Island Beat (July/August 2006)

People and events making news around the islands

Fighting Off The Seas

Joggers pause for a breather. A Hindu family offers flowers in a morning ablution ritual. An old man sits on an elegant bench staring into the far distance; a pair of lovers gaze at each other. Not far away, on the wide concrete stretch near the bandstand, loud shouts from an impromptu Sunday morning football game echo on the wind.

In another city these activities would take place in a park, but this is Georgetown on the Demerara estuary, the capital of Guyana, where it all happens along the sea wall. This is a country where 90% of a population of less than one million live on the low-lying coastal plain, often as much as a metre below sea level at normal high tide, engaged in a constant quiet battle with the restless Atlantic.

The draining of the narrow coastal plain began when English planters settled here in the 16th century. The Dutch brought master technicians, and by the late 18th century they had laid out an elaborate network of drainage canals, polders and levees, with imposing kokers or sluice gates to allow drainage while preventing salt water invasion, and an impressive system of sea defences.

Any resemblance to Holland in the canals and sea wall is negated by the tropical heat, the sugar plantations and mangrove swamps. The force of the sea is kinder, too, on this low-energy shore. It is virtually free from hurricanes and storm waves, and protected by a wide continental shelf, as well as mud shoals formed from the outpouring of Amazon sediments shifted inexorably up the coastline by the force of the Guiana Current.

A 110-kilometre-long sea wall is the key to the defence system; it is a technological feat and a puzzle which keeps engineers constantly at work, fighting coastal erosion and the sea’s relentless attacks. With the prospect of rising sea levels, reports and projects abound: it may be necessary to reconstruct parts of the wall, or to strengthen sea defences along parts of the 250 kilometres now protected by mangrove swamps and earth embankments.

For now, Sunday cricket fans beyond Mahaica sit below the level of the sailing boats returning on the afternoon tide beyond the earthen wall and wooden palisade, while the city’s defences loom like fortress walls keeping the enemy at bay across the mud flats.

The broad sea battlements provide the city’s major recreation area: a promenade, a grandstand. Strong breezes threaten to blow away the joggers. When spring tides slap against this bastion, and salt waves thrust their fingers at the land, residents trust the strength of the wall enough to wait patiently for the onslaught to slacken.

But the struggle with the sea for mastery of Guyana’s coast continues. The walls are ageing; funds are short.

– Sylvia Kacal



No batsman can ever forget his first Test century in cricket. It is the one that counts most in his career. For some, the first hundred runs are not enough, and they go on to a double-century. Sherwin Campbell, the Barbadian opening batsman, joined this select group of players when he made 208 for the West Indies against New Zealand in Barbados last April (1996), having never before reached a Test 100.

Since 1894, only 17 other players – six of them West Indians — have accomplished this feet. Foremost among them was Sir Garry Sobers, who, after 16 Tests without a century, scored 365 not out for the West Indies against Pakistan in Jamaica in 1958, not merely a debut triple-century but a new individual Test record only broken by Brian Lara nearly four decades later.

The first batsman to enter the 100 club with a double-century was Australia’s Sid Gregory, when he reached 201 against England in Sydney, in the 1894-95 series. He was upstaged in 1903 by England’s R. E. Foster, whose 287 at Sydney became the highest Test innings until it was surpassed by fellow Englishman Andy Sandham’s 325 in his Test debut against the West Indies in Jamaica 27 years later.

In 1928, again at Sydney, the legendary Wally Hammond scored 251 for England against the Australians; then came Eddie Paynter of England with 216 not out, also against Australia, at Trent Bridge in 1938.

After the war, New Zealand’s Martin Donnelly, a small left-hander with tremendous class, made 246 against England in 1949 — the only player to manage a double first century at Lords. South Africa’s Jackie McGlew made the first double century of the 1950s: after six Tests, he scored 255 not out against New Zealand at Wellington in 1952.

The first West Indian to join this hall of fame was the Barbadian allrounder Denis Atkinson; leading the West Indies on his home ground against the powerful Australians in 1955, he scored a priceless 219 and helped save the match for the West Indies.

Then there was Sobers’s 365 in Jamaica, followed by Guyana’s Rohan Kanhai, in Calcutta in 1958, with 256 against India.

Pakistan’s Imtiaz Ahmed (209 against New Zealand in Lahore, 1955- 56) and India’s Dilip Sardesai (200 not out against New Zealand in Bombay, 1964-65) joined the club. The next West Indian was Jamaica’s Lawrence Rowe, who hit 214 on a sunny February day in 1972, in his debut match, following it with a second innings knock of 100 not out, a feat that remains unique in Test cricket.

England’s David Lloyd hit 214 against India at Edgbaston in 1974, and Guyana’s Faoud Bacchus made 250 against India in Kanpur in the 1978-9 series. Taslim Arif of Pakistan scored 210 not out against Australia at Faisalabad in the 1979-80 Test series.

Then in Sydney, in the 1992-93 West Indies–Australia series, the young Trinidadian Brian Lara produced a majestic 277; many devotees of the game maintain that this was Lara’s finest innings (despite his subsequent glories in surpassing Sobers’s 365 and Hanif Mohammed’s 499 — the highest Test and First Class scores respectively). A month later, V. G. Kambli, one of the lions of modern cricket, scored a superb 224 against England in Bombay.

Three years later, Sherwin Campbell of Barbados has joined this elite group, in the process helping to bring new faith to a besieged West Indies team, struggling to regain its former eminence in world cricket.

– Horace Harragin