Published: 17th October, 2020
October is Black History Month, an annual celebration of the achievements and contribution of black people to society.
Surrey County Cricket Club are this month honouring the achievements of some of the finest Black players during the club’s 175 years.
Richard Spiller profiles five of the best with more to follow later this month.
The young boy who played on the outfield at the Kia Oval became one of Surrey and England’s finest top-order batsmen at the turn of the 21st century. While dad Alan was playing for the county – he later became the head coach – Mark and younger brother Gary would be dashing around and dreaming of being the men in the middle.
Mark’s Test career occupied 71 matches, his eight centuries highlighted by a sublime 173no in which he despatched a mighty Australian attack around Headingley in 2001 to claim an unlikely win for England and prevent an Ashes whitewash. More success might have come but for a wrist injury and it was a chronic knee complaint which terminated his first-class career in 2009 at 37, with 17,780 runs in the bank.
Happily Butcher was not finished with cricket and although music is a major part of his life, he has established a reputation as an outstanding commentator on both television and radio.
For a decade, between 1979-89, county batsmen feared coming to The Oval. Sylvester Clarke was as brutal with a ball in hand as he was amiable when he came off the field.
Limited to 11 Tests for West Indies by having to compete with a succession of greats and then joining the rebel tour to South Africa, Clarke instead devoted to making life misery for domestic batsmen with a combination of fierce pace and alarming lift. Many of the 591 first-class wickets he took for Surrey – out of 942 overall – were matched by bruised and broken bones. Sadly he had little time to look back on his career, dying when he was just 44 in December 1999.
“Batsmen genuinely feared him,” remembers friend and team-mate Monte Lynch. “Even Viv Richards took no liberties.”
Alex Tudor remembers seeing Clarke in action well after his retirement from a chronic knee injury: “He was in an over-35 game in Barbados and bowling in plimsolls but Graham Gooch had all the gear on and he was still playing county cricket. It gave you an idea of what he must have been like in his pomp.”
They do not come much more homemade than Sophia Dunkley, who was born in Lambeth and has played a dozen T20 internationals for England so far at just 22. Dunkley’s enterprising runscoring and leg-spinners made her a valuable figure for Surrey Stars in the Kia Super League, advertising her credentials for international selection.
And growing prominence saw her become one of England’s first 24 professional women’s domestic players, joining the South East Stars in the elite competition when they were able get underway in the Covid-affected summer of 2020. There should be so much more to come for Dunkley in the coming seasons.
Encouraging young black players to take up and excel at cricket remains a passion for Lonsdale Skinner. His own first-class career, which ran from 1971-77, included earning a county cap in 1975 – the first black player to be capped by Surrey – when he had taken over behind the stumps from Arnold Long. Skinner’s freeflowing batting, which some felt was affected by keeping duties, made him particularly popular with spectators. Born in Plaisance in what was then British Guiana – which later became Guyana, for whom he played in the Shell Shield over four seasons – he later lost his place to the emerging Jack Richards.
Skinner’s involvement in the game continued, which included playing for Spencer in the Surrey Championship, and he is now chairman of the African Caribbean Cricket Association, determined to encourage players within the community to play and support cricket at all levels of the game.
Tall and quick, Alex Tudor shook a mighty Australian batting line-up on his Test debut in Perth in 1998, his first three victims the Waugh twins and Ricky Ponting.
England were thrashed in three days but a new fast bowling star appeared to be ready to take international cricket by storm. As so often happens, living up to such a glorious start proved tough but Tudor is intensely proud of a career which included 10 Tests – including a matchwinning unbeaten 99 against New Zealand – plus three one-day internationals and a part in winning three County Championship titles for Surrey inside four seasons.
“Unfortunately I was prone to injuries – I seemed to start most seasons okay and then struggle when we got to midway,” he reflects now. “But I look back very happily, particularly to having had some wonderful colleagues alongside me.”
Tudor’s older brother Ray had spent a year on the Surrey staff in 1991 but could not play a match through a serious back injury, while his father Darrell would be watching whenever he could, once he had finished security duties at The Oval. Darrell and his wife Jennifer have since returned to their native Barbados, having brought up their boys from their home in Earlsfield.
Alex enjoyed a spell at Essex before returning to Surrey to play out his county career and is now heavily involved in coaching, working at Kimbolton School in Cambridgeshire, where he relishes encouraging pupils to play every sport they can.