I kid you not. The best catch I believed I saw in cricket before the acrobatics of Gus Logie and Roger Harper playing for the West Indies in the 1980s was by Hopeton McCrae.
No one, of course, knew who Hopeton McCrae was, except the few of us who gathered on the old polo ground of the Mount Plenty property to play cricket on lazy Sunday afternoons in the early to mid 1970s. Hopeton, like me, was not much of a cricketer. He fancied himself as a tear-away fast bowler but we knew there was a great deal of chucking in his action. He was what we called a flinger, and a wayward one at that. And, while he was the fastest bowler our poor little team had, he was certainly no Michael Holding. And he was completely useless with the bat.
But on one of those lazy Sundays, he took a blinder of a catch. One of our better batsmen, Vin (may his soul rest in peace), straight drove a ball long and high over the head of the bowler and stood his ground, refusing to run, as he was sure it was going over the boundary for a six. Hopeton, who was fielding somewhere along deep mid wicket, near the boundary, took off on a barefooted sprint.
The batsman, Vin, began to remonstrate that no way would Hopeton catch the ball and he and the fielders close to the bat got into an argument over it. What was worse, dusk had started to fall, and the red ball was a mere blur in the air. But my eyes were on Hopeton. He sprinted along the boundary line, looked up at the ball, looked down to see that his bare feet were not hitting any stones, increased his speed, looked up at the ball, looked down to see he was on the right path, doing so repeatedly, while Vin and Lester and Moody and the rest argued.
Then everybody’s breath stopped for a split second before we all went crazy. After sprinting from anywhere between 50 and 60 meters, with the ball sky high in the darkening hue and heading over the boundary, Hopeton, reaching the ball just when it was about to fall to the ground, juggled it from right hand to left hand to right hand again, all while still in full flight, and held the catch. Stunning.
Another cricketing image got stuck in my mind – the fastest ball I’ve seen with my naked eye bowled in a cricket match. Patrick Patterson was tearing in from the George Headley Stand end at Sabina Park in a regional match between Jamaica and the Windward Islands. This particular delivery, short of a length, reared viciously up at the batsman who, in taking defensive and evasive action lifted his glove, with the bat hanging, to shield his face. The ball hit either the glove or the shoulder of the bat, flew over the keeper’s head and went for six. But it took us several long seconds to know exactly what happened. Those of us in the stands stood confused, trying to see where the ball went, and wondered why Patterson was walking back to his mark nonchalantly and why all the fielders were looking toward the fine leg boundary. What had occurred only became clear to us when the umpire signaled six suns.
Not so long ago, I heard a fellow commentator asked Jeffrey Dujon to name the fastest of all the top quality pace bowlers he kept wicket to during the golden era of West Indies cricket. Without much hesitation, he responded, “Patrick Patterson. He hit the gloves hard, even while I was standing far back from the stumps.” I immediately remembered that hellish of a ball to the poor Windward Islands batsman, who got away lucky in more ways than one.
No wonder former England captain Graham Gooch stood in terror in front of Patterson, as Mike Spivey wrote on Cricinfo:
It is the stock question for international batsmen. Who is the quickest and nastiest? Graham Gooch did not mind the pace, but he says the only time he has been in fear of his wellbeing was at Sabina Park in February 1986 when, on a grassy pitch, Test debutant Patrick “Patto” Patterson hurtled his inelegant bow-legged way up the hill, thrust his leading leg high, studs at the batsman, stamped down hard enough to measure on the Richter Scale, and bowl[ed] like the devil in front of his home crowd.
Others attested to the deadliness of Patterson while reminiscing on his debut test match. In a match where Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Holding were bowlers – all fiery fast men themselves – Holding said, “Patrick Patterson [was] bowling very quick in that Test, in fact, the fastest by some way of all the quickies.”
Dujon elaborated, “Patrick Patterson is unquestionably the fastest bowler I ever kept wicket to…. What stands out most was the degree to which he was able to get the ball to leave the bat at such pace. This was something I had never seen before – hooping outswingers at well near 100mph!”
Roger Harper, one of the West Indian fielders, said because of how fast Patterson bowled, they had to field deep, far away from the batting crease. “We were so deep, so far back, that we could almost spit over the boundary behind us. I think that he terrified the daylights out of the Englishmen on that pitch.”
Alan Lamb, one of the English batsmen, gave a similar account to what I saw at Sabina Park in that regional match. “Patterson was frightening that day…. There was a ball Patterson bowled to me that jumped from a length, hit the shoulder of my bat and went for six.”
Jackie Hendricks, who was the manager of that West Indies test team, declared, “Patterson’s bowling was possibly the fastest I’ve seen a Windies bowler since Roy Gilchrist and Wes Hall in their young days, although it was difficult to tell without speed guns.”
Colin Benjamin, from whom the above quotes came in an article on Cricinfo, stated, “A young Patterson took seven wickets in one of the quickest and deadliest displays of fast bowling in Test history.” He recalled a cricket writer, The Times’ John Woodcock, saying he “never felt it more likely that I would see someone killed on the pitch.”
Yes, Patrick Patterson was deadly.
A history of Jamaica cricket
Cricket is in our DNA as Jamaicans, which is why we mourn and suffer and weep over the present parlous state of West Indies cricket (despite the recent successes in T20 cricket). Much of this love came out of playing the game in backyards, school grounds and on village and community fields such as the old polo ground at Mount Plenty. “Curry goat cricket” was a staple on Easter Monday, Independence Day and Boxing Day.
Because of my interest and love for the game, I became curious about the earliest records of cricket being played in Jamaica. One can guess that the British colonizers in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean played the game in the respective territories, but when and where did it catch on among black and other Jamaicans? Sadly, there isn’t much of a record and I would happily learn of any such from readers.
All sources, however, suggest that cricket took off in a big way in Jamaica in the 1890s. The book, Jamaica in 1896, said “there are cricket clubs in Kingston, Mandeville, Spanish Town and other towns” and the Handbook of Jamaica reported that in March 1895 “a team of English Cricketers captained by Mr. B. S. Lucas played a series of matches against local Clubs.”
Schoolboy cricket was being played, at least by the 1890s, as “cricket and other outdoor exercises receive careful attention” at the “Beckford and Smith’s Graded Middle Class School, Spanish Town” (St. Jago High School).
It appears that if not before then, cricket was now being appreciated by ordinary Jamaicans toward the end of the 19th century, and not just by “gentlemen” who were members of the various clubs. Beckford and Smith’s (St. Jago High School) included students of the poorer classes: “Peter Beckford, Esq., of Spanish Town, bequeathed by his will, dated 1735, the sum of £1,000 ‘to be apply’d (sic) towards the building a free school or hospital for the poor, if any person should joyn (sic) in such an undertaking.’”
The following long excerpt from the 1909 edition of the Handbook of Jamaica, gave an account of the development of cricket in Jamaica and the West Indies up to that point:
This fine old English game is exceedingly popular in Jamaica and Cricket Clubs exist in nearly all the parishes in the island. The game has made vast strides in recent years, and received a great impetus by the visits of the English Cricketers in 1895 and 1897. The best known Clubs are the Kingston, Garrison, Kensington, Melbourne, and Lucas Clubs in Kingston, Phoenix and Georgia Clubs in Trelawny, the St. Jago Club in St. Catherine, the Blake Club in St. James, the St. Elizabeth Club, the Manchester Club, the St. Ann’s Club, the Middlesex Club in St. Mary, and the Surrey Club in Portland. There are in Kingston, besides those mentioned above, several Clubs formed amongst the more juvenile members of the community.
Jamaica contributed 7 men to the team of West Indian Cricketers which played a series of matches in the United States and Canada in 1886. Thirteen matches were played, of which the W. I. Cricketers won 6 and lost 5, and 2 were drawn.
In January 1888, a team of Cricketers from the United States visited Jamaica, as a part of a tour through the West Indies. They played matches against the Kingston C. C, the St. Elisabeth C. C, the Portland C. C. and the Officers of the Garrison. They were successful in all these matches except in that against the Kingston C. C. in which they were defeated.
During 1891 a team from the Garrison Club, Barbados, visited the island and played five matches against the Kingston and Garrison Clubs and against a team selected from all Jamaica. The visitors, who had amongst them several well-known Cricketers, won two and lost two matches against the Clubs and were beaten by the island team.
In 1895 a team of English Cricketers, Captained by Mr. B. S. Lucas visited the West Indies, and played 5 matches in Jamaica of which they won four. The visitors received a most hearty welcome and were entertained while in the Island at the expense of a fund raised by public subscription.
In September, 1896, Jamaica first took part in Intercolonial Cricket, sending a team of Cricketers to play at Demerera and Barbados. Of the four matches played three were lost, and one resulted in victory.
Another team of cricketers from England visited the Island in March, 1897, under the captaincy of Mr. A. Priestley, and were successful in all their matches. The team included Messrs. A. E. Stoddart, S. M. J. Woods and B. C. N. Palairet.
In 1900 a team of cricketers from the West Indies (including two representatives from Jamaica) made a first visit to England, under the auspices of the W.I. Club. The results of their tour were very successful and will do much for the good of cricket in the W. I.
In 1902 another team of English Cricketers under the Captaincy of Mr. B. A. Bennett visited the Island. Although the team was easily successful in all its marches, the effects of these visits is sure to be of great benefit to local play.
A Challenge Cup Competition has recently been established in Island Cricket, and promises to tend to the further improvement of the game The Kingston C.C. are the holders of the Cup for 1902.
The Kingston Cricket Club is the leading Club in the Island, having been in existence for many years, and is now one of the established institutions of the city. It has a large membership which is annually increasing. Honorary members pay a subscription of £1 1s. a year and playing members £2 8s. a year with an entrance fee of 21s. Country members pay a yearly subscription of 6s. The election to membership is in the hands of the Committee. The ground, on which a handsome pavilion has been erected, is situated a short distance out of town, at Sabina Park, on the road leading from the Windward Road opposite Park Lodge, to the south-eastern entrance to Up-Park Camp. A practising net is up on every week day. A well-organised system of club prizes exists, for the reward of those who have excelled in each year in the various departments of the game.