DOWN MEMORY LANE with SHAM SAMAROO
(New York, January 14, 2022) — Anthony Ramcharan (Tony) is one of the unsung allrounders to play the game in New York. When I say allrounder, I mean bat, bowl, and field. But talking with him you would never get that because Ramcharan seldom talks about himself. But trust me when I tell you that Ramcharan could easily take his place with the best allrounders of his day. And when you consider the teams he played for, Everest, Belair and Untouchables, perhaps even more valuable.
One of the few times that Ramcharan opened his mouth was during a domino game at the end of the 1997 season. He said: Make Brooks the captain and I will come and play for Belair and we will win the 30 Over Championship next year. This man must have supernatural powers to go along with his natural cricketing ability, I thought. After all, the 30 Over Championship was the biggest and most coveted prize in New York cricket. And the competition was feeling hot, hot, hot. For starters, only the top 10 teams were entered in Division I. Among them were such powerhouses as Better Hope, Survivors, Assassins, Silver Whip, and Desperados, each with an even chance of winning. Then there was, also, the star-studded Untouchables who, somehow, just could never put it all together.
I knew Ramcharan was talented but that was big talk. Besides, the Belair team had other things on its mind. A few malcontents that were stirring up trouble all season would not be welcomed back. It was the best thing to happen to Belair. Brooks was elected captain and Ramcharan, true to his word, came on board. Ramcharan is a batsman in the mold of a Brendon McCullum. The brother has no respect for the opposition, and attacks from jump street. To have a batsman of such calibre coming at six or seven was a nightmare for the opposition. With the ball, you could always count on him for a solid six overs. Ramcharan was also one of the finest fieldsmen in the game as he would later prove in the semifinals. And if the need arose, and it often did, he was ready to don the gloves to give his team the option of playing the extra batsman or bowler. Understanding team politics, Ramcharan never once complained when asked to bat lower down the order, or if bowlers of lesser ability were thrown the ball ahead of him. To Ramcharan, personal stats were not important, for him it was always team first.
But could he deliver on his big promise? Belair made it to the playoffs with Ramcharan turning in some notable performances. Due to work commitments, he missed the quarterfinals, a game in which I donned the gloves, but he returned for the semis against Lexus. This mouthwatering semifinal had all the drama of a daytime soap opera. First, Lexus cricket club was formed by members of the Belair team who were not welcomed back after the last season. Second, Lexus got the League Secretary, Ashok Juman, to bogus register “Redman” (a top class fast bowler) to play in the semifinals. Talk about drama, and all this, mind you, even before the game started. Belair became suspicious when Brooks ran into Redman at Sybils in the week leading up to the semis, and Redman happened to mention that he would be playing in the semis. But Redman had not played a game all tournament. Brooks’ suspicions were shared with the league president and a hearing was scheduled. Although Lexus committed a dastardly deed, their manager had the unmitigated gall to threaten to sue the league if Redman was not allowed to play. At the hearing, the forgery was exposed and the subterfuge revealed. It should be noted that Redman was completely innocent in this entire sordid affair. Lexus assured him that he would be eligible to play. Besides, why would he question it? After all, the secretary who did the registration is a member of the Belair team. Kudos to you, Redman, for being a real sportsman. Nuff respect bro!
To this day, that semifinals remains arguably the best ever in the history of the 30 Over Championships. Batting first at Cunningham Park, Belair posted an impressive 196 for 6 with Brooks (59), Rollie (51), Jack (25) and Chris Bisram (20) leading the charge. Lexus in reply, never looked like challenging the target, and at 149 for 8 only the last rites remained. But not so fast! In one over, Balwant Chumandat, a former Belair player now playing for Lexus, turned the game on its head with four sixes in a 26-run assault. The game and momentum swung dramatically away from Belair. Lexus and their fans, silent till then, erupted in anticipation of snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat. In the next over, Balwant faced Ramcharan. Balwant was in the zone. His adrenalin was pumping and he wanted to finish it. The experienced Ramcharan read the play and pushed one going away outside off. Balwant went for another maximum and the ball sailed over wide long on. Everyone held their breath including Lil Richie who settled under it, and took a splendid catch one foot inside the boundary. Whew! Minutes ago Belair was in an unassailable position, but Balwant’s knock put Lexus within a hair’s breadth of victory.
By now the entire league was at the game, Survivors having made light work of their opponent in the other semis. A pensive skipper Brooks faced the biggest decision of his career. Lexus needed four to tie and five to win in the final over. After consulting with manager Sham, Brooks tossed the ball to the wily “Boos” Gulliver. A single and two dot balls reduced the target to four from three. Then came the moment that no one will ever forget. The fourth delivery took the outside edge and ran down to third man: Cometh the hour, cometh Ramcharan. The batsmen were coming back for the second run when Ramcharan, at deep third man and with only one stump to aim at, threw the wicket down in Joe Solomon style to give Belair victory by three runs. The batsman was inches away from making his ground. It had to be a direct hit. With all the drama leading up to this game that was heart stopping stuff. Close but no cigar for Lexus. Ramcharan also had the best bowling figures of 2 for 16 from his 5 overs; astonishing figures considering Lexus scored 194 runs.
My cousin “Soldier” whose brothers and in-laws play for Lexus was seated in the Belair camp. After the victory he said to us, quote, “Ah glad ya-all beat they (expletive) for playing against Belair”. The following week, Belair pulled off what, to this day, is still regarded as the biggest upset in New York by beating overwhelming favourites, Survivors, to take the coveted 30-over crown. Boosman, Brooks, Dukhi, Rollie and Roy turned in fine performances. Ramcharan was Belair’s most economical bowler with 1 for 20 from his 6 overs. Throughout the tournament he played crucial roles in Belair’s march to victory. Ramcharan walked the talk alright!
The Belair team was retired at the end of the 1999 season. Ramcharan and several of his Belair teammates would go on to play for Untouchables winning them a bundle of Championship rings including the Triple Crown in 2001. Untouchables Manager, Eric Ferrier, paid tribute to the Belair players saying they brought with them something that the Untouchables club never had – team spirit. “They showed us how to play as a team”, he told me. It was a well-deserved compliment and a fitting tribute to a wonderful group of players known, simply, as the Belair guys. Ramcharan was a fearless warrior and the consummate team player. As his manager, mentor, and team mate, it was a privilege to play with him – a real class act.