Conrad HunteMartin Chandler |
Conrad Hunte was born in 1932, the eldest of nine children. He and his family lived in a small house in Shorey Village, on the opposite side of Barbados from Bridgetown. His parents seem to have made many sacrifices to give their first born a good education and that seems to have been a source of some tension in the household. Hunte was clearly nobody’s fool, but as a youngster he preferred cricket to his studies, much to his father’s irritation.
In time Hunte realised the value of what his father was putting him through and achieved his school certificate, thus equipping him for the job in the Civil Service that his father had always wanted for him. He still played plenty of cricket however, with Bellepaine in the Barbados Cricket League (BCL). His opportunity to move on to the next level came in 1951, when he was selected to represent the BCL in their annual match against the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) at the Kensington Oval. The BCA represented the most prestigious clubs on the Island.
For Bellapaine Hunte batted in the middle order and bowled a bit of off spin. He would happily have batted number eleven against the BCA, but he was invited to go in first. Given the choice by his senior partner Hunte elected to take the first delivery. He played and missed at a ball that seamed away from him. The next was more of the same, but Hunte got closer to it and it took the outside edge of his bat and flew to Test player Denis Atkinson at slip. Fortunately for Hunte the chance was missed, and the resulting couple of runs calmed him down. He went on to record an unbeaten 137 and become the first BCL player to score a century in the fixture.
Soon after the BCA fixture Trinidad visited Kensington Oval for two back to back matches and after his century Hunte was selected for Barbados. A few weeks previously he had been playing club cricket, so it was quite a step up to find himself now playing on a Test match ground for a side that included seven men who had represented West Indies at the highest level. In the first game Barbados ended up two wickets short of victory with Hunte taking the step up in his stride with scores of 63 and 15. He was less successful in the second match, but had done enough to secure selection for the Barbados side that made the trip to what was then British Guiana nine months later.
There was another half century against British Guiana, although in the second match Hunte was stung by some criticism in the press after occupying the crease for an hour and half for just 16. He had decided, after getting into hot water over a missed curfew, that occupation of the crease was the way to make amends, without realising the criticism he would get in a match where poor weather had already eaten into the playing time available.
The first job Hunte had had after leaving school was as a primary school teacher, something he felt no real vocation for. It was a couple of years later that he had left that employment to join the Civil Service and fulfil his father’s ambitions for him. He started to play his club cricket for the Empire Club, but rarely made big scores. He was fortunate however that in the infrequent First Class matches that Barbados had he continued to do enough to keep in the side.
A big opportunity to break into the West Indies team seemed to arrive in 1954/55. An Australian side led by Ian Johnson were carrying all before them by the time they arrived in Barbados. They had won two of the three Tests comfortably and had the better of the drawn second Test as well. West Indies, amongst other troubles, did not have a settled opening partnership.
Against British Guiana earlier in the season Hunte had done well without making a really big score, and then he retired on 97 in a trial match for the Barbados side that were due to meet the tourists before the fourth Test. It was no surprise therefore that he made the team, but perhaps he should have told the management about a thigh injury that was affecting his mobility. In any event Barbados batted first and Hunte opened the batting against Keith Miller. Expecting a quick delivery first up he was completely non-plussed by what amounted to a googly and it was all he could do to keep out of his stumps. Normal service was resumed for the second delivery as Miller produced his renowned outswinger. A fully fit Hunte might have survived, but his leg wouldn’t move into position as quickly as he wanted it to and he was caught at slip. He did little better in the second innings, making just three, and the selectors tried unsuccessfully to ease their troubles by asking Garry Sobers to open with JK Holt. The experiment was only partially successful, which is more than can be said for the decision to try the uncapped Trinidadian Hammond Furlonge in the final Test.
Understandably disappointed at events on the cricket field Hunte decided he needed a new challenge. A move away from the Civil Service, where he was now working in the accounts department of the General Post Office, into a sales based insurance was job was one thing he tried. As with his short lived teaching career however Hunte soon realised he was not a salesman. He eventually decided to emigrate to England, where he hoped to find a job as a professional cricketer. The making of such a momentous decision seems to have freed Hunte insofar as his batting was concerned and in three matches against a strong side raised by EW ‘Jim’ Swanton and captained by Colin Cowdrey in March of 1956 he made scores of 151 (his first First Class century), 95, 31 and 55*. A few days later he was on board ship to England, dreaming of making the 1957 West Indies touring party.
The original plan had been for Hunte to stay with Everton Weekes in Lancashire, but that came to nothing because Weekes had sold his house and moved into digs that did not have enough room for Hunte. The West Indian cricketers in Lancashire still pulled together however and accommodation was found for Hunte as well as employment with Leyland Motors. There was no league contract for 1956, but Hunte played as an amateur on Saturdays for his works team and on Sunday would supplement his income by playing for the West Indian Wanderers, a side made up mainly of league professionals.
It took Hunte a while to get used to the slow pitches in Lancashire, and he had to curb his natural enthusiasm for the drive as he found that the way the ball held up meant he was caught far too often at mid on and mid off. He soon learnt however and did well, his reward coming at the end of the summer when he was offered terms for the 1957 season by Lancashire League club Enfield. Less satisfactory was the day job. Hunte had originally taken a labouring job on the basis that he assumed he would be able to move into the company’s office, an environment for which he had more than sufficient qualifications, once an opportunity there became vacant. It soon became clear to Hunte however that a coloured man was not going to be allowed to work in the office at Leyland Motors. He became disillusioned and was eventually dismissed for poor time keeping after which he spent a difficult period without work until he found a job in a cotton mill.
To add to his troubles Hunte had received no enquiries from the West Indies selectors as to his availability to tour England in 1957. He asked his family to investigate and the answer was said to be that he had been written to but, no reply having been received, it was assumed he was not available. That misunderstanding clarified a further letter was sent, and Hunte cabled a response to indicate he was available. No invitation arrived however.
Hunte enjoyed a good season with Enfield and topped the Lancashire League scoring table in 1957. As he made runs his countrymen were having a less than successful time as they lost the Test series against England 3-0 and could draw little comfort from their performances in the two drawn matches. Their failure did however bring forth an offer to Hunte from the selectors to pay for his passage back home so that he could be available for the series against Pakistan in the Caribbean in the New Year of 1958.
It must have been an emotional moment when Hunte sailed into Bridgetown in mid December of 1957 to be greeted on the quayside by his family, none of whom he had seen for 18 months. As he had found it took time to adjust to the slow English wickets so it took him a while to once again gauge the pace of his home turf. That he did so quickly enough was evidenced by his 77 in the colony match against the tourists, and he was duly selected to open the innings in the first Test with Rohan Kanhai. The West Indies had not had a reliable opening pair since Allan Rae and Jeff Stollmeyer, and they weren’t to acquire another one until Gordon Greenidge lined up alongside Roy Fredericks, but at least in 1958 they discovered one top class opening batsman, even if they never managed to find a partner for him.
Before Hunte did so the only West Indian to score a century on Test debut was the great George Headley. It was a record Hunte equalled in some style, finally dismissed for 142 from the first ball of the second day. In the third Test he recorded what was to remain his highest Test score, 260, and shared in a second wicket partnership of 446 with Sobers, who went on to make his unbeaten 365. He added another century, 114, in the fourth Test to end his first series with 622 runs at 77.75. The wickets were good, but lest it be suggested otherwise the Pakistan attack was a strong one. The great medium fast bowler Fazal Mahmood was still in his pomp, and was ably backed up by fellow pacemen Mahmood Hussain and Khan Mohammad.
Naturally Hunte was an automatic selection for West Indies tour of the sub continent the following season. The Indians had no answer to the pace of Roy Gilchrist and Wes Hall and succumbed easily. The series was not a happy one for Hunte however. He passed fifty only once and his average fell to 27. In his own words my success had gone to my head, and I did not settle down to study the bowlers. He failed in the first Test in Pakistan as well and, to his horror, was dropped for the remaining two matches. He didn’t take the decision well, blanking his captain Gerry Alexander when he attempted to console him, but it did make him determined that when he regained his place he would not lose it again.
Frustrations were taken out on Lancashire League bowlers in 1959 as Hunte scored a club record 1,437 runs at 79.83. He was still only second in the League averages though, Australian Bob Simpson scoring a handful more runs but at the Bradmanesque average of 103.14. As Alexander had predicted Hunte was back in the Test side the following winter when, by a 1-0 margin, England won a series in the Caribbean for the first time. The only time in the five Tests that Hunte passed 50 he went on to an unbeaten 72, but time and again he was out after getting well set, and his average for the series was a respectable 41.57.
In 1960/61 Hunte and a West Indies side led by Frank Worrell toured Australia for a five match series. The contest has gone down in history as one of the great Test series, beginning with the famous ‘Tied Test’. After that the two sides each won one match comfortably and West Indies would, but for a famous last wicket partnership between Lindsey Kline and ‘Slasher’ Mackay that hung on for the best part of two hours, have gone 2-1 up in the fourth. West Indian hearts were then broken in the final Test when, after a great fight was put up, the Australians got home by two wickets. Hunte averaged 37.70 and contributed a century and two fifties. He didn’t score too many runs in the famous tie, but was responsible for a remarkable chase and throw from 90 yards into Alexander’s gloves that saw Wally Grout run out during the frantic denouement.
Something else significant happened to Hunte in Australia. Always a committed christian he watched a film, The Crowning Experience, that was promoted by Moral Rearmament, a christian organisation that promoted the highest ethical and moral behaviour from its members. Hunte committed himself to the organisation, now known as Initiatives of Change and remained with it for the rest of his life.
In early 1962 India visited the Caribbean and were beaten 5-0. It was a comprehensive win albeit one to which Hunte contributed little, averaging only fractionally more than he had in India in 1958/59. His year did not improve much when he arrived in England to be told that the 1962 summer would be his last with Enfield, the club having decided not to take up an option to sign him for 1964, it always being assumed he would be touring with the West Indians in 1963.
Frank Worrell’s 1963 team were an immensely powerful combination and they beat England 3-1, and did so by playing some exhilarating cricket. Hunte set the tone for the summer with 182 in the first Test, and after a relatively quiet time in the next three he came back to form in the last with 80 and an unbeaten 108 to end up with 471 runs at 58.87. There were no significant partnerships at the top of the order however as the selectors tried Joey Carew twice, then Easton McMorris twice before, for the final Test, choosing leg spinner Willie Rodriguez to partner Hunte. The highest opening partnership was the 78 that Hunte and Rodriguez put on in the second innings of that last match.
At the end of the 1963 tour the West Indies selectors had to appoint a new captain to replace the newly retired Worrell. Hunte had been vice-captain in 1963 and confidently expected to be appointed. In the event he wasn’t, the job being offered to Sobers, Worrell’s favoured candidate. The position was not one that Sobers coveted, and he took some time to decide to accept. Hunte was bitterly disappointed at being passed over so much so that after a number of weeks of being disgruntled he felt the need to apologise to Sobers and pledge his commitment to him. It has never been said that his belief in Moral Rearmament was in any way responsible for his being overlooked, although the former Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley certainly suggested in his authoritative history of West Indies cricket that a habit of seeking to convert members of the team to his beliefs was a factor.
Sobers’ first series as captain was against Australia in the Caribbean in early 1965 and he led his men to a famous victory. Hunte did not score a century in the series but, with as many as six half centuries, was remarkably consistent. He was less successful in England in 1966, a series dominated by a succession of stunning performances from Sobers, but he made one century there and a final Test century, his eighth, in India in 1966/67. At just 34 Hunte then bowed out of the game to concentrate on Moral Rearmament. In 44 Test he had scored 3,245 runs at 45.06.
After his retirement Hunte stayed on in London working for Moral Rearmament before, in the late 1970s, he emigrated to Atlanta where he was to remain for a dozen years. During that time as well as his efforts for Moral Rearmament he also worked in financial services and acted as Barbadian Consul General. He also found the time to marry and, despite being in his late forties by then, sire three daughters.
A new mission presented itself to Hunte in the early 1990s with the breakdown of apartheid in South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela. Feeling the call Hunte made contact with Ali Bacher to offer his services. The offer was gratefully accepted and Hunte spent seven years working in the townships developing cricketing talent. His duties included acting as manager for the South African women’s team that visited England in 1997.
In 1998 Hunte was awarded the highest honour Barbados could bestow, the Order of St Andrew. It was more than forty years since he had regarded the island as his home but Prime Minister Owen Arthur still saw Hunte as the man who could revive the flagging fortunes of cricket in the country and the wider Caribbean. Hunte was happy to accept an offer of employment from the Ministry of Education and Youth Affairs.
The following year, 1999, was a desperately sad one for Bajan cricket. On 4 November the great Malcolm Marshall lost his battle with cancer. Hunte was one of the pall bearers at his funeral. Shortly afterwards the apparently fit and healthy 64 year old travelled to Sydney to deliver the keynote speech at a Moral Rearmament conference. On 3 December he was playing tennis with friends when, with no apparent warning, he collapsed and died. His doctors in South Africa had expressed some concern about his heart, but the fatal coronary that took him was anything but expected and Barbados mourned again when his loss was announced, the mood of the nation saddened further by the news, just a single day after Hunte’s passing of another unexpected cricketing death, that of Sylvester Clarke.
Despite a few promising signs from time to time the strength of West Indies cricket, certainly at Test level, has been fragile throughout the twenty first century. Had Conrad Hunte been given just a few more years his unbounded enthusiasm and love for the game of cricket and his country would surely have resulted in a legacy that would still be felt today, not just in the Caribbean, but throughout the cricket playing world.