Peter Kavanagh was an Australian Columban colleague. He was of an earlier vintage having been ordained in 1944. In 1981, he was on a sabbatical study year in Ireland and Britain. During his stay in London in the summer, he resided at the Columban house.
On one occasion, as he walked along the narrow footpath on his way to the Hampstead underground station, the left hand side mirror of a passing car caught his right arm, dislocating his elbow joint and resulting in the driver of the car taking him to the accident and emergency department of the Royal Free Hospital. After examination, his elbow was put in a cast forcing him to wear a shoulder sling. Medical advice informed him that it would take some months to heal and he needed to attend the hospital clinic regularly. So his stay in London was prolonged.
Peter was a great conversationalist on a wide variety of subjects, as well as issues and events of the day, one of which was cricket. As luck would have it, the Australian cricket team was in England for the Ashes. As a fervent, knowledgeable, Australian cricket fan, he followed the state of play throughout the summer.
Although Australia had won the first test, its supremacy was short-lived and Peter was not terribly excited by the overall competence of the team, as it finally went down three tests to one, with two drawn in the six-match series. He was critical of the Aussie skill level and, in his opinion, the players lacked discipline. But, like all sports fans, he lived in hope of better results in the future.
He was despondent, disappointed and disgusted at the indiscipline and a lack of commitment with both bat and ball. He knew the intricacies of cricket, interpreting them for me as the game took its twists and turns. He was buoyant with Australia’s batting when it amassed 401 in the third test at Headingly, and then with its bowling, as it scuttled England for 174 and forced the follow on. With his pride and optimism temporarily restored, Peter laughed at the bookmakers that had an Australian win at 500 to one.
Alas, his pride was short lived, as Ian Botham plied the bat to flay 149 not out in a follow on score of 356 and Bob Willis took eight wickets in an Australian collapse to deliver England one of the most famous victories of all time. Peter was distraught, although what really angered him was reading in the newspapers the next day that some in the Australian camp had bet on England to win.
I had little knowledge of the game of cricket. In nationalist Ireland foreign games, amongst which we counted cricket, were banned. Playing an English game such as rugby, which I did, soccer or cricket was frowned on by the keepers of the new Ireland nationalist flame. Playing any of these games cast doubt over allegiance to the national flag. However, Peter’s presence in London in that 1981 summer gave me a scholarly introduction to cricket that I will always appreciate. Cricket had always seemed to be just a game played in England during the summer when there was little else to do.
It was only later that I realised the impact cricket has had on the former British colonies and the pride they take in any success in competing with the coloniser. It was not just a pastime. It had political implications, as outlined by Michael Manley, three times elected prime minister of Jamaica in 1972, 1976 and 1989. Competing with and defeating England generated national pride and self-esteem. The success of the West Indies team between the 1960s and 1980s generated enormous pride throughout the islands. Every youngster aspired to be a Holding, Richards, Lara or Warne.
After that summer, I seldom missed the cricket tests between England and the West Indies, as well as those with India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Later, I was assigned to work in Jamaica. It was then I began to understand the intensity of Peter’s interest in cricket. On only my second morning in Seaford Town, there was a knock on the rectory door. Answering it, I saw a young boy on his way to school. I greeted him, asking if there was anything I could do. With serious demeanour, he asked for a tennis ball so he and his friends could play cricket.
As I played tennis, there were usually old tennis balls in my bag. Getting one, I gave it to him. The delight on the child’s face on being the owner of an old tennis ball would have taken the pain from Peter Kavanagh’s elbow.
The centre point of Seaford Town is the Seaford Cricket Ground (SCG), not the only one with those initials, but equally important to the locals when the Seaford Town cricket team is playing Lamb’s River in the local championship.
At midday school break, groups of children set up makeshift wickets, usually old bean cans, and with makeshift bats, mostly cleaned and chopped coconut branches, bowl and bat with intensity. As I watch, I say to myself, this is where the Lawrence Rowes, Brian Laras, Courtney Walshes and Dennis Lillees of this world began their walks to stardom. Here, I really understood Peter Kavanagh’s love for the game of cricket.
Thank you Peter for elbowing me into a whole new life experience.
The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.
St Paul, Romans.
Columban Fr Bobby Gilmore lives and works in Ireland.
Listen to "Peter Kavanagh’s elbow"
- Read more from The Far East - November/December 2021