REMEMBERING NEVIS’ TOP GROUNDSMAN – “Never bet against a Groundsman”!

The name BONZO, was synonymous with the preparation of the Grove Park Cricket pitch for many years.

Born on 22nd January 1935, as Leonard Byron (according to his birth certificate), he was more known as Irvin Walters and Irvin Hanley.

BONZO indicated that he started his career as the ‘Doctor’ of the Grove Park pitch in 1989.

A job which he took seriously and carried out with a passion and vigour, unsurpassed until failing health forced him into retirement.

During his tenure, he prepared pitches for local cup matches, Leeward Islands matches and regional matches.

When the legendary Michael Holding came off that ominous long run from the pavilion end of Grove Park and cleaned bowled Luther Kelly (one of the finest opening batsmen that the world has known), with a ball that seemed invisible, such was the speed, ‘Bonzo’ prepared that pitch.

When Elquemedo Willet rocked Montserrat from a complacent position of 102 for 1 and bowled them out for 114, in a magical spell of 8 wickets for 2 runs, ‘Bonzo’ prepared that pitch!

Sometime prior to his death, BONZO, in an interview with Nevis Television Sports, indicated that when he prepared pitches, whatever work the batsmen or bowlers were prepared to put in, they would get the required results.

He recollected playing cricket for the Boys school team and later, for one of the leading clubs on Nevis, RIVALS.

That is where he started his craft as a groundsman.  Those days, there were no established groundsmen.  The cricketers had to prepare the pitches in preparation for their own matches and he learnt the craft and mastered it.

He indicated that he started as a pace bowler but one day, having come off his long run, a batsman gave him a magnificent straight drive and he said that he was so aggrieved that he decided then and there that it was not worth it to be a pace bowler and eventually became a left-arm orthodox spin bowler.

He felt that he would have represented Nevis in a big way, had it not been for a falling out between himself and that champion of Nevis Cricket and influential captain, John E. Howell.  He said Howell referred to him as ‘rude”.

It must be noted that ‘Bonzo’ in his heyday at Grove Park, was never at a loss for words and when he was really on a roll, many of those words would not qualify for the print.

He did, however, represent Nevis in one particular match versus some visiting sailors.  He said that he was nervous and when he went down to bat, he was sent lbw for nought!

He later stopped playing the game and concentrated on preparing the pitch at Grove Park, until it became a full-time job in 1989, compliments of the Government of the day.

“Bonzo” laughingly had fond memories of a particular match when Nevis was playing against St.Kitts.

Now those matches were always intense.  Nevis according to him had set St.Kitts a target of 171 or so. St.Kitts had closed the penultimate day on 118 for 4.

‘Bonzo’ said that one Kittitian supporter bet him that St.Kitts would win the game on the final day.

‘Bonzo’ said that he took the bet.  “He musta forget that I was the groundsman,” he laughed.

He said that that night when everyone else was asleep, he visited the pitch at Grove Park, measured out a good length for the batsman at one of the ends of the pitch and seriously wet a spot.

The umpires showed some concern with the spot the following morning, but after some work by the same ‘Bonzo’ they called play.

“Bonzo’ said that he told Nevis’ fast bowling ace then, Lipton “Big Bird” Griffin:  “Don’t drop the ball in the spot, ‘cause it will slow up; drop it just on the outside of the spot”.

Apparently, ‘Big Bird’ and his colleagues rattled the Kittitians with their pace and fire on that day, with Laplace even taking a snorter in his throat.

Nevis eventually won the match.

“Never bet against a groundsman”! Bonzo said with a wide grin on his face.

During his retirement years, in the year 2011, then Nevis Cricket Association President, Ronald Powell and his association, recognized the contributions of the then ailing ‘Doctor of the Grove Park pitch.’

Collecting two large bags of groceries on his Dad’s behalf, was one of his sons, McKenzie Walters, who thanked the NCA for the fine gesture and wished the Association every success in their future endeavours.

Powell in his presentation noted that the NCA was happy for the contributions made towards the development of Cricket on Nevis by the well-known and respected groundsman.

He further noted that the presentation had been approved by the then Minister of Sports, the Hon Hensley Daniel, who was unable to make the presentation, due to other engagements.

Powell later ensured that one of the Cricket leagues hosted by his association was named ‘the Bonzo 10/10 league.

The dedicated soldier passed away at the Alexandra Hospital, on Saturday 27th February 2016, at the age of 81 years.

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