Forty years ago, to this day the question keeps popping up: “What if Romain Etwaroo had remained in Georgetown?"
It is tempting to speculate as to what might have been the future of Etwaroo had he descended the pavilion steps to face the Barbados attack, instead of Roy Fredericks. Would he have gone on to play Test cricket as some of his colleagues did? What were his feelings about getting so close to greatness and having it snatched away? There are more questions than answers, leaving many people wondering what might have been.
The Indo-Caribbean Federation (ICF) honored Romain Etwaroo, former Berbice captain and Guyana opening batsman at their 18th Annual Cricket Match, Trinidad vs. Guyana on Sat, Sept 15 at Bronx Whitestone Park, New York. According to the Federation’s secretary Ralph Tamesh, it was a way of showing appreciation to someone who made a tangible contribution in sports over the years. The Port Mourant-born Romain Etwaroo, a household name in Berbice and Guyana cricket, left an indelible mark for youngsters to emulate.
The Federation also presented a plaque to Sew Etwaroo, the unlikeliest of marathon runners. Coming from Port Mourant, home of a great number of our outstanding sportsmen, he was just a teenager, 18-year-old when he broke the marathon record in the new time of two hours, 51 mins, 21 secs beating the mark of 3 hrs, 1 secs set by Clem Fields earlier in the 1956 event. It was unprecedented, in that it was the first time that two such events were staged in one year.
In July 1958, Sew Etwaroo was selected to represent then British Guiana in the Sixth British Empire and Commonwealth games at Cardiff, Wales.
Romain Etwaroo came into prominence in the early 1960s with a brilliant century for Berbice High School (BHS) against arch-rivals Berbice Educational Institute (BEI) in the Firestone Cup – symbol of secondary schools cricket supremacy in Berbice – and from then on, there was no looking back. He had been very consistent over the years he had engaged in the sunshine game, and holds the record for scoring a century in almost all the competitions he took part in.
Romain Etwaroo was considered to be the most neatly dressed player; always in immaculate white, and wears a white handkerchief around his neck, which epitomizes his legendary uncle, Rohan Kanhai. Around the mid-1960s, Guyana and West Indies officials were planning to elevate and expand youth cricket around the Caribbean. The move gave youth cricket a tremendous boost. Just before this had happened, the late Mr. Rex Ramnarace (former Port Mourant captain, cricket commentator, Berbice and Guyana selector) and yours truly who was then sportswriter for the Berbice Times organized the first-ever Berbice Secondary Schools boys’ cricket tournament between Berbice and Demerara at the YMCA ground, Georgetown.
Romain Etwaroo was a member of that team, which was skippered by Patrick “Sporty” Liverpool and included other schoolboys, Isardat Ramdehal, Anan Sookram, Dowlat Ramgahan, Ricky Bovell, Tyrone Ramnarace, Jairam Bickharry, Leon Smith, Stanley Moore, the Thompson brothers – Lavan and Adolph, the Joseph brothers – Scott and Alex, and the late Ayube Mohamed and Jubraj Sewsankar. The boys acquitted themselves admirably, particularly Romain Etwaroo whose brilliant knock of 82 was the talk of the town. A couple of years later, this kind of organized cricket was to become the focus of youth cricket in Guyana and the Caribbean.
After a successful “apprentice” with the youth club, Romain became a prominent member of the Port Mourant team and proved his worth with a number of outstanding performances. Romain Etwaroo celebrated his 21st birthday with his debut for Berbice against Demerara in the 1966 inter-county Jones Cup final at Bourda. A year later in 1967 Etwaroo caught the eyes of the selectors and was invited to the national trials in preparation for the regional Shell Shield cricket tournament. He did exceedingly well, amassing over three hundred runs, and by virtue of his outstanding performance was a strong contender for the opening spot, but destiny willed otherwise!
It sometimes pains me to have to explain at great length to those who should know better the fate of Romain Etwaroo. Nobody seems to remember that he was the one selected to open the batting with Joe Solomon, another great batsman from Port Mourant, after Steve Camacho had declared himself unfit for the game against Barbados; but he nearly kept that day with destiny, because he had to return to Berbice to the job he had at the time.
When the selectors could not find Etwaroo, they obviously turned to Roy Fredericks who was fortunately in the city. It was not only a blessing in disguise for Fredericks, but an opportunity which he grasped with both hands and a broad bat, scoring a century in each innings against the mighty Barbados attack. This was to herald an illustrious career for Fredericks, and the rest is all too well known to bear repeating.
It is tempting to speculate as to what might have been the future of Etwaroo had he descended the pavilion steps to face the Bajans’ attack, instead of Roy Fredericks. By the way, has anyone thought of interviewing Romain Etwaroo about the feeling of getting so close to greatness and having the cup of glory snatched away so rudely from him?
Etwaroo had to wait a further seven years before the opportunity once more presented itself for him to play for Guyana. And what a debut! He scored an exuberant 118 against Barbados, and how ironical, against the team he missed playing against in the first instance.
It would be interesting to note that five of those years were spent in the United States of America, where Romain majored in Biology, and where he hardly played any cricket. As a matter of fact, during that time, cricket in the United States was hardly heard of, much less played, as it is now.
On his return home, he enjoyed his best season ever. The left-hander scored the first century in the Davson Cup, Berbice first-class cricket, and along with another talented batsman Isaac Seunarine who made 135, established a record opening-stand of 299 against No 59. The partnership surpassed the 297 opening stand made by Rose Hall Welfare Center’s Ivan Archibald and former Test player Len Baichan against Blairmont in 1969.
Etwaroo scored his second successive century (121) against Rose Hall Welfare Center and towards the end of the competition blasted a dazzling 181 against Police, which brought his aggregate at the end of the season to well over 900 runs. Etwaroo just missed out beating Leslie Amsterdam’s 1000 runs in a season. This was the first time that such a feat was ever achieved in Berbice cricket. Etwaroo, who to a large extent dominated the competition, was the only batsman to record three centuries in the season.
Romain Etwaroo (167), proved to be the mainstay of the innings, and along with Gopie Beasmonie (157) featured in a grand opening-stand of 333 against Police in the final round, which beat the previous best of 297 by himself and Isaac Seunarine against No 59. Etwaroo had scored more centuries, 20 in all, than any other player in the Ancient County. He has a Shell Shield aggregate of 1,115 for an average of 39.83 with three centuries.
Etwaroo was often cast in a defensive role, because of the limitations of the Port Mourant’s batting line in the early years. The batsman with monumental concentration got the “stay in” orders from his captain as soon as he had buckled his pads on. So much criticism has been leveled against his defensive tactics that very few people outside of Berbice knew that Romain Etwaroo was one of the finest stroke-players in the Ancient County.
Romain Etwaroo and former Test batsman left-hander Leonard Baichan proved an ideal opening pair in the 1973 President’s Cup between Berbice and Demerara at Bourda when they added one hundred and over in both innings. I well remember Baichan carried his bat throughout the first innings for 216 and with Romain Etwaroo’s 81 added 185 for the opening partnership. Again, in the second innings, Baichan 102 and Etwaroo 100 put 205 for an unfinished opening stand.
In a Bristol Cup final against arch-rivals Rose Hall Welfare Center, Romain actually stayed the whole allotted 50-overs, scoring 60 runs in his team’s total of 135. He had a heavy price to pay for his “team first” attitude, and was the cornerstone on which many of Port Mourant’s innings had revolved.
But Etwaroo’s greatest moment was yet to come. In 1973, the versatile batsman who has an insatiable appetite for runs eclipsed Joe Sukwah’s pride of 234 not out, which stood for almost ten years, with a belligerent 302 against Skeldon. This made him the first and only triple centurion in Berbice. It has also made him the fourth batsman in the country to join the elite 300+ club. Those before him were Khalil Rohoman 319 (1936), Peter Bayley 322 (1942), and Robert Roopnarine 327 n.o. (1963). Then after Independence, in 1985, David Harper made a flamboyant 308. Test batsman and former West Indies captain Chanderpaul Shivnarine made 303 n.o. outside of Guyana at Sabina Park, Jamaica in 1996.
Etwaroo’s mum, Rachel had been a supportive fan of his throughout his cricketing career. Rachel is the sister of Berbice and West Indies icon, Rohan Kanhai, and obviously, cricket runs in the genes. However, her interest is not restricted to only her sons: Ranjie, Romain, Randolph, Reggie and Tyrone. I can’t recall a mother who constantly watches her sons play cricket at Port Mourant ground, or anywhere for that matter. Such a woman is Rachel!
In her earlier days, as a sister she watched with delight at her brothers Rohan (Kanhai), Richard and Richmond. Then, as a mother, she sat on her verandah overlooking the beautiful Port Mourant ground where her five sons, Ranjie, Romain, Randolph, Reggie and Tyron thrilled the hearts of thousands of cricket fans with cricket of the highest class.
She had watched many outstanding innings by both her brother, Rohan and her son, Romain, but the one which gave her the most pleasure was the triple century made by Romain against Skeldon in 1973. Romain had scored 232 at the end of the first day’s play, the highest score ever made in a day’s play in Berbice, and was a mere two runs shy from Joe Sukwah’s 234 n.o. made against Providence, ten years earlier.
The next day, in front of a capacity crowd, Romain cruised past Sukwah’s 234, and proceeded to pulverize the hapless Skeldon attack towards a triple century, being the first to do so, since cricket began in Berbice some seventy-five years ago. And to show his appreciation, Romain in reaching the magical 300-mark, looked into the direction of his cheering mum, raised his bat towards her, saying: “It’s for you, Mum!”
When asked how he felt in breaking the record and being the first batsman in the Ancient County to record a triple century, the soft spoken, then deputy headmaster of Bush Lot Secondary School, Corentyne said: “At first I couldn’t believe it, but I am happy with my performance. Dedication to the game had paid handsome dividends.” It is now thirty-four years since Romain Etwaroo had made that triple century, and so far, no other Berbice batsman had shown the desire to go after that stupendous performance. Has the Berbice batsmen lost the appetite for runs? Better still! Are they no longer for big scores? The big question on everyone’s mind is: “Who would be the nest batsman to go after Romain Etwaroo’s record, and how soon?
That Romain Etwaroo proved an astute skipper goes without saying. During his captaincy, they out performed and outlasted their rivals to be the champion team playing “like a well-oiled machine.” Port Mourant was not without its problems. There was a time in the mid-seventies when the future of the club looked almost uncertain. Five of their best players drifted across to their traditional rivals, Albion, and while it must have been a tremendous setback, it in no way dampened their spirits. Imagine losing two of their star players, left-arm spinner, Burlin Saheed, aptly nicknamed the “little magician” and versatile all-rounder Randolph Ramnarace who were virtually irreplaceable. They were down, but not completely out, and rose like a virtuous Phoenix out of the ashes. The never-say-die Port Mourant side drew on their reserves and how well they responded to the crisis, is all, but ancient history.
In 1976, Romain led the Berbice side to victory over Demerara to regain the prestigious Jones Cup, after an absence of thirteen long years, a victory in which, Etwaroo cherished most of all and one he regards as revenge as its sweetest.
Equally an outstanding fieldsman as he is a batsman, his dazzling speed, his spectacular catching of the ball and his accurate throw are reminiscent of Moonsammy, Amsterdam, Kanhai, Butcher, Solomon, Fredericks, Kallicharran and Sew Shivnarine.