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Enter Richard Ollivierre

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(continued from last week)

Even when Charlie Ollivierre dominated the Vincentian cricket scene his two brothers Richard and Helon were highly regarded. Richard went on to represent the West Indies on a tour to England in 1906 and against the MCC when they toured in 1913. One aspect that needs to be pondered on is that in this era which saw West Indies cricket moving toward official recognition two Vincentians were able to gain selection on the West Indies team and to make their mark.{{more}} Perhaps this is one of the ironies of early colonialism for certainly in later years the cry coming from the smaller islands was about the discrimination against their players. Gary Sobers in his autobiography had reported on the case of Frank Mason when the Barbadians took a decision to make sure that Mason could not make the team ahead of their own Wesley Hall. But that early era was not devoid of its discrimination. In 1900 when Charlie Ollivierre made the team, Vincentians felt that they should have had at least two men on the team. The Sentry newspaper commenting on this argued that “…we could furnish another batsman and all-round cricketer as good as many if not better than one or two who have been selected. But so ardent is (sic) the larger colonies over the matter-everyone seemingly anxious to send five or six men, if possible. St.Vincent with their little influence to bear on the question must perhaps be satisfied with what she has got…”

Helon Ollivierre, the younger brother left for Trinidad in 1901. A farewell match was held for him and the Times newspaper in its August 9, 1901 issue paid tribute to him, “Mr. Ollivierre as an all round cricketer has no superior here at present and his departure from the colony is a very serious loss to cricket.” It would appear based on a comment by CLR James that Helon’s move to Trinidad was facilitated by a Mr Blenman, a butcher, who apparently had some contact with St.Vincent and paid Helon’s expenses to come to Trinidad. I am not sure about his reason for going to Trinidad. It might be that he considered his chances better in Trinidad, that is, if his move was really motivated by a desire to move up in the cricketing world. Why he would have thought so is questionable given the fact that his two brothers made it from their home base. I have not been able to check on his Trinidadian sojourn, if indeed it was a sojourn, and so that part of his life remains a mystery.

Richard continued to hold high the Ollivierre’s name in the cricketing arena. He was truly dominant with the bat and ball and featured highly in games against British teams visiting the region in 1901 and 1905. In 1901 playing for a combined St.Vincent and Grenada team against a team led by Bennett he took 9 wickets for 79 and in 1905 against a Brackley led team he took 7 wickets for 38 runs and made 99 runs. In local games he was unmatched as his 202 for Eton CC against Kingstown CC in 1904 demonstrates. He gained a place in the West Indies team that toured England in 1906. In the first game against an English X1 the West Indians scored 201 and had the English team dismissed for 138, Richard bowling unchanged in a splendid spell in which he took 4 wickets for 71 runs. Against Yorkshire he helped to bowl them out for 50 taking 7 wickets for 23 runs in 12.5 overs.

As reported by the Times newspaper he made 50 in a game against Northamptonshire, an innings in which he despatched the bowling all over the field, “one tremendous hit sent the ball into the ladies pavilion- (he) scored at the rate of 1 run per minute”. His performance in 1906 was truly outstanding. The St.Vincent handbook had this to say, “… As a rapid scorer he is considered second to none in the West Indies. His display as an all-round cricketer elicited commendation; he upheld his reputation and that of the colony whose cricket is admittedly excellent…On his return to the Colony-13th September- he was accorded an enthusiastic reception, and on 26th was presented with a purse as a token of the people’s appreciation of his creditable performance in England.” The effort to raise a purse on his behalf was spearheaded by James Vanloo, another dominant Vincentian cricketer who had captained the local team for a number of years. The Times newspaper summed up Ollivierre’s performance in England, “…We offer no apology for awarding our representative Ollivierre second place on the honours list, although he has not quite come up to expectation with the bat, he has more than done so with the ball- 7 for 23 vs. Yorkshire on a perfect wicket is a performance that will live long in the annals of first class cricket…” Richard had his own celebration later in the year when he was married at the Roman Catholic Church on Boxing Day to a Miss Marian Cranson.

Richard was at the centre of some controversy in St.Vincent in 1912 during the Cork Cup Cricket tournament involving teams from Grenada, St.Lucia and the host St.Vincent. In the match against Grenada there were some questionable umpiring decisions even against the Grenadian team that met with the displeasure of the spectators. Things came to a climax when Ollivierre, who I assume to be Richard, was given out lbw. The crowd rushed on to the field and there was general pandemonium until calm was restored with the help of the Police. At the end of the match stones were thrown at the umpire who had to be rushed into the home of the Post Master who had been accompanying him. St.Lucian players who were with the Umpire were also targets of the stone throwers. The crowd followed the umpire when he was later taken to his hotel. The Grenadian players were also victims of the stone throwing incident. The tournament had to be called off and efforts were made to get the teams out of the country on the following day.

Richard was selected in 1913 to be on the team to play against the MCC in Barbados, Trinidad and British Guiana. Writing about the West Indies defeat of the MCC team by an innings in Trinidad, CLR James noted that, “A welcome visitor from St.Vincent was R. Ollivierre of the 1906 team who scored 34 and in the first innings took 5 wickets for 68 runs.” In that match Ollivierre had taken 3 wickets in 4 balls, even breaking the wicket with one of the balls.

It must have meant something for a small island like St.Vincent to have produced two cricketers who made their mark in the early years of the West Indies entry into international cricket. They would have contributed to the West Indies eventually acquiring Test match status. What happened with Helon needs to be further investigated because he was on the local scene as highly acclaimed as his older brothers. At a time when we are trying to uncover our heroes the Ollivierre brothers must be remembered.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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