members of the Hall of the Fame, today’s inductees, past and present West Indian cricketers, ladies and gentlemen, fellow West Indian supporters:
“On behalf of the Grant clan, I am deeply honoured to be here this afternoon, to give the acceptance speech for the induction into the West Indies Cricket Hall of Fame of my late great Uncle George Copeland Grant, who was known throughout his life as Jackie Grant.
“It’s been over 100 years since Jackie first represented the West Indies at cricket, and we are all aware of the many changes the world and the game of cricket have undergone since then. Who was my great uncle Jack? How was he as a cricketer? And what did he do after he stopped playing? These were some of the immediate questions I pondered upon hearing the announcement of his selection, on the car radio one morning about two months ago whilst driving to work.
“A week later I received an email from the Hall of Fame asking if I would do the honour of representing my late uncle at today’s ceremony. Of course, I was elated to be chosen until I realised that coupled with the invitation was the task of giving this speech. Uncle Jackie should really thank my wife Monique, who assured me that it’s a small matter and not to worry, in fact, she would be delighted to assist me with the research. For the record, my better half is from Guadeloupe, teaches French and Spanish at Fatima College, in Port-of-Spain, and doesn’t know anything about cricket. (The audience laughs).
“Today we live in a digital world that is light years away from the one of 100 years ago, and we take so much for granted. You could well imagine my consternation when I went to the VASE [Voice Activated Search Engine] option on my Maestro [palm-sized electronic device capable of performing a variety of personalised functions including the prompting of a sleep schedule after monitoring heart beat and breathing patterns for a two-minute span] looking for Uncle Jack, and the Augmented Reality returned one hazy black and white photograph, ten lines of text, no audio and no video. Well, even today a back-up plan is a good option to have. Monique!! (The audience laughs).
“We, yes we, did this the old fashioned way, researching all avenues possible and we are very happy to take you to the world of a century ago, today. I will provide the sources of our research at the end. The photographic images that appear on the Houdini Imposter [virtual 3D screen that allows audiences to see the same image from four sides simultaneously] are with the kind permission of Alaska Images.
The Grants of Trinidad
“My great-great-great grandfather, Jackie’s grandfather, Kenneth James Grant, along with his wife, Catherine Copeland Grant and their four-year-old son, Thomas Geddes Grant arrived in Trinidad on the 20th November, 1870. Our ancestor was one of the two pioneer missionaries commissioned by the Presbyterian Church of Canada, specifically to work among the East Indians, providing training for ministers and setting up schools for their children. He remained in Trinidad for 37 years, before returning to Canada for health reasons.
“In 1890, Thomas had married Christiana Fraser, another Canadian missionary who had been assigned to Trinidad in 1885 to teach at one of the church’s primary schools founded by Kenneth Grant. The union produced ten children, including a pair of twins at the eighth birth in 1907. George Copeland and Janet McLaren were promptly nicknamed Jack and Jill, and when Rolf Stewart came along two years later, the trio were referred to as The Twins.
“T Geddes Grant-Manufacturers’ Representative was established in Port-of-Spain in 1901, eventually becoming one of the ‘Big Seven’ of the commercial houses operating in Trinidad, with branches in other West Indian territories including Barbados, British Guiana, Jamaica, and the Windward Islands. The business was able to provide a comfortable lifestyle, but it seems as though the God-fearing Grants lived modestly. Thomas and Christiana were an unassuming devoted couple with three major interests – the church, their large family and their business. (The family entity went public with the passage of time, and was eventually taken over by the Massy Group in the 1990s).
Queen’s Royal College
“Queen’s Royal College (QRC), which can trace its origins back to 1870, opened that classic structure on Queen’s Park West back in 1904. (Today, it is a part of the chain of the buildings, we refer to as the Magnificent Seven.) Young Jack entered the preparatory class of the most prestigious boys’ school on the island, at the age of ten, and would spend the next eight years being exposed to the classic English education of the day, as several Masters where from the old country. Four years later, Jackie had graduated from the asphalt pitch cricket games with his five older brothers in the backyard at home, to be the smallest member of the school’s first X1 in both cricket and football. Jack developed into an outstanding sportsman who still managed to place in the top ten of his classes.
“During his last two years at QRC, he captained both the cricket and football XIs. In his final year at QRC, he enjoyed an exceptional season both as batsman and bowler. In three successive innings against rival schools he scored 150, 170 and 166 not out, finishing the 1925 season with over 1,000 runs for an average of 90. The knock of 150 against arch rival St Mary’s took pride of place, as he racked up 122 between tea and the 6.00 o’clock pulling of stumps. His performances on both fields of play led to the calling in the local press for him to pursue studies at Oxford or Cambridge where he might be awarded a ‘blue’ for representing the university in the annual varsity match.
“His parents agreed to a compromise in the end, and in 1926, Jack followed his elder siblings to Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia for a year, before heading to Christ’s College, Cambridge to read history and earn a Teacher’s Diploma. Jack would earn a double blue in cricket and football by his third year. In 1929, he had scores of 45 not out and 88 against Yorkshire. Wilfred Rhodes, one of the Yorkshire bowlers would later observe during the MCC tour of the West Indies the following winter: ‘Young Grant has an old head on his shoulders.’ The chance remark would lead to an invitation in early 1930 to lead the West Indies on their 1930/31 tour to Australia, despite never having played one first class match in the West Indies. A perfect example of the term ‘old school tie’ in action.
“Jackie, newly engaged to a girl from Southern Rhodesia he had met whilst at Cambridge considered turning down the request, but, of course, he relented and took the reins of captaincy. In those days, the teams travelled by boat, and he never met all his team mates until they arrived in Panama. It was there that he was given the title of Skipper after making a speech at the magnificent dinner and reception hosted by the local West Indian residents (many of whom had gone there to help build the canal), whose match with the tourists had been rained out earlier in the day.
“The journey to Australia via the Panama Canal and New Zealand took three weeks and the team held daily net sessions on the main deck. The 23-year-old Skipper was coming to terms with the facts that there were only four members of the tour party younger than him, he was not the best player on the team, which included cricketing genie Learie Constantine and Mas’ George Headley, and his appointment was heavily based on the colour of his skin. Whilst wrestling with these thoughts, he was uncertain of the reception that they would receive in Australia, whose official racial policy was called ‘A White Australia Policy’ and the West Indies were, in his own words, ‘a team of more than one colour – black, white and coloured.’ His fears were short lived; they were well received everywhere they went.
“Australia took the series 4-1, but the most recent editions to test cricket (the West Indies had only acquired test status in 1928) acquitted themselves well in the circumstances. Australia had a batting line-up that included the likes of Don Bradman, Woodfull, Ponsford, Kippax, McCabe and Jackson. In the final test at Sydney, Jackie became the first captain to declare twice and win a test match, as the West Indies triumphed by 30 runs, winning an overseas test for the first time, and enjoying their second victory in twelve test matches. It was a landmark event, as the West Indies would go to become the only visiting team to win at least one test match in every tour ‘Down Under’ during the last century. In three days’ time, it will be 100 years since that historic day. (The crowd bursts into thunderous applause, rising from their seats. The acknowledgement lasts for a full minute. A black and white photograph of the famous mammoth Sydney scoreboard of the Australian second innings appears on the Houdini Imposter.)
“Jackie, now married and teaching at his alma mater, Queen’s Royal College was verbally reminded—these were different times, we must remember—by his eldest sibling, Fred Geddes, then president of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, to apply for his six months leave of absence from the government. This ‘duty leave’ would allow him to captain the West Indies to England in 1933, where they would lose the three test rubber 2-0.
West Indies, 1935
“Jackie Grant, the first regular captain of the West Indies would lead the team to their ever first series victory. The lone loss in the 2-1 series win occurred in the first test at Kensington Oval, here in Barbados. Jackie declared twice again in a rain-affected match, as the home side lost a thrilling encounter by four wickets. Here are the Skipper’s own words to describe the closing moments of the fourth and final test versus England at Sabina Park on March 18, 1935: ‘I called my players together and said as simply and as quietly as I could that I had my hurt my ankle, that unfortunately I could not remain on the field any longer, and that I appointed Learie [Constantine] to act as captain in my place. Well, I do remember the smile of approval given me by George Headley. In the end it was Learie who led the team to victory.’
Photographs displayed on the Houdini Imposter during the first half of the speech: QRC in 1904, the Magnificent Seven on the Queen’s Park Savannah in 1920s, Grant family portrait of 1912, T Geddes Grant premises in Port-of-Spain around 1920, Christ’s College Cambridge 1927, the West Indies team to Australia in 1930-31, Jack and Ida on their wedding day, various photographs of the 1933 tour of England, Constantine leading the team off the field in Jamaica in 1935.