Roger Blades (1963-2022): best remembered for electric Cup Match moment in Somerset
The cricket fraternities in Barbados and Bermuda are mourning the death of a third much loved player in short order, with the recent passing of Roger Blades.
The former Police fast-medium pace bowler and lower-order batsman, who represented Somerset in Cup Match and Bermuda internationally in the ICC Trophy and the regional Red Stripe Bowl, was 58.
Blades, like Tyrone Smith, who also recently passed, was a policeman in Bermuda. George Rock, a former fast bowler from Barbados, who was also Bermuda coach at senior and youth levels, died last month at the age of 85.
Blades served on the Bermuda Police Service during the 1990s before resigning and returning to Barbados. He died at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados after a short illness.
Blades played for St Catherine Club in the Barbados Cricket Association first division, making his top-flight debut for the club in 1982. He was a regular member of the team until 1989 when he moved to Bermuda to become a policeman.
It was here that he renewed a friendship with Freston Hurdle, another Police player, who was a good friend since their teen years back in Barbados.
“We started as young boys, though he was two years older than me, when I was 17 and playing for Spartan and he was playing for St Catherine back in Barbados, ” Hurdle remembers.
“After he came here we hooked back up and opened the bowling for Police and had a good partnership together. After leaving Bermuda to go back to Barbados, I used to go to see him every year but since Covid I have only been back to Barbados on two occasions — last November and the previous year in November — but I never got to see him.
“I was saddened that I hadn’t seen him in those two years of Covid and only found out he was really suffering with his sickness.”
February has been a difficult month for Hurdle who mourned the passing of friend Daemon Bell, a corrections officer, as well as other former Barbadian cricketers Smith and Rock.
“Everybody is asking me ‘how can you do it’ because I just buried three other friends,” he said. “Fast bowlers are a clan and cricketers are always dear friends!
“Roger was one of the guys who organised the Barbados-Bermuda WhatsApp chat and then I didn’t see him on that for a while. I took it for granted but wish I had reached out before.”
Blades played for Somerset in Cup Match for three years, making his debut in 1994 under captain Dexter Basden and playing again in 1995 and 1996. He had a top score of 58 in the second innings on his debut, batting at No 9.
In the 1996 match, which saw Somerset claim a first victory since 1982, he took two for 56 from 14 overs in the first innings and then had figures of 21 overs, eight maidens, 39 runs, one wicket in the St George’s second innings as spinner Hasan Durham claimed seven for 71.
Somerset reached their winning target of 253 for the loss of seven wickets in the final over of the match after Blades contributed a valuable 24 batting at No 7.
Blades had a devastating opening spell in the first innings, sending opening batsmen Glenn Blakeney and Eugene Foggo to hospital with head injuries inside the first hour. Basden remembers how devastating Blades was with the new ball that first day.
“That’s when he was real fast,” Basden said. “I recall him striking Glenn and then striking ‘Calabash’. It was back-to-back, and by the time the ambulance was leaving the gate, they had to turn around and get ‘Calabash’.
“He did whatever job was required. I was so thankful he was a part of the team because he was one of the fastest bowlers in the island back then. And a good, hard-hitting batsman coming in at the tail!
“He was a nice guy, very quiet and just did what was needed. Prior to his passing was Tyrone Smith, I played with his son Ryane Shepherd at Willow Cuts. Tyrone represented us in the Western Counties.”
Blades and Basden were also Bermuda team-mates in the Red Stripe Bowl the next year in Jamaica under captain Arnold Manders.
Charlie Marshall, the former Bermuda captain who was a team-mate of Blades in the Red Stripe competition, was saddened to learn of his passing while attending the funeral of another Barbados cricketer, Tyrone Smith in Somerset recently.
“That certainly was a blow for me, when I heard about it at Tyrone’s funeral at Royal Naval Field,” he said.
“Bladesy was mentally tough, had a hunger to perform as a bowler and I enjoyed playing against him.
“He handled the pressure really well, especially when he was playing for Bermuda. He was able to bat under difficult circumstances when Bermuda was in trouble and was a great fielder.
“During his time playing with Bermuda, I felt his game improved every day. He was a great cricketer who accepted challenges every time he walked on to the field. He was very passionate about the game.”
Marshall remembers trying to get Blades to try out for the St George’s Cup Match team soon after he arrived in Bermuda, but by then he had already committed to Somerset.
The all-rounder made his mark in local cricket, turning out for the Police team at a time when they were a force.
Playing for Bermuda in the 1996 Red Stripe Bowl in Guyana, he claimed his best figures of four for 30 against Windward Islands at Enmore before Bermuda suffered a heartbreaking loss by two runs. He also played in the 1997 ICC Trophy in Malaysia.
Arnold Manders captained the 1997 Bermuda Red Stripe Bowl team in Jamaica which contained Blades. “I really admired him, he was a genuine all-rounder,” said Manders, now the president of the Bermuda Cricket Board.
“He was quiet but explosive with the bat and the ball, a pretty decent fielder and a good guy who was aggressive when he was on the field. When he was batting he was aggressive, too. I remember that Cup Match when he made fifty off 16 or 17 balls at Somerset.
“His pace was deceptive because he came from not too long of a run and was pretty quick from out of his hand to the bat, I can tell you that.
Former Bermuda team-mate Dexter Smith, now Editor of The Royal Gazette, said: “What stood out for me was Roger’s evenness of temperament. You knew not that he had won or lost. There was just no ego in the man, which is so refreshing when you reflect on so much of the showmanship seen in our society today.
“My heart goes out to our Barbadian cricket friends and the cricket community at large. When you factor in also the loss of Tyrone Smith and the venerable George Rock, this is truly a sombre period.”