Cup Match Legends: Lionel Thomas

  • Supreme wristwork: all-rounder Lionel Thomas was among several superb cricketers of Caribbean descent to make their mark on the Bermudian game during the 1960s, Seventies and Eighties

    Supreme wristwork: all-rounder Lionel Thomas was among several superb cricketers of Caribbean descent to make their mark on the Bermudian game during the 1960s, Seventies and Eighties


During the 1960s, Seventies and Eighties, Bermuda was blessed to have witnessed some truly spectacular cricketers of Caribbean descent grace our cricket grounds. Those privileged enough to have observed the artistry, quality and skills of persons such as Colin Blades, Rupert Scotland and Lionel Thomas could be forgiven for yearning to reset their clock.

Blades combined an airtight defence with majestic cover-driving, Scotland enamoured spectators with his sweeping and cutting, and one Lionel Thomas drew adoration with his supreme wristwork off the pads.

The crème de la crème, these cricketers’ stroke play was worth the price of admission.

As a youth of only 17, I was fortunate to observe the latter at Wellington Oval in the 1977 Cup Match classic, when he produced one of the most scintillating and brilliant all-round displays that has ever graced this great match.

Lionel Thomas not only lit up the scoreboard with a superb 154 — his St George’s team were 21 for four when he arrived at the crease — but he also bowled 20-plus unchanged overs while taking seven for 61.

***

Name: Lionel Eustace Thomas.

Date of birth: February 19, 1946.

Start in cricket: I was so in love with cricket in my formative years. I would play cricket with marbles, or fruit, or with anything that resembled a ball. I would play with my brothers or my sisters. I grew up in St Kitts. At Basseterre Boys’ Elementary School, I had a headmaster, Mr Sutton, who had a way of motivating people. I had a great respect for Mr Sutton. I had this thing for fielding and would practise my fielding six days a week. I would go by the Warner Park and derive fun from just fielding out for the senior team, called Renown. One day, they were short and they asked Mr Sutton if I could miss part of the school day to participate in their match. He agreed, so there I was fielding at short mid-wicket. When the very first ball came to me, I was on it in a flash and flicked it in and ran someone out.

Length of cricket career: I started my cricket career at age 12 and retired in 1985, which happened to also be the culmination of my Cup Match career. I made my debut in the annual classic in 1971.

Role on the team: I was an all-rounder. I chose to bat at No 3, as no one else seemed to want to bat there.

Childhood memories with the game: My dad died when I was 10. Before this, he worked at a factory that had tennis courts, cricket nets, etc. I was fortunate to receive advice from a Mr Don Bennett of Middlesex CCC. He was typically British and would tell me to play in the “V” and to leave the cut and the hook alone.

Teams played for: At age 18, I played for St Kitts in the Leeward Islands tournament. Two years later, I played for the Leeward Islands in the prestigious Shell Shield tournament. In those days, such persons as Lester King, Jackie Hendricks and Rudy Cohen were playing in this tournament. When I moved to Bermuda, I played for Devonshire Rec, played for and captained the Bermuda Wanderers, represented the West Indies Residents XI, the St George’s Cup Match team and the Bermuda ICC Trophy team.

Nicknames: LT, Thommo, Thommy, and at the Rec, John Shaft.

Favourite local match you played in: One game that I’ve told people about that stands out is the inaugural Central Counties match that took place at the Nationals Sports Club. It was between Social Club and Devonshire Recreation Club. I was not feeling very well at the time and, in fact, told Michael Jacques when he came by to pick me up that I had flu-like symptoms. He simply told me that I had to play as the team needed me. I scored a hundred in that very first Central Counties match. Social Club had players such as Jackie Durham and Earl “Gabby” Hart in their line-up. The match ended in a draw because of rain and Social Club ended up holding on to the trophy.

Best international feat: During the aforementioned Shell Shield tournament, I had scores of 44 and 77 against Jamaica, 29 and seven versus Barbados, and 46 against the Windward Islands.

Favourite venue: That would have to be the Rec, as I had so much success there. However, anywhere, really, as I did score a hundred on every major ground in Bermuda, except at Police Field.

Favourite international player: That would be Sir Garfield Sobers, whom I saw in the Shell Shield. He was the most unselfish player that I ever played with. During one match that he skippered, the score was 482 for six, and he was on 97 and decided to declare.

No 1 supporter: Back in St Kitts, my older brother, Ernest Thomas, and my brother-in-law, Sinclair Phillip. Here at the Rec, I would say, the late McDonald “Bull” Swan and Charles Daulphin, who was like a big brother to me. He was extremely knowledgeable and a great conversationalist.

Pre-match routines: I liked to listen to a certain Stevie Wonder album, Songs in the Key of Life. At the Rec and at St George’s, I had a habit of sitting in particular places. If I came and found someone had put their gear in that spot, I would inch their things down a bit. I did certain exercises and enjoyed training by myself. For instance, I would go for a jog at quarter to five in the morning when the only people that I would see on the roads would be the police.

Most difficult opponent: Clarence Parfitt. We had our ups and downs, whereby one day I would be in the mire and the next, I might be on top of the hill. Some thought it was Shiraz Ali; however, I did get a hundred against him. While talking with Viv Richards, he spoke about hitting the ball back at a bowler so hard that they would alter their follow-through. I can remember trying to hit the ball back at Shiraz Ali.

Favourite dish while playing: I was a vegetable and fish man. I still enjoy fish very much.

Biggest regret in your career: I don’t believe in crying over spilt milk. (I reminded Lionel about the 1982 ICC Trophy team that was so brilliantly led by Colin Blades. That team finished runners-up to Zimbabwe and, unfortunately, back then, only one team advanced to the World Cup). I must admit that for three or four years I did follow the results of the Shell Shield and check on the progress of particular players. Some folks tell me about what might have been. However, it wasn’t meant to be, as I moved to Bermuda.

Any superstitions: I did sit in a particular spot in the changing rooms. However, I did bowl off of 13 paces, as that just felt comfortable.

Funniest thing you have seen in cricket: This transpired at the Police Field. “Red” Burrows was umpiring the game and both of the batsman ended up at the same end when a run-out occurred. As he was unsure which batsman was to be called out, he said they were both out.

Hobbies: Believe it or not, I am an avid follower of boxing and even dabbled in it a bit. I played a little social tennis with Charles (Daulphin) and a bit of golf. I also enjoyed running. However, that has turned into walking now (chuckle).

A key to your success: Dedication definitely, hard training and listening to people who had been there before.

Advice to today’s cricketer: Train as hard as you can, listen to people, read as much as you can. Realise that the world is at your fingertips. There are no excuses.

Motto I lived by: No hard work is easy. You are only as good as the last innings that you played. Anything could happen after that. Cricket is a great leveller. When you are on your high horse, it can bring you right down.

***

While concluding this interview, I informed Lionel that he commanded such huge respect in the changing room from all of his team-mates yet he didn’t have a lot to say. He left me with this gem: “You don’t need to make a lot of noise to impose yourself.”

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Published Jul 17, 2019 at 12:01 am (Updated Jul 17, 2019 at 10:08 pm)

Cup Match Legends: Lionel Thomas

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