By Sham Samaroo
NEW YORK (September 1, 2023) – The Belair family mourned the recent passing of loved one Harry “Jack” Mohabir. Members of the Belair Cricket Club fondly recalled Jack’s passion for life and love for the game. I do believe Jack was smiling to see us all together again. That was always his wish from the first day he and I met in New York. Teammates shared memories of growing up and playing with him, first in Belair and later New York. Chris Bisram smiled broadly as we remembered him “putting lumber” on Silver Whip with a magnificent century. Chris flew in from Florida to bid farewell to Jack. Johnny Prasad recalled gunning down 100 plus for no loss on a rain-affected wicket at 183rd against Canje. Sixes and fours rained from his bat. I had a front-row seat at the non-strikers end to witness that carnage. Of course, the most talked of memory that evening was Belair pulling off, perhaps, the greatest upset in New York winning the prestigious Division 1 Championship in 1998. Teammates recalled tears streaming down Jack’s face after Brooks Prashad took the final wicket at Randall’s Island to seal the deal. Thanks to sister Sunita, we have it on tape! It was truly a fairy tale that came true: Belair defeating overwhelming favourites, Survivors. Our scorer, Tony, tossed the scorebook in jubilation and relief. Belair finally did it!
The journey was filled with joy and sadness, and Jack was there for all of it. In our first season (1996), Jack and I shared the batting honours. Teammates also recalled the disappointment that season – a baffling loss to West Dem in the QF. Whenever there were disagreements, Jack found himself in the middle because he had friends on both sides. As manager, he often talked with me about it. When the team split in 1997, he was heartbroken and shared his feelings with captain Ashook and me. Joy and sadness are two sides of the same coin. The trick is to be able to accept both equally.
Before New York, the last time Jack and I played together was in 1979 at the Inter -Ministry (hard ball) competition in Guyana. I was captain of the Ministry of Finance and Jack captained Audit. The game played at Booker’s Staff Sports Club ground. A game that Finance won but I remember it because it was the last game I would ever play in Guyana (I was leaving the country the following week). Some fifteen years later, Jack and I would reunite in New York to play again. That happened quite by chance, or did it?
It was the fall of 95. I ran into Jack at the Green Acres mall and was met with the customary hug and greeting, “Oh God buddy, I so glad to see you”. We both expressed regret at not seeing each other more often in the Big Apple. Life gets in the way sometimes. I suggested we remedy the situation by getting together on Sundays in Cunningham and play some “bat and ball”. Jack’s face lit up, “Buddy, that’s the best news I hear since I come to America”. Later that evening I called Ashook and Richard, and the ball was in motion – the Belair Cricket club of New York was born.
My earliest memories of Jack go back to childhood: growing up in Belair and playing cricket in the 70s. Belair had a wealth of talent and fielded two teams: My brother, Scot, captained Upper Belair and Jack, Lower Belair with his brothers Teddy, Owad, Jai. The rivalry was fierce but friendly, and Sunday mornings on the beach were filled with unforgettable memories. By the 80s many of us had left Guyana, but the friendly rivalry continued in Belair with dear friends, Jack and Brooks, leading the teams. Years later when the Belair CC of New York was formed, we wanted to have a connection to our playing days in Guyana. That gave me the idea to design our logo depicting cricket on the beach in Belair. Today, some 50 years later, whenever any of us would walk the seawalls in Belair, the roaring tides flood us with memories of childhood and those unforgettable days on the beach. Ah, the joys of youth!
The highlight of the 1997 season was undoubtedly the tour to Canada arranged by Richard Ramdial. We won the first game, and another Richard (affectionately Budhan) insisted that Jack and I spend the night at his home in Toronto. We shoot the breeze until 3 a.m. I remember well because that was the night Princess Diana died. Back in New York, Belair rejoiced making the semifinals and a date with Survivors. But our joy was short-lived. Two sides of the same coin, remember. At Cunningham after the game, a teammate, the one who boycotted the QF the previous week, said: “Gentlemen, the Belair team just break up”. Everyone became silent. You could hear a pin drop. I saw the hurt in Jack’s eyes. The Belair team was very near and dear to him. I knew what Jack was thinking: That he and I started this thing, and here was this player, one we welcomed with open arms into our team, making such a reckless and hurtful statement. I was mad and spoke up, “Gentlemen, no one is going to break up this team. Not under my (colourful adjective) watch. We will field a team for the knockout”. Jack smiled as he got on his motorbike for work. With help from Ashook and Brooks, we picked up a few players and successfully finished the season.
Brooks was elected captain for the 98 season and the rest, as they say, is history. In the first game, Jack (38 n.o.) and Brooks (84 n.o.) made light work of Desperados chasing down 134 for the loss of one wicket. We were enjoying the game again, and Belair cruised into the playoffs and a date with Untouchables, the most powerful batting line up in the league. Truthfully, no one gave us a chance. To make matters worse, keeper Tony Ramcharan could not make it because of work commitment. Skipper Brooks called on me to take the gloves. There were three run outs that day– two of them from Jack with rifling throws to the wicket. I think my palms are still aching. Jack also had one of the safest pair of hands in the outfield. If memory serves correctly he took two brilliant catches that day. In the semifinals we met Lexus at Cunningham. Jack batted magnificently at the top of the order before being run out for 25. Belair amassed a winning total of 196 and booked a spot in the finals against Survivors: the very team that had eliminated us in the semis the previous season. Was it coincidence or karma, you decide.
Ten years later in 2008, we planned a reunion to celebrate the 10th anniversary of that victory, and the entire Belair family gathered at Jack’s home. We were all together again. For us, that was as memorable as winning the championship in 98 because we were sharing this triumph with the entire Belair family. And that was all Jack ever wanted. Coincidentally, this summer marked the 25th anniversary of that victory. Seeing everyone together again last week, reminiscing about the old days, was truly heartwarming. Maybe that is Jack’s final wish – for us to always stay together. We get it, Mr. Vice-Captain and thank you. RIP dear brother and teammate.