“I played almost all the sport and cricket was my first choice. I just had a natural instinct for sport. I followed my brother Mark around, who was cricket-crazy, and I believe that may have rubbed off on me…From the age of 7, I knew I wanted to be a professional cricketer.”
By Gordon French
Cricket is known as the gentleman’s game because of the social skills it enhances both on and off the field.
Roger Andrew Harper, a former national and West Indies cricketer, still embodies the true spirit of the game, years after he retired.
In his prime, Roger was an efficient right arm off-spinner, a dedicated right-hand batsman and evoked descriptive words like magical when he nimbly moved his large frame across the field to take spectacular catches.
On a moonlit night at the Demerara Cricket Club (DCC), Roger interacts with several persons in the pavilion. By the bar, on a wall, hangs portraits of former great cricketing icons, including one of Roger that captures his full off-break action.
At 6’5”, he stands head and shoulders above most. DCC is home for Roger, who has played and coached at the highest level, across continents, for over 30 years.
Born on March 17, 1963, Roger is the last of four children born to Lynette and Henry ‘Hank’ Harper. He grew up in Newtown, and by the age of 12 moved to Queenstown, where he continues to reside.
Roger attended the Fountain AME Primary School in Queenstown, which now houses Queenstown Community High and later Queen’s College. He vividly recalls, following his older brother Mark around the community.
It was through Mark, who also played first class cricket, that Roger developed his love for the sport, as the two would frequent the DCC ground.
“I played almost all the sport and cricket was my first choice. I just had a natural instinct for sport. I followed my brother Mark around, who was cricket-crazy, and I believe that may have rubbed off on me. We keenly followed the exploits of Sir Garfield Sobers and all the fantastic things that he did. And from the age of 7, I knew I wanted to be a professional cricketer,” Roger recalled.
Driven by his desire to play cricket, he recalled playing with many friends including Andrew Jackman, along with Stanley and Daniel Brown.
It was in the back yard of the Browns residence in Crown Street that the boys got together cut the grass and rolled out the mud to create a mid-size cricket pitch.
“We would bowl from just a yard away from the back fence. There was not much of a run-up, but we enjoyed playing there,” Roger said.
Every opportunity to play the game was seized by Roger. During the July August holidays, he and his friends played on the fringes of the DCC ground, because they were not yet of age to join the club.
He remembers distinctly that one day the groundsman named ‘Barrow’ allowed them to play on the pitch.
“At first he said no when we asked to play on the pitch. Then he said he would allow us to use it if we helped him to clean the ground and roll the pitch for practice. I remember it was five of us, and he got so much help he didn’t know what to do. We played on the pitch almost every afternoon where we got burned in the sun. All day we would be out there, once we had managed to do all that was required to clean the ground,” Roger recounted.
He said across his school life, sport played an important role, as every student was involved in extracurricular activities.
“In school you had to be involved in a lot of different things. You had to be involved in the music society, drama society or some extracurricular activity. It wasn’t a case where we saw it as distracting you from academics. It was a way of enhancing you as a person. You would note that all the scholars of yesteryear were involved in the arts or sports. These days people make it seem like something so difficult to do, but then if you want to write 20 subjects, even though it is a lot of redundancy, there would hardly be any time,” Roger pointed out.
There was another important takeaway lesson from his early days at DCC playing at the side of the ground.
“We played with persons from all walks of life and you had to learn how to deal with each and everyone. You had to learn how to communicate and how to relate. On Saturday morning, if you didn’t get to the ground on time you wouldn’t be able to play. That was all part of the upbringing,” he recalled.
CATCH OF A LIFETIME
Roger’s exploits on the field are well documented. Cricket fans still marvel about his run out of Graham Gooch in 1987 at the MCC bicentenary Test in front of an astounded Lord’s crowd. Then there was the diving third slip catch off Dean Jones’s edge.
The catch that really stuck for Roger is when he met his wife Sheran. The two met when Roger visited the former Sports Clinic on Home Stretch Avenue for physiotherapy on an injured finger. Sheran was his therapist and the two struck up a conversation.
“It wasn’t one delivery. I had to do quite a bit of bowling,” he fondly recalled. He added, “We developed from there and 30 years on we are still going very strong.”
The union produced two boys – Richard, the older of the two, and Reginald. Although Richard played cricket briefly at Mae’s School, both boys took a pathway away from cricket field. Richard is a law enforcement officer in England, while Reginald, who played Hockey for the Hikers, is practicing law in Fiji.
Roger was inspired to return home to contribute to the development of Guyana. He has been President of the Georgetown Cricket Association since 2010 and is currently a director of the Rotary Club of Georgetown which spearheads many community projects. He is also vice-president of DCC and previously served as the club’s president in 2005.
Roger also attends St. Sidwell’s Anglican Church.
He grew up in the village system where children are raised by the collective adults.
“If you knew you were doing anything you were not supposed to be doing, you would be praying that no one that knew your parents saw. Once someone is an adult they would tell you off if you were behaving in a manner that is not befitting. You respected that person. I think we have long gone past that,” Roger reflected.
After outstanding school cricket performances, Roger made his debut for Guyana U-19 in 1979. He was called up to the West Indies U-19 to play against the touring England U-19 team in 1980. Two years later, Roger captained the U-19 team on a successful tour of the UK.
It was during West Indies tour of India in 1983 that Roger made his debut at the international level – first in the test matches then in the one-day fixtures.
He was playing cricket in the cold conditions of Northern Ireland, in the North Yorkshire South Durham League to be precise, when he was named in the squad. It was a moment that he remembers well.
“I was staying with a family. I woke up, came downstairs one morning about 10 and the man of the house was sitting there reading the newspaper. He asked how I was, I said I am fine. He said fine, well come and take a look at this. I wanted to know what on earth he was talking about,” Roger remembered.
There was this little article on the West Indies squad to India.
“There amongst the names was my name. Then he said ‘what do you think about that?’, but I didn’t have an answer for him. I was happy, but a little surprised,” Roger stated.
Over his international career, he picked up 46 wickets at the test level, with best figures of 6 for 57. In the one-day format, Roger finished with 100 wickets, best figures of 4 for 40 and an economy rate of less than 4 runs per over. As a lower order batsman, he averaged 18.44 in 25 tests and 16.13 in 105 one day matches.
He didn’t always bowl spin. While playing school cricket, Roger started out as a seamer, who experimented with a fast off-cutter by gripping the ball like a traditional off spinner, until he met Lonsdale Skinner, a former Guyana cricketer attached to the Ministry of Sports.
“This was first form at Queen’s College. After watching me bowl for a little while he said I should focus on bowling off spin, and he believed that I would have a better future bowling off spin and from there on I just pursued it,” Roger related.
After a successful tour of Sri Lanka as Captain of West Indies ‘A’ team in 1996, Roger walked away from the game as a player to take up an offer to coach the United States team which was part of the International Cricket Council (ICC)’s world cup qualifier tournament.
Roger was 33 at a time, the age when persons in today’s game are still playing at the international level.
“I believe that in life when you make a decision, you have to try and make it work rather than keep looking back and saying what you should have done. Otherwise, you will always not give yourself the best opportunity to succeed at what you are doing because you would be spending some energy regretting and not focusing on what you have ahead of you,” he stated.
He has since coached the West Indies senior team from 2000 to 2003. He also coached Kenya and more recently, the Guyana Amazon Warriors in the Caribbean Premier League.
LESSONS ALONG THE WAY
While in Northern Ireland, Roger came face to face with some startling realities. During his stint there, the area was experiencing civil unrest. Blacks in the area were seen as soldiers participating in the struggle.
“I started to grow my moustache and my beard just to let people know that I was not a soldier. I didn’t really fancy anyone using me for target practice. Right away I was exposed to a different life. I knew then that if I was going to pursue the path of being a professional cricketer that was part of it,” Roger reminisced.
His brother Mark, who was also playing for a club there, was about 20 miles away, and provided some company during the brutally cold and lonely days.
Roger learned another important lesson while playing in the leagues in Blackhall in North Yorkshire. The head of the family he stayed with was a coal miner who walked two miles to the coal pit. One shift, the ‘graveyard shift’, started at 2 a.m.
“That guy would walk that two miles in the cold for the 2 a.m. shift and then down a pit about a mile deep. I sat there and listened to his stories. I said in my mind that if he could do that for a living, I am not going to complain about anything. Whether it is cold or damp, I will not complain. I will get on with it because there is no way I could do what he is doing, so let me be thankful and accept whatever the conditions are and get on with it.”
Roger said that in league cricket, the pro player is expected to perform such that if the pro made 100 runs and the team lost by five then the club supporters would say that pro should have made 105 runs.
“If you got six wickets and you failed to bowl the team out you should have gotten more wickets. That helped to develop that professional attitude and determination to overcome whatever the conditions are in life.”
STATE OF CRICKET
At a time when West Indies cricket is still searching for a pathway back to the dominant days in world cricket, former players who lived the glorious era have found a voice.
Roger believes that life is about cycles, but West Indies did not build on the successes of the previous years.
“I think we thought it just happened and would have continued. It was so wrong. The other countries learnt from us and they have not left it to chance, but made a science out of it, and even now we are still playing around with it.”
Harper believes player development is lacking and should start at the grassroots level as opposed to what obtains now, where players are making adjustments playing for Guyana or West Indies.
“It is important that you instill the right technical skills and certainly instill the right qualities in terms of attitudes and mindset, so that when a player gets to the international level you are not seeing things that should not be there,” Harper commented.
Asked about the players, who have been criticized for their role in the current state of West Indies cricket, Roger related that players are products of the society. He said that society has evolved and the standards which were upheld in years gone by are being frowned upon today.
“Our leaders have to set the example in terms of how they conduct themselves and in terms of their approach to things. You can’t expect to get respect if you don’t conduct yourself respectfully.”
Another factor is money, where previously players made money playing at the international level. Today, players make decent money at the club and franchise level with the advent of the T20 cricket leagues.
“Players have a choice of making serious money playing in these private leagues. Unless players feel comfortable; they feel welcomed; and the organization is really making an effort to ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed, then it would be unlikely that they will want to make the sacrifice to come on board,” Harper asserted.
He said regional cricket administration and governments can certainly improve the way former players are treated by getting them involved in terms of cricket development.
“In countries like England, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand cricket is more of an industry, because you don’t have to work for the national organization to make a living in cricket. Clubs employ coaches; all the state teams are professional set-ups.”
“The clubs would employ coaches and pay them decent wages to coach and that doesn’t really happen in the West Indies, so there is not much opportunity to make a living out of the sport unless you are at the very top end.”
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