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History This Week
John Veerasawmy, forgotten Guyanese cricketer (Part 1)

For at least the last hundred years cricket has been the most popular sport in Guyana. Guyanese are more acquainted with the history of cricket than with that of any other local sport. They are particularly knowledgeable of the period since the 1950's when Guyana first started to produce players, initially Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs and Basil Butcher, who gained international renown.

Guyanese, including ar-dent cricket fans, are far less acquainted with the history of the game before 1950, especially before 1928 when the West Indies began to play Test cricket. Most of the Guyanese players of this early era are unknown or completely forgotten. One of them is John Aloysius Veerasawmy, a left-arm bowler and right-handed tail-end batsman.

Veerasawmy, who was born in May 1891, first demonstrated his talent in sports during his secondary school career at Queen's College where he was outstanding not only in cricket, but also in football and athletics. He was the school's football captain in 1908 and its senior athletic champion in 1909, winning five events, the 100, 200 and 440 yards and the high and long jumps. In his later life, however, he concentrated on cricket.

Veerasawmy occupies a special place in the history of Guyanese cricket. Surpri-singly, his importance does not lie solely or even mainly in his exploits on the field of play. His overall significance is due primarily to five achievements.

Veerasawmy's most not-able achievement is arguably the fact that he was the first East Indian to represent Guyana in first-class cricket. This occurred in January 1910 when Veerasawmy, at the young age of eighteen, was selected to play against Trinidad at the Queen's Park Oval. It was an inauspicious beginning, with Veerasawmy failing to impress with both bat and ball in a game, which the Trinidadians won by the massive margin of an innings and 180 runs. Veerasawmy, batting at number 11, had scores of 0 and 1 not out, and did not take a single wicket, conceding 37 runs in 8 overs.

Veerasawmy did not represent British Guiana again until eleven years later. This gap was due to two developments. The first was his decision to pursue legal studies in England, where he qualified in 1913 as a barrister at the famous Middle Temple in London. The second factor was the outbreak in 1914 of the First World War, which completely interrupted re-gional cricket in the Carib-bean.

Veerasawmy's second appearance for his country in a first-class match was in September 1921, again against Trinidad at the Queen's Park Oval, in British Guiana's first game after the war. His performance was much better than that in his debut. Batting at Number 11 and 10, he scored 3 not out and 5 not out and was his team's best bowler. He captured 5 wickets for 67 runs in 37 overs, of which 13 were maidens. This game, which Trinidad won easily by an innings and 80 runs, was the only time that the Barbadian Cyril Rutherford Browne, the team's star player, led the Guianese side and one of the rare occasions in his long career that Browne was eclipsed by any other bowler on his side.

Veerasawmy's third and final first-class appearance for British Guiana was in September of the following year, 1922, against Trinidad at Bourda. In a keenly contested low-scoring game which Trinidad won by 29 runs, Veerasawmy, batting at Number 10, scored 12 and 2 not out and had virtually no success with the ball. In the first innings he took 1 wicket for 33 runs in 7 overs and conceded 9 runs in 2 overs in the second innings without taking a wicket. Cyril Browne, who captured 11 wickets in the match, was his team's best bowler in both innings.

Thus Veerasawmy ended up on the losing side in all three of his

appearances for the national team, all these matches being played against Trinidad. His first-class career statistics were very modest - 23 runs in 6 innings with an average of 11.50 with the bat and 6 wickets at an average of 24.33 with the ball. Nevertheless, his selection for British Guiana inspired

other Indian cricketers to strive to represent their country.

Although Veerasawmy continued to play domestic first division cricket at least until 1936, when he was 45 years old, he never played first-class cricket after 1922. The end of his first-class career at the age of 31 was due partly to the fact that from 1922 he became preoccupied with his judicial career, serving as a magistrate in Demerara and Essequibo for the following 22 years, that is, until 1944.

Veerasawmy's second notable achievement, which some analysts may regard as his most important contribution to Guyanese cricket, was two initiatives which he undertook to promote the participation and development of Indians in cricket. The first initiative was the establishment in 1914 or 1915 in Georgetown of the British Guiana East Indian Cricket Club (B.G.E.I.C.C.). This club soon became the leading Indian cricket club in the colony and helped to produce most of the Indians who represented British Guiana in cricket in the following forty years. Veerasawmy was not only the founder of the club, but also its president in 1925 and later its Honorary Life President.

The other major impetus which Veerasawmy gave to the development of cricket among East Indians in Guyana was by means of a periodic competition, which he started in 1919 between national Indian teams, representing British Guiana, Suriname and Trinidad. He himself was a member of the British Guiana East Indian Colony Team on two occasions, in 1919 and 1924.

Veerasawmy's three other notable achievements, as an early Guyanese cricketer will be examined in the second installment of this article.

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