Jeffrey StollmeyerMartin Chandler |
A third generation Trinidadian, from English and German stock, Jeff Stollmeyer was born in 1921. He was fortunate in that his father was a man of considerable wealth, derived from the cocoa plantations that he established on the island. To offset that Stollmeyer was unfortunate in that the timing of a crash in the world market for cocoa almost bankrupted his father in the early years of the Great Depression, thus preventing him having the same opportunity as his older siblings to go and study at overseas universities. The senior Stollmeyer was however a resourceful man, and in the fullness of time he rebuilt his businesses with great success, so whilst Jeffrey might have missed out on a university education he was able, during the 1940s and early 1950s, to devote as much time to cricket as he wished. He was an accomplished batsman and, occasionally, a useful leg spinner.
There was an early First Class bow for Stollmeyer, who was just 17 when he was selected to join a Trinidadian tour party to Guyana (then British Guiana) in 1938. A year or so previously there had been some ill-feeling between the countries over umpiring concerns and the tour was made as a gesture of goodwill. There were two matches and Stollmeyer played in the first. He opened the batting and on an excellent wicket opened his First Class account with a century. His performances between then and the selection of the West Indies party that toured England in 1939 were unspectacular, but the debut century was not forgotten and at 18 Stollmeyer found himself on the boat to England chosen, in the words of historian Christopher Nicole; entirely upon the strength of his obvious ability, for he had not as yet played any great innings. His older brother, Victor, was also a member of the party.
It probably wasn’t expected that Stollmeyer would make the Test side, but he had a sound start in England culminating in a century on his first appearance at Lord’s. The Middlesex side was a young one and described by Wisden as being at less than full strength, although there are plenty of now familiar names on the team sheet. Almost to a man however the county’s senior amateurs were missing, so there was no Gubby Allen, Walter Robins, Ian Peebles or Frank Mann playing. The wicket must have been good as well, as Stollmeyer’s 117 was only the third best score for the visitors, as they scored 665.
There was more good fortune for Stollmeyer in the run up to the first Test. He wasn’t selected for a difficult match at Derby in which Victor scored 1 and 0. He came back for the next three however and caught the eye with a pair of half centuries against a representative Minor Counties side, two more against Leicestershire (who finished last in the Championship that summer) and on the eve of the Test he scored exactly 100 against Lincolnshire, who ended the season fourth from bottom of the Minors’ Championship.
So whilst Stollmeyer may not have been tested he had scored runs and, Victor struggling to shake off tonsillitis, the younger sibling got the nod for Lord’s. In the only one of the three Tests to produce a result West Indies, despite twin hundreds from their talisman George Headley, lost by eight wickets. Of the other batsmen only Stollmeyer, who scored 59 in the first innings, emerged with any credit. It is worth quoting Wisden at length, if only to demonstrate that the innings was one of quality and not good fortune;
Possessing a beautiful style, Stollmeyer rarely missed an opportunity to score on the leg side. His most profitable stroke, a forcing shot off his legs, he used to great advantage when dealing with the in swingers of Copson, who aimed repeatedly at the middle and leg stumps. Stollmeyer also drove and cut smartly, though there were only three boundaries in his 59.
The second Test at Old Trafford was spoiled by rain and neither side distinguished themselves with the bat. Only Joe Hardstaff for England and, inevitably, Headley passed fifty in the drawn encounter. Stollmeyer scored 5 and 10. Finally at the Oval, the last Test to be played for almost seven years, West Indies took a first innings lead and comfortably achieved the draw. There were half centuries for Stollmeyer, Headley and Learie Constantine and in a famous partnership brother Victor, fit at last, scored 94 in his only Test innings and Kenneth ‘Bam Bam’ Weekes made 137.
Although war had not been declared it was, by the end of the Oval Test, inevitable and the rest of the tour was cancelled. Via a stay with family in the US Stollmeyer made his way back to Trinidad where, through the war, the First Class game continued and a new group of star players emerged who were just coming into their own when an England side led by Gubby Allen arrived for four Tests in the early months of 1948. Along with the emergence of men like Everton Weekes, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott Stollmeyer had matured, scoring runs consistently, and on one occasion recording a triple century, 324 against British Guiana. On the England side Allen was 46 and no longer a regular player. He had an understrength side too, the selectors leaving Len Hutton, Denis Compton, Bill Edrich and Alec Bedser at home. Even with Hutton arriving late on, called out as cover when injury struck, the Englishmen were no match for their hosts.
The West Indies Board did not make it easy for their side, naming three different captains for the four Tests, Headley for the first and last and Stollmeyer and John Goddard in the second and third. The first Test was drawn, West Indies not pushing hard enough to press home a significant advantage. Stollmeyer scored 78 and 31 but then tore a hamstring in the field and missed the next two matches and with that the opportunity to captain his country.
In the second Test, remembered for the innings of 112 that gives Andy Ganteaume an average higher even than Donald Bradman, West Indies again got their timing wrong and did not have sufficient time to clinch a win they richly deserved. They got it right in the next two however, winning by seven wickets and ten wickets. Stollmeyer was back for the fourth, and with 30 and an unbeaten 25 played a supporting role.
The following year brought the first Test series between India and West Indies. A full strength West Indies side spent five months away from the Caribbean visiting India, Pakistan and, as Sri Lanka then was, Ceylon. Two powerful batting sides were never going to produce too many results, but the sole Test out of the five played that was not drawn was won by West Indies. The foundation for the victory was laid by Stollmeyer and Allan Rae whose opening partnership was 239. Stollmeyer went on to 160. It was to remain his highest Test score. Conditions for the tourists tended towards the primitive, and Stollmeyer did not always enjoy the conditions he encountered. He missed the third Test with chicken pox, and although he played in the first he was greatly troubled by dental problems. There were however two other half centuries, and he averaged 64.57 in the Tests despite his troubles.
There was a return to England for Stollmeyer in 1950 when, against all expectations and after losing the first Test, West Indies came back to win the next three convincingly to take the series. The bowling of Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine is what is remembered but all the West Indians contributed. Stollmeyer was a model of consistency at the top of the order recording scores of 43 and 78 at Old Trafford, 20 and 30 at Lord’s, 46 and 52* at Trent Bridge and 36 at the Oval. He never did manage a century against England, but the two innings at Old Trafford (in a losing cause) were made on a pitch that was described by the veteran English writer EW ‘Jim” Swanton almost forty years later as almost the most deplorable Test pitch I ever saw.
After the West Indies success in England a visit to Australia was quickly arranged for 1951/52. England had been badly mauled by Australia in the Ashes series that followed their defeat by West Indies, so the contest was billed as the game’s World Championship. In the event the series was a disappointment. Australia won 4-1 and whilst the visitors might easily have won the first and fourth Tests the reality was that the scoreline was a fair reflection of Australia’s dominance.
The main problem the West Indies faced was the pace of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller. Given the success of Ramadhin and Valentine in England it was inevitable that the wickets prepared by the Australians would not be tailor made for spin and so it was. Stollmeyer saw it coming and was disappointed that the tourists included only two pace bowlers in their side, and Prior Jones and John Trim were so ineffective they were selected for just one Test each. So whilst Lindsay Hassett had one of the all time great fast bowling pairs at his disposal, backed up by Bill Johnston, all Goddard had to retaliate with was a battery of medium pacers.
It was not a good series for Stollmeyer but, averaging 32.80, he was still third in the West Indies batting list for the series. Like his teammates he succumbed too often to pace, the Australian commentator AG ‘Johnny’ Moyes commenting that he found the rising ball too tempting and fell to it. Redemption of a kind came in the second innings of the final Test when, in Goddard’s absence, Stollmeyer scored 104 out of 216. Moyes described it as a regal innings of charm, culture and finish. Perhaps the captaincy caused him to put away the riskier shots.
There was a century for Stollmeyer as West Indies visited New Zealand and had an altogether more comfortable experience after the bruising one with Australia. For the following year India visited the Caribbean and Stollmeyer was captain for the entire series. Neither side had much in the way of fast bowlers, but there were some excellent spinners playing, Ramadhin and Valentine for the home side, and ‘Fergie’ Gupte, Vinoo Mankad and Ghulam Abbas for the visitors. The one match that reached a conclusion was won by West Indies so they took the series.
It was a successful start to his reign as captain for Stollmeyer, who also did well with the bat, averaging 59.00. The best position the Indians had was in the third Test, when an unbeaten 104 from Stollmeyer frustrated their ambitions. The series reinforced for the new captain the strange habits of selectors. For the fourth Test in British Guiana they replaced all-rounder Gerry Gomez with Roy Miller, and included in the lower middle order a defensive minded opening batsman, Leslie Wight. Neither played Test cricket again and at the end of the series Stollmeyer did manage to negotiate with the Board a change in the way sides were chosen.
A year on and a sterner challenge awaited Stollmeyer when Len Hutton, who had led England to victory over Australia less than a year previously, brought his England side to the Caribbean. The indignities of 1950 had finally brought home to England that West Indies could not be underestimated and a full strength party toured.
At the beginning of the trip Hutton instructed his men not to mix socially with their opponents, believing that was not the way to secure victory. Perhaps that policy backfired but whatever the reason the West Indies were 2-0 in front with three to play. In touching distance of victory Stollmeyer let the lead slip and England were able to win the third and fifth Tests to square the series. Whatever mistakes he may have made early on Hutton led from the front with two innings that were amongst the finest ever played in the Caribbean. For Stollmeyer he had a disappointing series with the bat, averaging just 28.44. He was also later critical of his own role in packing the West Indies side with batting in the third Test, and although the scorecard suggests it would not have been crucial, he felt the match was lost when he himself spilled a straightforward chance offered to him at mid off by Johnny Wardle in England’s first innings.
In 1955 Australia visited the Caribbean for the first time. They had just suffered a 3-1 reverse at home against Hutton’s England so Stollmeyer and his side must have been confident. Events proved however that rather than lick their wounds it was the Australians who rose to the occasion and despite Clyde Walcott scoring as many as five centuries Australia won 3-0.
There was a bad start to the series for Stollmeyer on two fronts. Firstly he lost his vice-captain, Frank Worrell, when the Board decided to replace him with the young and relatively experienced, but white skinned Denis Atkinson. It was then necessary for Atkinson to take the reins rather sooner than he expected when on the eve of the first Test Stollmeyer broke a finger whilst trying to catch a high ball that was heading for a group of spectators. The Test was lost by nine wickets. Stollmeyer was back for the second, drawn Test to which he contributed innings of 14 and 42 before in the third, which turned out to be his last, he again made two starts, scoring 16 and 17, in an eight wicket defeat. During the Australians comfortable run chase he managed to tread on the ball whilst attempting to field a ball destined for the boundary and fell heavily on his right shoulder. The resultant ligament damage kept him out of the last two Tests.
The West Indies took an experimental side to New Zealand in 1955/56 that played four Test matches. Stollmeyer never intended to go and Atkinson was skipper and the 1950 captain, Goddard, had gone as player/manager. Never having done so before Stollmeyer hoped to lead a West Indies side overseas before he retired, and had expected to be appointed for the 1957 trip to England. He was therefore more than a little surprised when told the job had gone to Goddard and, no doubt at least partially motivated by the perceived slight, immediately announced his retirement from First Class cricket. Hindsight shows he dodged a bullet with that one, a powerful looking West Indies side failing to gel and losing three of the five Tests and coming out on the wrong side of draws in the other two.
Thanks to the success of his father’s agricultural holdings Stollmeyer had, throughout his adult life, been able to concentrate on his cricket and devote as much time and energy to it as he needed. He had naturally helped out in the family business, and indeed begun his own, dealing in sporting goods and making use of the many connections he made during his cricket career.
In 1962 Trinidad and Tobago was granted independence. The new nation’s constitution was modelled on that of the UK with an elected legislature combining with an unelected secondary chamber. In 1966 Stollmeyer was invited to be a senator in the unelected house, a post which he held for ten years. The economic policies of the new nation were not geared towards making a success of commercial agriculture and, seeing the way the wind was blowing, the family business was eventually disposed of in the early 1970s. Another facet of Government policy was to ensure that where suitably qualified Trinidadians were available that they must be employed in preference to foreigners.
Having had his own forays into the business world already this particularly policy was of great help to Stollmeyer who found himself invited onto the Boards of a number of companies. Broadcasting and insurance as well as agriculture were amongst the industries in which he found himself and he was particularly proud to accept the Presidency of the Trinidad arm of Barclays, the bank that had stood by his father in the dark years of the early 1930s.
If his commercial activities suggested he led a busy and fulfilled life Stollmeyer still had plenty of time for cricket. He was at various times a selector and member of the Board, and in 1966 he managed the side that toured England. It was a welcome break from his business activities, made that much easier by the quality of the cricket played and the ease with which England were swept aside.
Administration was not always easy however as Stollmeyer found in his dealings with the legend that was Sobers. When the decision had to be made as to who should replace Frank Worrell as skipper after 1963 Stollmeyer had supported Sobers and had worked alongside him on that 1966 tour. There were however clashes later. In particular Sobers was critical of Stollmeyer for, effectively, not permitting him to take a break from cricket by missing the 1966/67 tour of India. In turn Stollmeyer was unimpressed by the controversial declaration in the Trinidad Test of 1967/68 when Sobers set England what appeared and proved to be a none too taxing target which cost the series.
A further showdown between Stollmeyer and Sobers came in 1973. Australia were visiting the Caribbean and Sobers was recovering from a cartilage operation. Sobers declared himself fit for the second Test. The selectors didn’t think he looked fit and asked him to play for Barbados against the tourists on the eve of the Test. Sobers clearly thought that after his years of exceptional and loyal service that his own judgment on the issue of his own fitness should not be questioned. Sobers refused to play in the Barbados game, and the selectors refused to pick him for the Tests. The irresistible force had met the immoveable object. West Indies lost the series 2-0.
In 1974 Stollmeyer became the seventh President of the West Indies Board. He had to grapple with the South African problem and was involved in the framing of the Gleneagles Agreement. He was also involved on his Board’s behalf in relation to the decision made in 1977 to ban from official cricket all the players who had signed for World Series Cricket. In fact West Indies were opposed to the ban, public opinion in the Caribbean largely being in favour of the players being able to obtain greater rewards from the game, but Stollmeyer was persuaded to vote in favour of the ban so the ICC could be seen to be unanimous. He was absolutely furious, and rightly so, when following the successful attack on the ban in the English courts the ICC insisted on the West Indies Board stumping up their full share of the costs of the litigation.
There was a tragic end to a life well lived in 1989. Stollmeyer died on 10 September, although his life was effectively taken from him five weeks earlier. On 6 August a number of intruders at his home near Port of Spain mugged a security guard and, utilising his uniform, gained entry. As well as his wife Stollmeyer’s son and daughter-in-law were also at home. Jeff was struck with the butt of a firearm. That caused a brain injury, five shots left other damage, including a broken femur and a spinal cord injury.
Sara Stollmeyer was hit by three bullets and in time recovered. There was no way back for Jeff though. He was taken to a medical centre in Florida where, with his family around him, he hovered between life and death before finally succumbing to his injuries. He was only 68.