Lesser-known facts about Guyana- a country which proves cricketing hotbed of talent

The name Berbice, while known to Guyanese people, may be unfamiliar to many in the Caribbean and beyond. It is a largely rural county

Lesser-known facts about Guyana- a country which proves cricketing hotbed of talent
Lesser-known facts about Guyana- a country which proves cricketing hotbed of talent

Guyana: The name Berbice, while known to Guyanese people, may be unfamiliar to many in the Caribbean and beyond. It is a largely rural county, a two-hour drive east of Georgetown near the Suriname border, with a relatively small population.

And yet, this secluded corner of Guyana has proved a cricketing hotbed of talent, with as many as 19 of its players selected for the West Indies at Test level. Many more have been picked for one-day internationals, while seven of its women have also represented the West Indies women’s side. Put simply, Berbice has punched way above its weight.

The latest in the long line of Berbicians to play for the West Indies is Gudakesh Motie, the left-arm spinner. After making his debut in 2022, he returned the remarkable match figures of 13 for 99 in his third Test in February 2023, inspiring victory against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo.

More on the other players later, but where did it all begin? When West Indies played their first ever Test match, in 1928, there was no organised cricket in Berbice, although informal games were staged. It was not until 1939 that the Berbice Cricket Board (BCB) was formed, by several Bajans who were managing local sugar estates for the Booker Tate company.

Two former West Indies players, Lionel Birkett and Cyril Browne, were instrumental in setting up the board, which had eight founder member clubs: Albion, Blairmont

Mental Hospital Sports Club, Police Sports Club, Port Mourant, Providence, Rose Hall Canje and Skeldon.

“The formation of the BCB was a critical moment in time,” Hilbert Foster, the current president of the board, told me when I visited Berbice. “Berbice players were not picked for Guyana at that time, but thereafter there was more inclusion in selection. Once John Trim became the first Berbician to represent the West Indies in 1948, Berbice became the major production source of players for Guyana and the West Indies.”

The facts back him up. Since Trim, who was the ninth Guyanese to represent West Indies, 42 other Guyanese cricketers have earned the right to don the cherished maroon cap, and very nearly half have come from Berbice.

Of the 332 players to have played Test cricket for West Indies at the time of writing, as many as 6.3 per cent of them have come from Berbice. Drive around the Berbice region and you will soon see why. There are cricket clubs and grounds everywhere. The biggest-Albion – staged the first one- day international in the Caribbean in March 1977 when 15,000 saw West Indies beat Pakistan by four wickets.

Three new clubs – Young Warriors, Tucber Park and West Berbice – have swelled the number of Division One clubs to eleven, while there are a staggering 112 clubs at second division level. Under-21 teams and other age-group sides proliferate, with 14 clubs signing up for the under-15 cup. Around 70 girls are playing at all levels.

“Now, Berbice cricket is at the highest point it’s ever been,” declared Cecil Beharry, the BCB vice-president and treasurer. “That’s mainly down to our president Hilbert Foster’s leadership and administration nous. He truly seeks to make a difference in the lives of our young people, masterminding the fund-raising as it costs a lot to run the coaching programmes. We get only a small amount from the Guyana Cricket Board. It thanks to Hilbert we get sponsorships and donations from a lot of local companies. They love the fact Berbice produces the majority of Guyana’s cricketers – last year it was a total of 61 at all levels who represented the country, both male and female.”

Thanks to funds raised by the BCB, Foster has also enlisted a number of former West Indies greats to fly into Guyana and conduct coaching clinics in Berbice. Last year, Desmond Haynes, Andy Roberts, Curtly Ambrose, Jimmy Adams and Courtney Walsh all visited.

So too did Barbados-born Roland Butcher, the first black cricketer to play a Test match for England, who brought kit over courtesy of the UK’s Cricket Kindness Project. Four bowling machines have been acquired this year along with new nets for division one clubs, while the US-based Clayton Lambert sent over a large batch of balls.