By Mark McGowan
A special place in the rich history of cricket in the Caribbean has been reserved for Bourda Cricket Ground, home of Georgetown Cricket Club (GCC). As one of the oldest cricket grounds in the Caribbean spectators over the years it has witnessed thousands of runs, hundreds of wickets, and of course – given Guyana’s weather patterns – countless rains.
Founded in 1858, the GCC is the longest surviving cricket club in the Caribbean. Club members initially practiced and played games on the Parade Ground before difficulties motivated them to acquire land of their own. Soon, construction of the land began in its current location. Stephen Camacho, a former GCC captain, notes that the ground was formally opened on December 26, 1885, with a cricket match played between teams representing “the World” and “West Indies”. Later in 1887, Bourda held its first inter-colonial match between British Guiana and Barbados where the local side emerged victorious. And while the GCC may be primarily a cricket club, it has also been home to other sports such as hockey.
Bourda, however, is a truly special land for cricket. Writing on the popular cricket site espncricinfo.com, Martin Williamson described Bourda as “the first Test venue in mainland South America and the only one in the world below sea level,” adding that it has a “very old world feel” about it. with the spectacular wooden pavilion at its leg being a grand structure. ”He also spoke of the passionate, but sometimes volatile crowd, noting the tendency for” small riots “and” pitch invasions. ” In fact, the completion of at least two One-Day Internationals (ODIs) played on the ground had a detrimental effect on viewers who ran on to the playing field before the match officially ended.
However, for Travis Dowlin, a former Guyana and West Indies player, it was the intimacy of the earth and the passionate viewers who made playing cricket at Bourda a joy. The closeness between players and spectators was due to the proximity of some of the stands to the action in the middle. He added that the viewers constantly engaged with the players and were never afraid to advise them. He suggested that this closeness between the crowd and players, is now absent at the Guyana National Stadium in Providence – the land that has been hosting all the international cricket matches held locally since 2007.
Dowlin also remembers spectators traveling from outlying areas like Berbice and sleeping in the nearby Merriman Mall to get to the ground early to soak in every ball of the game. To him playing in Bourda was always a privilege as he had a deep appreciation of the rich history associated with the earth.
For the true cricket fan there are many memorable performances that took place during regional and international matches in
Bourda. Significantly, this was the first Test match played at Bourda which saw the West Indies Cricket team record its first ever Test victory. The local boys defeated the English by 289 runs in February, 1930, on the back of outstanding performances by George Headley, Clifford Roach, Learie Constantine and George Francis.
Known as a batting paradise given the flat nature of the pitch, it is not surprising that batters have achieved many of the more memorable feats. The brilliant Sir Gary Sobers scored 853 runs in seven Tests at Bourda, averaging 94.77 runs per fly. Cricket fans would remember Alvin Kallicharran’s unbeaten 100 on his first appearance against New Zealand in 1972, which made him the first batsman to achieve this feat in a Test at Bourda. It was in this same game that New Zealand’s opening batsman, Glenn Turner, scored 259 runs, the highest Test score recorded at the venue. Others may remember the fight in April 1988, when Pakistan’s top cricketer Imran Khan recorded match figures of 11 for 121, the best bowling figures recorded on the ground in Tests.
A few years later, Brian Lara scored his first Test century in the Caribbean, 167 against England in 1994. This was the same match where Shivnarine Chanderpaul made his Test debut and scored a classy 62. He was also here in 2003 Shiv Chanderpaul scored a 69-ball century against the Australians, who at the time were the third fastest hundred in Test cricket. Unsurprisingly, he registered his first Test double century of 203 not out at Bourda against South Africa in 2005. This continued his highest Test score, which equaled in 2012 against Bangladesh in Dhaka. It was at Bourda also that another Guyanese, Carl Hooper, registered his highest Test score of 233 against India in 2002.
So when Bourda hosted its last international match and One Day International (ODI), on May 7, 2006, it marked the end of more than 76 years as a venue for international games. Some regional cricket matches, however, are still played on the ground.
For several years there has been talk of merging the Bourda cricket ground with the adjacent Georgetown Football Club ground to create a prestigious sports complex. The irony was that, at that time, playing cricket at this location was not on the agenda and the idea alone drew the attention of many fans.
Later, in November 2013, media reports surfaced that local businessman Dr Ranjisinghi Ramroop had made a bid to acquire Bourda Cricket Ground and Georgetown Football Ground, offering to invest approximately US $ 30 million to refurbish both facilities . According to these media reports, the proposal included building a new stadium with modern amenities along with establishing an academy for football and cricket. The proposal was subsequently withdrawn and not heard much since.
At this point in our nation’s history, anyone’s guess is Bourda’s future. What is certain though is that this important part of our national heritage should not be allowed to go on the sad path of decay like many of our other historic sites. Protecting a nation’s built, cultural and social heritage is integral to maintaining its identity.