Sports

Tony Becca: A gift to cricket and mankind

Watching Cricket

with Garfield Myers

Friday, March 15, 2019

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A mild-mannered, courteous man with a wonderful capacity to make others laugh, the late Tony Becca was also among the more dedicated servants of cricket I have come across.

He loved and wrote about many sports. He wrote extensively about Jamaican football and his memories and knowledge of the leading personalities and structure of that sport, locally, in the 1950s and '60s verged on the encyclopaedic. Becca not only wrote with authority about table tennis, he played the game to a fairly high level – I remember watching him represent the Daily News in business house competition in the 1970s.

But as cricket lovers know, when you become captive, you are taken heart and soul. Becca, who played up to junior cup level, was no different. He was shackled to cricket.

He religiously watched his heroes — including the Three Ws at Sabina Park — as a child in the 1950s, and I seem to remember him telling me that when Garfield Sobers made his world record unbeaten 365 against Pakistan in 1958, he was among those scoring the boards.

My first recollection of Becca was as a 17-year-old in early 1973 at the dawning of the tabloid Jamaica Daily News, then based on Half-Way-Tree Road. My lasting recollection of the first copy of the Daily News I ever saw was a spread written by Becca adorned with pictures.

The West Indian heroes of the time were highlighted, not least captain Rohan Kanhai then approaching the end of his long and illustrious career, the up-and-coming stars Lawrence Rowe and Alvin Kallicharan, the powerful left-hander Clive Lloyd, the exciting opener Roy Fredericks and Maurice Foster — one of Jamaica's more successful batsmen of all time. Among the bowlers, Becca featured Uton Dowe, then considered the fastest bowler available to the selectors. That was a time when West Indies selectors showed very little patience, and indeed, appeared not to properly appreciate the value of express pace. Dowe became victim to that mindset.

I walked around with that copy of the Daily News, showing Becca's feature to all my friends. It seemed to me to be a template for a future in journalism and in particular cricket writing.

Very quickly, Becca became the leading cricket writer in Jamaica – readers hanging on to every word as he described the action in diverse places, such as India in 1974/75 and Australia in 75/76. Becca painted colourful pictures in voluminous word detail, leaving nothing to the imagination.

He never seemed to grow weary of writing, wielding influence to such an extent that there were times when Jamaica's national selectors were clearly guided by him.

There is no doubt in my mind that Cleveland Davidson, the reliable Jamaica middle order batsman of the 1980s and early '90s, owed his national selection to Becca. At a time when selectors rarely looked beyond the top clubs in Kingston and St Catherine, it was Becca who saw Davidson batting at Frome in Westmoreland and campaigned relentlessly afterwards in his regular newspaper column. In the end, it seemed, the selectors were left with no choice but to call the popular sugar estate player to trials and eventually pick him in the national team.

Becca saw cricket as an art form and batting as its pinnacle. Hence his adoration of Lawrence Rowe, a man whose style, elegance and ease of strokeplay, goose-pimpled the flesh. There were many other artists, whose rapier-like blade held him in awe, dating back to Frank Worrell in the 1950s and including Rohan Kanhai in the '60s/70s but always for Becca, Rowe was top of the heap.

There were times when Becca courted controversy and strong opposition such as his support for Rowe and others who went on rebel tours of Apartheid-era South Africa even as Nelson Mandela languished in prison. But for those of us who questioned and criticised Becca's approach, there was never any doubt of his sincerity and strong belief that playing cricket would break down barriers.

His writing apart, Becca served cricket as an administrator at Melbourne Cricket Club. He took great pride in organising the annual Melbourne Cricket festival – which became a must for cricket lovers – and worked hard to build the social life of the club and to keep it on an even keel.

As a writer for the Caribbean News Agency (CANA) and then the Jamaica Observer, I sat beside Becca for much of the 1990s and the early 2000s at cricket grounds across Jamaica. We became good friends – not least because of our shared liking for Red Stripe Beer and curry goat.

I found him a true professional. Sometimes after a hard night, I would get to the ground a few minutes late. I did so knowing that Becca would be there. No matter how hard was the night before, Becca would be there from ball one, able and generous enough to fill in whatever others had missed.

Death will always leave us sad. But in Becca's case I am happy that before his passing, he was able to watch as the West Indies team defied the odds to reclaim The Wisden Trophy, thanks to that glorious 2-1 series win over England in January and February. As one who watched the West Indies at their invincible best for decades, Becca was hard hit by the failures of the last 15-20 years.

The tone of Becca's columns of February 10 and 17 celebrating the triumph of Jason Holder and his men spoke of a happy man. Let's all give thanks for that.


Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive


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