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Better than Bradman?

Better than Bradman?

The distinction of having the highest batting average of all those who have played Test cricket belongs to the Trinidadian Andy Ganteaume rather than Sir Donald Bradman. Most seasoned cricket lovers are aware of this but what is not so well understood is why Ganteaume, who in the second Test of the 1947/48 series against England scored 112 in what was to prove his only Test innings, never played at Test level again.

Ganteaume was born in Trinidad in 1921. He had the misfortune to rise to prominence as a West Indian cricketer at a time when skin colour was a significant factor in any such career – had he been white then the likelihood is that he would have enjoyed a significantly longer Test career, in which case this feature would almost certainly never have needed to be written.

At the same time as Ganteaume was coming to prominence the brothers Stollmeyer, Victor and Jeffrey, were already established in Trinidadian cricket. As an opening batsman Ganteaume was in direct competition with the Stollmeyers for a place in the Trinidad side and they, together with another white player from a privileged background, Gerry Gomez, also carried a great deal of influence in the administration of the game.

In the early days of his career Ganteaume was a wicketkeeper and it was as such that he earned his First Class debut in 1941. He came in at number eight in the Trinidad first innings against Barbados and top scored with 87 to help his side to a match winning first innings lead which, with a century opening partnership in each innings, the brothers Stollmeyer made good use of. That performance, remarkably, was not enough to keep Ganteaume in the team on the return of the regular wicketkeeper, Sookval Samaroo, despite Samaroo’s modest record with both bat and gloves, and Ganteaume had to wait more than a year for his second First Class appearance. This time Ganteaume opened the batting with Victor Stollmeyer and Samaroo kept wicket. History repeated itself in that again Ganteaume top scored but there was no other similarity that top score being just nine and the innocuous medium paced bowling of Derek Sealy took 8 for 8 as Barbados routed Trinidad for only 16.

For the 1943/44 season Ganteaume resumed keeping wicket and while his haul of dismissals was modest he seems to have conceded very few byes, on more than one occasion conceding none in an innings, and just four in one Barbados innings of 650. Despite this Ganteaume did not retain the wicketkeepering duties for 1944/45 when, somewhat bizarrely, that role was taken up by the very same Derek Sealy who just two years earlier had humbled his new teammates with the ball,

It was not until 1946, following Victor Stollmeyer’s retirement, that Ganteaume’s place in the Trinidad side finally became secure and he enjoyed a productive opening partnership with Jeffrey Stollmeyer that extended for some years and which averaged nearly 70. Interestingly, in view of what was to come, an analysis of those partnerships indicates that the “cultured strokeplay” of Stollmeyer did not contribute runs any more speedily than the “solid defence” of Ganteaume.

In 1947/48 Gubby Allen captained an MCC side which visited the Caribbean to play a four Test series. Ganteaume did well against the tourists for Trinidad scoring 243 runs in three completed innings and when Stollmeyer was injured before the second Test Ganteaume, as the local man in form, took his place. In a more affluent age the Barbadian AM “Charlie” Taylor, who had recently scored an enterprising 161 against the tourists, might well have been flown in, but that was not the way international cricket was conducted in the Carribean in those days.

On the first morning of the Test England won the toss and batted. The tourists were all out for 362 after lunch on the second day. George Carew (playing in just his second Test match – more than 13 years after his first) and Ganteaume opened the innings for the home side and were not parted until early on the third morning when Carew, who had raced to 101 overnight, was LBW for 107. Carew was replaced by Everton Weekes who struck a rapid 36 before Frank Worrell joined Ganteaume in a partnership of 80 which ended when Ganteaume was caught at extra cover for 112. He had batted for four hours 30 minutes altogether and his innings, which contained 13 boundaries, was described by the Editor of Wisden, Norman Preston, as “slow and boring”. The manner in which Ganteaume’s dismissal had been brought about was as a consequence of a note being passed to the batsman at a drinks break from the West Indies Captain, Gerry Gomez, asking his batsmen to increase their scoring rate. As the game unfolded West Indies needed 141 to win in the fourth innings in three hours to win however despite changing their batting order to put their more aggressive batsman in first, which is the reason why Ganteaume did not get a second innings, they fell short of the target.

In a book published in 1983 Stollmeyer, former West Indies Captain but due to his injury sitting in the dressing room for this match, added further to the criticism of Ganteaume confirming that he had been dropped for slow scoring and for, effectively, batting otherwise than in the best interests of the team. Ganteaume, already harbouring long held grievances about the way in which he had been treated, was unhappy when he read Stollmeyer’s account of the match.

It is difficult, on examining the facts, to have anything other than the greatest of sympathy for Ganteaume. Dealing firstly with the comments of Norman Preston, normally, as Editor of Wisden, the fairest and most even handed of men, his criticism of Ganteaume seems to be wholly unnecessary and inappropriate given the circumstances of the game. Earlier, in England’s first innings, Billy Griffith, a makeshift opener, had scored a maiden test century of 141 and was described by Preston as having “defied the West Indies bowling for six minutes short of six hours”. Jack Robertson, the other England opener, who scored 133 in five hours 45 minutes in the England second innings was described as being “solid as a rock. He played a great innings for England…”.

Ganteaume also points out in his own defence that by tea on the second day he had scored 31 and Carew 33. Carew had made the decision, at the beginning of his innings, that as soon as the England off spinner Jim Laker was introduced into the attack, that he would try and knock him off his length. So successful was Carew in that policy that he added 68 in the short final session while Ganteaume added only 21. Ganteaume adds that throughout that session his only interest, at any point at which he got to face the bowling, was to score the single necessary to get Carew back on strike.

Much was made, particularly in Stollmeyer’s account, of the captain’s note, which, perhaps unknown to Stollmeyer, was always retained by Ganteaume. In his defence Ganteaume makes much of the fact that in his stand of 80 with Worrell, he had been outscored only by eight and the note, which Stollmeyer omitted to mention was addressed to both batsmen, said merely “I want you to press on now. We are behind the clock and need to score more quickly. Ganteaume also points out that on that third morning he had to contend with the England left arm spinner, Dick Howorth, continuously pitching the ball well wide of the off stump to a 7-2 field, a policy that was clearly designed to slow the West Indian rate of progress as much as possible.

The final, and, understandably, most serious allegation for Ganteaume was the suggestion that the West Indies ran out of time because of his batting and that he therefore cost them the game. For a man who watched the game Stollmeyers account borders on the defamatory, failing as he did to mention that of the three hours the West Indies had in which to score 141 for victory two were lost to rain.

Whatever the politics of the situation, and doubtless given the way in which West Indies’ cricket was organised at the time there were political considerations, Ganteaume was not selected again in that series the captain for the third and fourth Tests, John Goddard, choosing to open the batting himself (despite having no real experience of doing so). It was generally felt in the Caribbean that between them Stollmeyer, Gomez and Goddard had singularly failed to demonstrate the support for him that Ganteaume deserved.

The lack of support continued when Ganteaume was not selected for the tour of India the following winter. In fairness to the West Indies selectors it was at this time that they first struck the rich vein of batting talent which was to carry them through the 1950’s but the omission of Ganteaume for the Indian trip remains difficult to explain. As far as that tour was concerned Ganteaume was one of the initial squad of 24 from whom the final 16 were chosen. In the event no place was found for Ganteaume, though in similar fashion to what the selectors were to do in 1957 George Carew, by then 38 years of age and not in the 24, did secure a place amongst the final 16.

Ganteaume has always maintained that Stollmeyer assured him that his being overlooked for India did not mean that he was anything other than uppermost in the selectors thoughts for the trip to England in 1950. He was certainly in form prior to the team being selected as he contributed 147 to an opening partnership of 286 with Stollmeyer against Jamaica. Despite that performance Ganteaume was not picked for the touring side although the reasons this time are rather clearer. Three openers were to go and Stollmeyer, as vice captain, was clearly going to be one. In India Allan Rae had scored two Test centuries so the second place had to go to him. That left a third place for which, if he was in the selectors minds at all, Ganteaume had to get in front of the white Barbadian Roy Marshall, an exponent of “calypso cricket”. If it ever was a contest it ceased to be one after Marshall recorded a blistering 191 in a trial match. An additional hurdle in Ganteaume’s way was the quota system that meant only five Trinidadians would make the party. Had the selectors wanted to take Ganteaume then one of Gomez, Stollmeyer, Sonny Ramadhin, Lance Pierre and Prior Jones would have had to have been omitted.

Ganteaume cannot, however, have disappeared from the selectors minds completely because he was selected as a member of the touring party to England in 1957. This decision was, realistically, every bit as bizarre as his omission from the party to India nearly a decade before. Ganteaume was 36 and in the seasons between 1951 and 1956 had played in just one First Class match. He played in another in October 1956 but at the time of his selection the reality was he had not scored so much as a half century for six years. Quite why he should have been picked ahead of promising young batsmen Cammie Smith and Conrad Hunte is baffling and has never been satisfactorily explained – perhaps, as has been suggested by some respected observers, it really was as simple as the selectors looking back and trying to right an old wrong.

That English summer of 1957 proved to be an unhappy one for the West Indians who suffered innings defeats in three of the Tests and were between a rock and a hard place when England ran out of time in the two that they drew. Ganteaume, who played 32 of his career total of 85 innings on the tour, performed adequately and let no one down scoring exactly 800 runs at 27.58 with seven half centuries. It was not enough for Ganteaume to force his way into the Test side although he got very close, just missing out and taking his place as twelfth man for the final Test. Ganteaume has subsequently always maintained that he was pleased to have missed out on selection for that last Test so that his fellow Trinidadian, Nyron Asgarali, could take the place. In fairness to Asgarali he had enjoyed a slightly better tour than Ganteaume but he had failed in his only previous Test and, by way of further illustration of the selectors strange reasoning was, at 37, even older than Ganteaume. One cannot help but wonder whether there was at least a part of Ganteaume that had, by then, decided that he would settle for his place in history as the only man to finish his Test career with an average of more than 100.

Following his return to the Caribbean after the England tour there were to be just two more First Class appearances for Ganteaume in both of which he captained Trinidad. The first was against the first ever Pakistani tourists in early 1958 and the second, all of five years later, when he was called upon to captain a young and inexperienced side against Barbados. In neither game did Ganteaume contribute much with the bat, and his young charges lost heavily to Barbados in 1963 but it understandably gave the 42 year old a great deal of pleasure to be entrusted with the captaincy after so long away from the First Class game.

After his cricket career ended Gaunteaume contributed much to the development and administration of the game in the West Indies being coach, selector and manager while in the employ of the Trinidad Civil Service as a clerical officer. As at 2009 Andy Gaunteaume still lives in his native Trinidad and in January 2010 will celebrate his 89th birthday. He has a few years to go before he can claim the title of the longest lived Test cricketer of all but in July 2012, God willing, he will overhaul The Don, with whose name he will be linked as long as cricketing trivia questions are asked, in the longevity stakes as well.


Fantastic article. One of the best cricket stories I’ve read all year.

Comment by Nufan | 12:00am BST 14 October 2009

Indeed so. High quality stuff.

Comment by BoyBrumby | 12:00am BST 14 October 2009

Top class FF

Comment by zaremba | 12:00am BST 14 October 2009

On a serious note, good reading indeed. Poor bloke.

Comment by Josh | 12:00am BST 15 October 2009

Great stuff.

Comment by pasag | 12:00am BST 15 October 2009

Great pic btw. Gone, sadly, are the days when the majority of buttons on a cricketer’s shirt could be left undone with such devil-may-care rakishness

Comment by zaremba | 12:00am BST 15 October 2009

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