California-Belize Cricket Team
May 26, 2011
The California-Belize Cricket Club (Cal-Bel) was formed thirty years ago in early April, 1980. Twenty-seven known Belizean cricketers and a number of cricket lovers, both male and female, gathered at the home of Pedro Pelayo located at the corner of Budlong and 35th Street in Los Angeles, California to attend a meeting which was chaired by Winfield Tillett, a prominent Belizean cricketer who became the first Team Captain. At this meeting, Gilroy Nicholson was elected as Cal-Bel’s first President, with Pedro Pelayo as Vice President, Sheldon Nicholson as Liaison Officer, Edwin Casassola and his daughter, Julie, as Treasurer and Secretary, respectively. This was the team that saw Cal-Bel through its embryonic stages in writing its constitution and by-laws and laid the ground work for Belizean cricketers to participate in cricket in Southern California.
Because Belize was not known as a country where cricket was played at the same level as other Caribbean nations, it was decided that a special provision would be included in Cal-Bel’s constitution to ensure that Belizeans make up a two-thirds majority of players and that not more than three non-Belizeans could join the club at any one time. This was done in order to prevent the club from being taken over by non-Belizeans and to ensure that Belizean cricketers are exposed as a team rather than as individuals playing for other national teams. The constitution provided for two types of memberships to the club - playing members and supporting members. Playing members would pay an initiation fee of $27.00 (thus depicting the 27 cricketers present at the meeting) and whatever annual dues the executive committee would decide on from time to time. The supporting members would pay a small membership due that would enable their full participation in club activities, except for playing on the team or electing the Team Captain and Vice Captain. Funds received from dues and other fund-raising efforts were to be used for the purchasing of cricket gears, to pay membership dues to the Southern California Cricket Association (S.C.C.A.), to pay for “tea” at our host games and other incidental expenses, including an annual free Christmas party for outstanding members and helpers (cooks) to be awarded in the presence of their families and friends, and for a children’s party for members kids to enjoy.
With the able help of our Liaison Officer, Sheldon Nicholson (who also named the club Cal-Bel), we were formally accepted as a full-fledged member of the S.C.C.A. later that same year, but we were too late to play in the 1980 cricket season. However, after playing our first few friendly matches with the Hollywood Cricket Club - which was predominantly made up of West Indian Cricketers - every team in the league wanted to get a crack at Cal-Bel when news got around about this new, lively, friendly, well-organized and competitive team with such an enthusiastic following. They were dumfounded over our style of cricket - the pace and accuracy of our bowlers with little or no run-up before delivery, and most of all the skillfulness of our wicket-keeper, James Rhaburn, in collecting such fast-paced bowling and stumping batsmen from his position so close behind the wicket. Our batting style was mostly criticized and laughed at as “bush cricket.”
Despite the criticism of our style of cricket, Cal-Bel has a success record that is the envy of most teams in the league. Our main bowlers, Stephen Gillett and Mike Jones, alternated the annual awards for bowling average and most wickets for most of the 1980s and 1990s, so much so that for years scouts were sent out to determine whether they were actually bowling legally or chucking (cock-stick). The Association scouts finally agreed that their delivery was clean enough to justify that they were bowling legally and that they were deserving of their awards. Cal-Bel’s relief bowlers, Rodney and Roosevelt Jones, Mark Perriott, Melford Tillett and I were always in the top fifteen in bowling average year after year. In 1988, I was awarded seasonal trophies for most runs in the season, batting average, for being a centurion and for hot trick (bowling three wickets in three consecutive balls). There were other Cal-Bel players who were mounting up trophies year after year.
Cal-Bel’s success started an adverse campaign against us by cricketers who thought that their standard of cricket was much higher and deserved more recognition than the unconventional style displayed by Cal-Bel cricketers. They felt that Cal-Bel was overrated and that by awarding its players the most prestigious trophies deprived more polished cricketers from known cricket playing nations of their prestige. It was at this point that a campaign started to keep Cal-Bel down at all costs. Unscrupulous umpires were assigned to ensure that Cal-Bel would not be able to prosper as usual. Some of the umpires were so ridiculously biased that they caused some of our most valuable players to get suspended for protesting their decisions and at times even to get violent. Their strategy worked because they were able to keep Cal-Bel in the lower division permanently and deprived our best players of any prestigious awards. Cal-Bel won the Upper Division only once under my captainship in the 1984, which put Belize on top in the S.C.C.S. much to the dismay of all those who had never heard of Belize, much less as a nation that played cricket.
At the time Cal-Bel joined the S.C.C.A., there were only two Divisions – the Upper and Lower Divisions. New Clubs had to enter the league at the Lower Division level and work their way up to the top. The clubs that come in first and second advances and the last two clubs are demoted. Cal-Bel under my captainship in 1981, won the Lower Division season undefeated and advanced to the Upper Division which was dominated by the top clubs, including Orange County, Colts, University # 1 (UCLA), Pegasus, Santa Barbara and Hollywood. All the best cricketers were recruited by these top clubs regardless of their Nationality, while Cal-Bel was playing only Belizeans and was easily out played and sent back to the Lower Division the following season. We again won the Lower Division in 1983 and advanced to the Upper Division for the 1984 season - this time under my captainship, and the only time that we defeated the Upper Division. The S.C.C.A. now has a membership of thirty-nine teams that are shared up in four divisions. Cal-Bel was the first club that represented a country and played an instrumental role in helping the Jamaicans form the Caribbean Cricket Club that follow our lead. The Guyanese form a National Club a few years ago, while the Indians and Pakistanis have taken over and dominated all the other Clubs, including the Hollywood Cricket Club.
It was between the 1980s and 1990s that Cal-Bel was at its best. Known Belizean cricketers like Oswald Gillett, Denton Belisle, Phil Smart, Kenrick Jones and Lisburne (Nash) Tillett - who was once Belize’s international star bowler, were allowed to play in Southern California. Nash’s style of bowling got immediate recognition in the international cricket circles that saw it as an improvement over the suspicious bowling style of our Cal-Bel main bowlers. Nash and Ernest Jones were the only Belizean bowlers who have actually excelled in international cricket before Cal-Bel entered the scene in Southern California. Nash had trouble catching on to the type of cricket played in Southern California and would always ask me what was he doing wrong, especially when he was batting against that slick and professional West Indian Bowler, Cecil, who was one of the best on the Orange County Team. Cecil was good, but the bowler that impressed me the most up to this day is Steve Jones, a disciplined bowler from Barbados who was the only black player on the University Team. Steve would never appeal for an LBW if he had the slightest doubt that he would get an out. Jamaica’s All Star speed bowler, Bolton (Rat) was also exceptional. He stayed in California after touring as the Jamaican open bowler and was quickly drafted by an Upper Division Team.
Cal-Bel’s best and most promising cricketer was Anthony (Tony) Jones, son of Brilliant and Belize’s prominent bowler, Marshall Jones. Tony left Belize at a very young age and did not play any cricket there. This discipline and agile young man, who normally played baseball, became interested in cricket while attending Cal-Bel games and set out to learn to play the game in a more professional way after observing and practicing with the best in California. He later joined Cal-Bel and immediately became the club’s opening batsman, out fielder and substitute wicket keeper, all of which he was very good at. He was a centurion over and over and has never missed a catch. He served as Cal-Bel’s Captain for several years, but did not tour Belize with us. Tony was well respected by his fellow team mates and the cricketers and officers of the SCCA. He was a great lost to Cal-Bel when he left and went into the Priesthood.
Playing cricket in California was a learning experience for me although I was once the captain of the Belize Police Cricket Team and the Vice President of the National Belize Cricket Association selected by Desmond Haynes, the first bat of the West Indies who was sent by CARICOM to coach Belizean cricketers. Desmond’s coaching was okay, but it was outdated when it came to the style of cricket played by the thirty-nine teams of cricketers from the cricket-playing world in the S.C.C.A. Except for most of the Caribbean players, all right arm bowlers turn the ball legs to off and left arm bowlers turn it off to legs, which was contrary to the bowling style in Belize and very hard to adjust to. Bowlers were not gunning for the wicket as we did, but were using all the methods of retiring a batsman as allowed in the cricket rules. Most of Cal-Bel’s batsmen would be retired by catches, while we would mostly retire our opponents by bowling their wickets, stumping or leg-before-wicket (LBW) calls. Because of the batting style of the Indians and Pakistanis, bowling their wickets was almost an impossible task since their feet always covered their wickets. The umpires mentioned above were able to defeat Cal-Bel by not giving LBW outs which was the main contention of our players and was the source of heated arguments and altercation. It was these heated confrontations that caused Cal-Bel’s demise in the S.C.C.A. and eventually kept its trophy players from playing in the all stars selected side, although James Rhaburn, Mike and Anthony Jones, Francis Sutherland and I (all centurions) were selected at different times to represent the S.C.C.A. against visiting teams.
Cal-Bel toured Belize on two occasions mainly to play against the Brilliant Cricket Club (B.C.C.) of Crooked Tree Village from where most of its players originated. We also played matches against the “All Belize” selected side and other village teams. Cal-Bel won all the matches, except for those against the Brilliant Cricket Club that managed to defeat us every time. I am still not convinced that Brilliant could out play us, but that the outcome of the matches had more to do with the cricket pitch and the small size of the grounds, which is a lot different from where we play in California. I have never played on the Brilliant team, but I am sure that if I had the chance to practice on the ground for a little while, I would be able to adjust and be more effective in my performance.
Most of the original players of Cal-Bel have now retired and new and younger cricketers from Belize have taken over. The club is now competing in the third division of the S.C.C.A. under the captainship of Brian (Jew boy) Westby. The last time it has advanced to the 2nd Division was in 2007 and since then it has maintained its performance at the 3rd Division level. As of April 24th, 2010, Cal-Bel’s record is one and one in the 3rd Division. There are two Jamaicans playing on the team at present, Brandon and Barry Samuels. Brandon is mediocre but Barry is pro. Some time back, Cal-Bel made two hundred and sixty runs against the Caribbean Club and declared at the 8th wicket, and Barry and Bobo from the Caribbean Club went in to bat and both made over one hundred runs and defeated us. Barry, like Tony, is a solid, disciplined and consistent first bat. Cal-Bel should be proud of this new addition and try to learn as much as possible from him. I know him well, and I thank him for joining our club after being one of the Association’s top batsmen, while our own star, Francis Sutherland, chose to go and play with the Caribbean Cricket Club.