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George Rock (1936-2022): a coach for the generations

George Rock was responsible for the early development of some legends of Bermuda cricket (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The local cricket community is mourning the loss of former Bailey’s Bay player and Bermuda coach with the recent passing of George Rock at the age of 85.

Rock, who hailed from Barbados, came to Bermuda in the 1970s and had stints as Bermuda coach at senior and youth level.

A fast bowler during his playing days, Rock will long have the distinction of being the oldest player to make his debut in the Eastern Counties Cup, turning out for champions Bailey’s Bay in 1980 at the age of 44.

On that debut, Rock claimed four for 20 from 12 overs as St David’s were restricted to 142 for nine in reply to the 233 posted by Bay.

In the next match, Rock took three for 29 from 13.4 overs against Cleveland. He had another four-wicket haul against St David’s in 1982, taking four for 33 from 11.3 overs.

In his final bowling spell in the counties, in August 1983, Rock had his best figures of five for 18 from nine overs with five maidens against Flatts. He did not bowl in his final counties match, against St David’s in September 1984, but did turn it on with the bat, amassing his highest score of 81 not out in a total of 395 — at age 48!

Rock finished with 22 wickets from 73.1 overs in his four years in the Eastern Counties.

He was also coaching the Bailey’s Bay team at the time and influenced the early careers of players such as Noel Gibbons, Charlie Marshall, Ricky Hill, Stan Smith, Terry Burgess and Clevie Wade.

“He did a lot for Bailey’s Bay in the cricket department,” said Gibbons, who was one of the leading players of his generation after making his Cup Match debut for St George’s at just 16 in 1971.

“He brought some good players through and when he passed I did call my friend Desmond Haynes in Barbados. He was a big part of Dessie’s cricket life, too.”

Haynes went on to become a stalwart as an opening batsman in a world-conquering West Indies team under captain Clive Lloyd. He played 116 Test matches and 238 one-day internationals. He is now the recently appointed head selector for Cricket West Indies.

Rock might have played for West Indies, too, but came along in the 1960s during a time when fellow Barbadians Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith, both a year or two younger, were establishing themselves with the new ball.

Rock moved to Bermuda where he played for and coached the Bailey’s Bay team. “He was the kingpin behind a lot of us who went on and played for Bermuda and played in Cup Match,” Gibbons said. “I remember him as the coach of a [Bermuda] youth team that went to Canada.

“I can definitely say I owe my cricket career highly to him. Talking to ‘Dessie’ the other day, he said ‘Rocky’ was his mentor coming up in Barbados cricket.”

Gibbons was also saddened to learn of the passing of another Barbadian cricketer, Tyrone Smith, whose funeral was at the Warren Simmons Community Field on Saturday. “My sympathies go out to Tyrone’s family, he was my roommate when the Bermuda squad went on tours,” Gibbons said.

“That was my good buddy. When we became roommates, we got even closer as friends. One of my best mates!”

Allen Richardson, of St David’s, was bowled by the first ball he faced from Rock in the 1980 Eastern Counties match.

“Bailey’s Bay kept us on the field until 4pm and the very first ball I faced, I took him for granted,” said Richardson, who was surprised by Rock’s pace.

“I can only imagine how quick he was in his heyday. I couldn’t get off the field quick enough! I don’t remember facing him other than in that county game.

“One thing I remember about him is even when he stopped coaching, he always gave me advice when he saw me. I really took a liking to him.

“It goes to show that even after he stopped coaching, he still watched cricket. He played a huge part in developing youngsters at the time.”

Colin Blades, another Barbadian-born cricketer who relocated to Bermuda in the 1970s, remembers playing with and against Rock in Barbados in the 1960s.

“As players when I was a schoolboy he was pretty fit and pretty fast,” Blades said. “He was always an outstanding bowler; in fact, I kept wickets to him one year in Trinidad, 1969-70.

“He was also a reasonably good batsman. We played against one another when I was a schoolboy, then we both played for Barbados in the late 1960s, early Seventies.”

Steven Douglas, the president of the Eastern Counties Cricket Association, recalls Rock making his county debut well into his forties. He served as national coach when Alma “Champ” Hunt was president of the Bermuda Cricket Board of Control.

“He did a lot for domestic cricket as the national coach, but I also remember him doing a lot at Bailey’s Bay,” Douglas said.

“A good friend of his, William Bourne, a former Barbados national coach, reached out to me a year ago looking to see if Mr Rock was still around. When he passed I let him know that Mr Rock has passed, and he said he would pass it on in Barbados.

“From the Eastern Counties fraternity, we offer our condolences to his family on his passing.”

The last remnants of Rock’s coaching imprint on Bermuda could be found in the team that travelled to the Netherlands for the International Youth Tournament in 1995. Graduates of that group include several who have gone on to make considerable contributions to Bermudian society as adults, including Sammy Robinson (Department of Corrections), Kwame Tucker (printing), Kameron Fox (senior football coach), Desmond Crockwell (community leader), Maurice Lowe (Bermuda Football Association technical development director) and Dennis Zuill, a youth football coach now based in England, who memorialised Rock in a moving Facebook post.

But perhaps the greatest respect that can be paid to a man who touched many Bermudian hearts and minds over several generations comes from arguably the greatest of them all — Sir Garfield Sobers.

In his autobiography, Twenty Years at the Top, Sobers describes Rock with a simplistic reverence as “the engaging George Rock, one of cricket’s characters”.

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Published February 23, 2022 at 7:52 am (Updated February 23, 2022 at 7:52 am)

George Rock (1936-2022): a coach for the generations

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