Rich in talent, richer in admiration
The launch of my cricket career in Bermuda could be said to have occurred in earnest during the late summer of 1987 at the very advanced age of 26.
The opponents were the touring Barbados Cavaliers side that featured Wayne Daniel, who had played his last Test match for West Indies only three years earlier, and fellow fast bowlers Ottis Gibson and Anderson Cummins, who would go on in short order to play for the Caribbean giants of world cricket at the time.
The home team were the Somers Isles Cricket League Select XI and my fortuitous inclusion was indebted to the captain, club team-mate Erskine “Choe” Smith, who had long contended that I was not getting the rub of the green at my beloved Devonshire Recreation Club.
A bit of truth, maybe, but the reality is that the Devonshire Rec of the 1980s were as formidable a team as could be found on the island.
The ensuing hundred against the Cavaliers, then, came out of nowhere. I just kept going and going and going.
At the other end for a chunk of this innings was a wet-behind-the-ears teenager of 14 years. There were murmurings coming out of Hamilton Parish Workman’s Club about his potential and this was a first opportunity for him to show off his talent on a bigger stage.
This youngster was Glenn Smith.
A fellow left-hander, which instantly curried favour, but could he play? What was he doing here? Against Test fast bowlers of the recent past and imminent future?
After all, he barely stood over the stumps!
But what a player. What range of stroke play.
While I was going about my business on my “Field of Dreams”, it transpired that it was actually “The Kid” that many had come to see. His strokes square of the wicket were a sight to behold.
He didn’t reach fifty on this day — we were both outshone ultimately by Gary Brangman’s scarcely believable, final-over maiden to seal a famous one-run victory — but the cricket public were left in no doubt as to what the future held for the impish wizard who possessed a wickedly disarming smile that was as broad as his bat.
Over the years, the fifties and hundreds began to flow like rivers from a bursting dam. So much so that no one batted an eyelash when he took on his father’s family name approaching the turn of the millennium, to be known as Glenn Smith Blakeney — more popularly journalised as Glenn Blakeney Jr.
Judge not lest ye be judged.
All we fans cared about — yes, players were as much his fans as were the paying spectators — was that he carried his bat with him on this journey of familial jurisprudence.
Every sportsman’s career is pockmarked with what-ifs, and Blakeney’s was no different.
What if he didn’t pull his hamstring after a spectacular debut half-century in the precursor to the Red Stripe Bowl in the West Indies, never to appear on that stage again?
What if he was available to play more in the ICC Trophy?
What if he was part of the Bermuda team that played in the 2007 World Cup?
That we will never know the answers is a source of regret, but that is to take nothing from the impact that Blakeney had on our lives and the joy that he brought to thousands whenever he strode out to the middle.
Blakeney’s legacy will recall that he loved the month of August. That is predominantly the month of Cup Match and the business end of the Eastern Counties.
It is also when the juice is taken out of most pitches, the dog days of summer when bowlers know that if they come wrong, they go long. And, boy, could Blakeney go long.
A double century in August 2001, a triple century 12 months later and then, to prove his longevity, another double hundred in August 2011 on the grand stage of the Eastern Counties.
His very early beginnings took root in St David’s, so it was no surprise that he rocked up there for a few seasons before joining Charlie Marshall’s project at Young Men’s Social Club.
What it meant was that the opportunity to experience his audacious dynamism was spread far and wide — from Hamilton Parish to Bailey’s Bay to St David’s to Social Club and back via a stop-off at Cleveland County.
If you could get Back of Town punters to be talking cricket outside of county cup and Cup Match, that’s saying something.
I returned to the island at the end of 2013, after almost 15 years living and working abroad, and soon happened upon Blakeney on Parliament Street outside Hamilton Pharmacy.
I had not long before heard about his illness, and dreaded that first meeting, not knowing what to expect.
But there he was, looking as fit as a fiddle, his smile as broad as I had remembered.
We stopped in the middle of the street and shared a long embrace. Quite different from when we met in the middle for that first time all those years ago at Devonshire Rec, with more than a degree of apprehension, and exchanged the obligatory fist bump.
Our exchange had little to do with illnesses or what West Indian quick was waiting 22 yards away with a hard red ball to hand; more to do with respect, family and a friendship that had sustained the passing of time.
For, once we put away our bats, gloves and pads, that is what matters most — and that is Glenn Smith Blakeney’s greatest gift.
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