Tuesday 29 January 2013 

Jamaica, Headley And The Heyday Of Costa Rican Cricket

In 1928 two cricket teams from Panama had toured Costa Rica; Bocas CC and Almirante CC from Bocas del Toro. Then in 1935 the Motive Power Club of Port Limon invited the Jamaican team Clarendon CC to visit Costa Rica in October for a series of ten matches including two “Tests.”. The tourists (supplemented by some cricketers from other Jamaican clubs) were managed by the Rev C.A. Spencer and captained by Mr A.L.Virtue (an agricultural instructor) and included two future West Indies test cricketers; H.H. Hines Johnson and R.L. “Dickie” Fuller. They had two days sightseeing in the capital San Jose (including a visit to the cemetery) and visited Cecil Lindo’s cocoa factory at Rio Hundo. Lindo was from a Sephardic Jewish family which had taken British nationality and settled in Jamaica. Cecil moved to Costa Rica and made his fortune working for United Fruit and buying land; first for bananas and then for coffee. He later owned the Appleton Estate in Jamaica and Devon House in Kingston. One of the family companies Keeling-Lindo Estates in St Catherine employed George Headley and was happy to allow him to take time off to play cricket.

The visitors from Clarendon CC, badged as Jamaica, played their first match of the 1935 tour at Carmen (a small hamlet in the heart of the banana plantations) travelling from Limon in a ten coach train crammed with 1,500 fans. Over 4,000 watched the match which was abandoned due to a heavy downpour. A similarly large crowd saw the next match against Pathfinders SC in Limon during which the Jamaican McDonald scored 102 not out, the first century ever scored on Costa Rica’s treacherous clay wickets. The United Fruit Company presented him with a commemorative bat. In reply to Jamaica’s 173, Pathfinders could muster only 27 for 6 as Johnson and Fuller ripped through their batsmen before a desperate appeal for bad light by the hosts was upheld. The next match, against the “Schemers” (The Costa Rican Burial Scheme) saw Jamaica notch up their first win. The Schemers could only manage 39 and 51 in their two innings to Jamaica’s 208 for 5 declared.

There followed a steady procession of heavy defeats for the enthusiastic but undisciplined Costa Rican teams. Wanderers SC could manage only 33 to Jamaica’s 76. Fearless SC of Limon scored just 31 to Jamaica’s 160. In the First Test Match “All Costa Rica” managed just 66 to Jamaica’s 160. In the next fixture Motive Power SC (the host team) scored 91, Jamaica replying with 92 for 4. Excelsior SC made just 64. Jamaica answered with 84. Construction SC were lucky to secure a draw after they made 39 for 9 in reply to Jamaica’s 197 for 2 in which McDonald made his second century of the tour, this time 111. Since Carmen all the matches were played on Limon’s savannah (sometimes dubbed with some optimism as the Oval) but the next contest took the Jamaicans by train to Siquirres, a delightful town in the foothills. In reply to Jamaica’s 88 for 2 declared, Siquirres managed only 36.

Musing to the Kingston Gleaner on the tour George Townsend, one of the touring party (a medium pace bowler for Lucas CC, for which George Headley also played) was enthusiastic about the “keen spirit shown in the game not only among the players themselves, but in the large number of people who watched”.  He was diplomatic about the quality of the cricket. He found Costa Rica’s bowlers “moderately good” but let down by “a clear lack of experience in placing their field”.  The fielding itself was good although the wicket keeping was generally poor with the keeper standing too far back.  Costa Rica’s batting was “definitely weak” with players hitting indiscriminately at everything. He recommended that Costa Rican batsmen should wear batting gloves and also suggested the laying of concrete wickets with matting because, with frequent rains, it was so hard to prepare a good clay wicket.

Inevitably the Costa Ricans were invited to make a return trip to Jamaica.  There had not been a cricket tour before but in 1933 some Costa Rican footballers, baseballers and boxers had visited Jamaica.  Barcelona FC, the best soccer team in Limon had also toured. And in 1934 the Excelsior Sports Club of Costa Rica sent Arthur Pearson, the cycle champion of all Costa Rica.  Pearson bemoaned the loss of training time due to the festivities before leaving Limon and the subsequent sea voyage, but promised to “do my best to clip your flashers”.  He was pitted against Jamaica’s top cyclists, L .E. Hayles, Christie and Beckford.

The cricket tour from Costa Rica to Jamaica in March 1937 included, amongst a cast of 72 “excursionists”, 14 cricketers and 2 boxers. The two Costa Rican boxers, Juan Bagas and Arturo Clarke, were expected to fight Jamaica’s Kid Silver and Pal Silver. But the cricket was the main business and arriving on the Royal Netherlands Steamship “Costa Rica”, the Captain, Stanley Dixon, made two points.  He said that Pathfinders SC did not mind being beaten at cricket.  Their main purpose was to gain experience.  However secondly he made a special plea that Lucas CC should include George Headley in their team later that week, just before he sailed to England to join Haslingden Club for the start of the English summer season. 
By the time the Pathfinders left Jamaica on the steamship “Simon Bolivar”, they had lost 8 of their 9 matches and had also lost one baseball match against Ortega Stars and all three boxing bouts at Rose Gardens.  Nonetheless no-one was downcast, least of all “Longfield”, the ever charitable cricket correspondent of the Kingston Gleaner.  His report on the tour on March 22nd 1937 was entitled “Slow Improvement” after the match at Four Paths CC.  He thought that the bowling of Ruben Brown, Stanley Dixon (the Captain) and Egbert Wade was promising.  The fielding was lively too.  Of the Costa Rican batsmen, Gabriel Gordon “batted with enterprise, showing discretion”. However he identified the poor setting of the field as a serious problem with the slips standing too far back.

On his departure Pathfinder’s President, Cleveland Clarke ventured onto politics when he told the Gleaner “But one thing our trip revealed to us is that the conditions of the working classes in Costa Rica are not as bad as those existing in Jamaica as we were previously led to think.”  Whilst complimenting Jamaica “on your good roads” he felt that “for scenic beauty and climate I think San Jose has it over Kingston”. 

1937 Pathfinders Team

This is believed to be the last surviving photo of the 1937 Pathfinders tour of Jamaica
Back row l to r. Vernon Blackshaw, Egbert Wade, Cleveland Clarke, Sylvester Cunningham, Nathan Brown, Winston Cunningham
Seated l to r..Albert Lawrence, Gabriel Gordon, Stanley Dixon, Ruben Brown, Standford Barton