Lynch grew up in Guyana before moving to England to play for Surrey, Gloucestershire and briefly the national team; he scored plenty of hundreds, went on a West Indies rebel tour to South Africa, enjoyed his career but encountered terrible racism
What was life like in Guyana?
I grew up on the west coast of Demerara in a village called Anna Catherina. My mother and father both left when I was six to go to England as part of Windrush. I grew up with her aunt, a wonderful lady called Clarice Charles, a seamstress. I had a happy time with her, three cousins, and my mother’s brother and sister in a small house (I built a house for her with my benefit money, in fact). We played cricket on a big field called Bracha Yard, with 60 or 70 kids at a time.
Unless you bowled somebody out or took a catch you wouldn’t get a bat. You had to run off every shot. I used to love watching Henry Harinandan, one of the best off-spinners in Guyana – known as Stirling Moss because of his driving skills! – play at the sugar estate ground. I jumped over the fence and still have a huge scar on my shin!
Was it a shock coming to England?
I came in November 1971. They sent me over in a pair of shorts, knee-high socks and a shirt. I had an air hostess looking after me. The door of the plane opened and cold air blew out of my mouth for the first time ever! I found out that my mother and father were not together. She was living in Exeter. I stayed with my father, and that was when I found out I had a brother and two sisters.
That wasn’t easy, so I moved to my father’s sister Stefanie Bruce in Walthamstow: she was a wonderful lady. She bought me my first bat. My mother gave up her studies in Exeter to be nearer me and she resented that. We have always had a turbulent relationship. She never wanted me to play cricket. I had to hide my kit. She did everything she could to stop me. She wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. She has only seen me play three times.
How did joining Surrey come about?
Walton-on-Thames CC’s Jimmy Cook, who played for Surrey 2nds, called Derek Newton, the Surrey chairman, to come and look at me when I played for Walton School. I didn’t make many runs but I ran somebody out from the boundary. Mick Verney and David Le Shirley of Surrey Young Cricketers also liked my off-spin.
The next big thing was a trial at The Oval. I had a big Afro, and at lunchtime the coach Arthur McIntyre (three Tests for England) kept throwing bread in my hair. It was annoying. A lovely tea lady called Florrie, as she gave me my pudding, told me not to get angry, though: “He likes you, he’s playing with you, you are going to get selected!”
They looked after me. We won the (under-19) Hilda Overy Trophy in Cambridge as we were very together as a side. There were some great cricketers there – Chris Cowdrey, Bill Athey, Graham Dilley. Surrey had Jonathan ‘Spiro’ Agnew, who is a lovely man. I was one of only two state-school boys. The other was Martin Steer, who was funny when we played at Charterhouse. His old man owned a greengrocers. “Alright geezer!” he’d shout. You could hear a pin drop. Eight of us got taken on at Surrey.
How were the early years at The Oval?
I learnt a lot from my skippers John Edrich and Geoff Howarth. Edrich is Edrich. A lot of people found him hard work but I liked him a lot. I learnt how to be relaxed from him. John would miss, miss, great shot, miss, miss – he was great at putting things out of his head. I never watched before I went out to bat. I got too nervous. I couldn’t handle it. I started lying down and people called me lazy. Essex were funny when I went out to bat. They said: “Don’t wake him up!” If I got past the first few overs I’d often get plenty against them – Nasser Hussain was talking about it on Sky the other day. Eastie (Ray East) at fine-leg would go ‘Shhhh!’ when I came in. They were a bunch of comedians: ‘Lager’ (Brian Hardie), (JK) Lever and (Alan) Lilley. I also learnt from Geoff. I have the greatest admiration for him: less movement, and about head position.
Surrey were dismissed by Essex for 14 at Chelmsford in 1983…
I got nought – one of the ‘magnificent seven’. There were six or seven overs left in the day and we were having drinks sitting in their huge plunge bath. We always had one or two nightwatchmen ready but suddenly there was mayhem. Coach Micky Stewart hollered: “Right, get out!” Clarkie (Sylvester) went out to bat without socks. David Thomas had soap in his ears. (Norbert Phillip took 6 for 4, Neil Foster 4 for 10). Essex had the most partisan supporters along with Kent and Warwickshire. They slaughtered us. We had ties with seven ducks on them but Micky was unamused and cut them all up. I was the only one who saved mine – it’s in Guyana! We saved the game, though!
You made 39 first-class hundreds, and seven List A – that’s impressive…
I don’t know. I don’t brag about it. My achievement is rising above my difficult start in life. A kid I was coaching came up to me and said: “You’re famous, you used to play for England!” Well… I was out there three times! Only one hundred stands out. In 1982/83 Clive Lloyd took me, Wilf Slack and Neil Williams to play for Guyana in the Shell Shield. I had all these bats and gloves of course playing county cricket, and everyone thought I was flash. I started badly and was close to being dropped, but no one wanted to bat No.3 against Barbados at the Kensington Oval, so I did.
I made 129 against an attack that included Malcolm Marshall (5 for 38) and Hartley Alleyne. It was the fastest one-day hundred recorded there. Tyrone Etwaroo broke his finger, Faoud Bacchus got hit on the ear. At one stage I had a problem with my bat and I had to use Clive’s. It had about 40 rubbers! But it made me stand up better, and after that I used a long handle. Viv Richards was vice-captain of West Indies and told me he wanted me on the tour to India in 1983/84, but Gus Logie got the nod: his batting record was a bit better and he was a great short-leg.
Did that play a part in you going on the West Indies rebel tour to South Africa in 1983/84?
I got peeved. England didn’t seem interested either, and I was told players like Roland Bucher and Chris and Robin Smith were ahead of me. I nearly didn’t go. Only two places in the area of Guyana where I lived had a phone – a bar and a gas station. They tried to ring me for a month. The barmaid told me “a man called Strongarm had been calling”. That was Gregory Armstrong! When I returned to England my aunt’s husband Aubrey Bruce was dying of cancer. He held my hand and begged me not to go: “You don’t know what South Africa is really like.” I thought long and hard, but went.
Some players told me it wasn’t as bad as we’d heard. It wasn’t all financial, I didn’t think I’d play international cricket. I came back a better player: the next three seasons in county cricket were my best. I learnt so much there from Alvin Kallicharran, the most complete player I’ve seen against pace and spin, and Lawrence Rowe, about where your head and feet should be. The quicks were mean! They’d come off 19 yards in the net. I threw my bat in anger one day and said: “We’re on the same team!” Colin Croft said he’d bowl the same if his grandmother was down there!
"Racist notes were slipped under my hotel door. My coffin was filled with orange juice and milk. Ex-players said they wished that they had done something to help me"
There were some hairy moments. I wouldn’t accept the title of ‘honorary white’. I was drinking in a white-only bar and that was a mistake as a big crowd gathered outside. Croftie had a rough time on one of the trains. A few of us went to a township: Derick Parry, Sylvester Clarke, Collis King. There was a dustcloud that looked like a cyclone on the horizon and we were s---ing ourselves, you could hardly see anything. We were led to this house, and crowds of people were singing and dancing. They’d seen us on telly, they wanted to touch us: they treated us like gods. We were worried but they said don’t be. It was very moving.
They cooked a meal for us which cost them a few months’ wages. I gave them £300. I think the tours showed that black people could compete against whites. There were mixed crowds. Black ANC politicians were criticising us in the papers and then drinking with us in the evening! Nelson Mandela had mixed views: he said it was the wrong time to go.
England did call you up for the 1988 Texaco Trophy series against West Indies…
People tell me that story about Mike Gatting mishearing “how about Lynch?” for “how about lunch?” I just laugh. I got picked on the back of one innings against Middlesex in the Benson & Hedges Cup at The Oval. We lost by one run, but I made 63 not out. Gussie (Angus Fraser) bowled a couple outside leg stump which I cowed over midwicket. He then went straighter and I went legside and whacked him over extra cover for six twice. That got me picked.
People talk about all these shots in one-day cricket now – we played those shots then! Look at Garry Sobers’ six sixes. Don’t give me that! [Alas Lynch scored 0, 2 and 6 against West Indies]. They were always going to run in a bit quicker against me! Ian Bishop took my stump out at Lord’s and Jeff Dujon had to duck and go looking for it! It was an experience!
At the end of the day I was one of 11 people who walked out for England that day. In the first match I was run out for 0, and Gatt was at the other end. I dived and just missed getting in. When I got back to the dressing room they said: “What are you doing, stupid?” But Gatt said it was not my fault which was nice. I liked the way he played, hard but fair. Him and (Clive) Radley batting together always amazed me, the way they pushed the ball around and rotated the strike. I learnt a lot from that for my coaching.
You were at Gloucestershire from 1995–97, how was that?
Jack Russell said they needed an older player to look after the youngsters: Mark Alleyne had just become captain, and there was Matt Windows, Tim Hancock, Kamran Sheeraz, and I was great mates with Bobby Dawson. Jack was a great bloke, and his fitness and dedication was unbelievable.
They encouraged me to change near him. He had this huge space, like a corner shop: tins of beans, Jaffa Cakes, hundreds of inners, that old hat. He came off the field, drank his tea and splurted it out: “How many times have I told them the teabag has to soak for 15 seconds?” No one knew where he lived, but I tried to follow him after we’d been to Lancashire. I thought ‘tonight is the night!’ He lost me, going around a roundabout outside Bristol three times then driving in my direction flashing his lights at me! I thought I’d got him.
Andrew Symonds and I didn’t see eye to eye. We couldn’t be in the same room. I was more laidback than him, and he was all rough and tumble. I got some balls signed by Australia later and he just looked at me with hate. Adam Gilchrist was great. “Do you remember playing for Walton and having me caught at long-off when I was playing for Richmond?” He remembers every ball – incredible.
Unfortunately you encountered racism in your career…
People keep asking why I haven’t said anything but it will be in a book I plan to bring out next summer. It will cause a stir. It will say it all. Sky asked me on with Ebony Rainford-Brent and Michael Holding, but I did not want to air my views nor reveal what happened to me on TV. [I am told off the record what fellow cricketers said and did – it is appalling].
Racist notes were slipped under my hotel door. My coffin was filled with orange juice and milk. Years later former players hugged me, and said that they wished they had done something to help me. There were lots of issues. At Headingley when I played the ODI three Yorkshiremen walked past and said: “We are going to give you black ----- a good ----ing hiding tomorrow.” We were often called ‘chocs’ and referred to as ‘you lot’.
How do you reflect on your career, and what are your hopes for the future?
On the whole I enjoyed it – I wouldn’t live it any different. I arrived here at 13. I was the only black kid in the school. I played for England. I was a young man who came from the other side. I think I did OK. Many criticise me for my womanising, but I just craved female company.
On the whole cricket was good to me. Surrey let me do rehab at The Oval after I had both hips replaced. I had family issues that caused mental-health problems, and the PCA paid for counselling. I am turning the corner gradually. I don’t know where I’d be today if it wasn’t for Pastor Sarwan Evangelista from the Church of Demerara. I attend his services on Zoom. I’m still fighting. I’m now hoping my partner can join me from Guyana. We’re not married but have been together 17 years. I go to the Caribbean to see her, but she can’t get a visa to come here.
How did you become director of coaching at London Schools?
I was a teacher for 11 wonderful years at RGS Guildford – thank you to the head, Tom Young – so I have plenty of coaching experience. I left as I felt I had to go back to Guyana to sort family problems out, and I was there for 11 years. I’ve been back in England for four. I was doing rehab at The Oval, catching the 185 bus from Catford as I have always done, when I met Peter Yates, who is a director of London Schools, and he got me involved, along with Phil DeFreitas (director of cricket), Mark Kenlock and Mark Frost (both ex-Surrey).
I don’t like nets so we do more practice in the middle: teaching players to back up and walk in with the bowler – it’s amazing how many don’t do that: the lack of cricket awareness among 14-year-olds. We are trying to open it up to more state schools and different clubs. Tom Harrison and the ECB help us with funding. It is pleasing that the ECB recognise London Schools’ existence and importance. Mike Selvey is president. It’s going well. I also want to set up a Monte Lynch cricket development academy in conjunction with a school or club, so I have plenty I still want to achieve in the game.