If anyone ever gets around to writing the history of cricket in the Cayman Islands, one person sure to figure significantly has be Jimmy Powell, aka the Godfather of Cayman cricket.
His contribution to its development cannot be underestimated. So it was fitting that in May the new stadium built in West Bay which was officially opened by the outgoing PPM government, was named the Jimmy Powell Oval.
Years of hard work by Powell had gone into the building that initially started way back in 1996. It was not intended to be named after him but he put so much sweat and his own finances into its realisation that when it came to naming it there was only one real candidate.
A carpenter by trade, Powell formed his own building company in 1978 and employed around 40 Caymanians. He built many condos along West Best Road, working for Brian Butler for 25 years.
‘I had no intention of them building the stadium in my honour I just wanted them to build a cricket field for the people of the Cayman Islands,’ says Powell.
‘After Mr McKeeva (West Bay’s MLA) found out I did so much work for cricket – especially on that field because when the government started they didn’t have any money – he said it should be named after me.
‘Rolin Ebanks lent us the equipment and I used to pay for the drivers and the fuel and when McKeeva got the money from the government I just showed him all the receipts and he gave me all the money.’
Despite the honour, Powell is not totally happy with the stadium and hopes that future improvements will be made.
‘I wanted to see a really professional ground but it’s not one yet. They need to fix the outfield properly, build another pavilion and add lights. The most important thing is to have lights around the field.’
But what about the expense of adding and maintaining lights? ‘It’s more expensive to put people in jail. Keep them active, keep their minds occupied that they won’t get into idleness. We want them to be able to come out there at night and have fun instead of hanging around nightclubs.’
He wants to see a pool table there and dominoes played but there is no space in the building for that.
‘There is still a possibility that it could be made into an international standard field. All the Test players who have played there say it is the best pitch they’ve played on.
‘People like Joel Garner and a couple of Jamaicans whose names I can’t remember. They like it because it’s hard and it’s true.’
When the stadium was officially opened four months ago, players from the past and present, plus women players turned out for a fun time.
‘That was a good day, watching the people having a great time there and seeing all the people I used to play with coming back to play,’ smiles Powell. ‘It was nice seeing that people couldn’t play as good as me anymore!
‘Going under the guard of honour was the best. Seeing the way cricketers honoured me, that made me feel good.’
Powell started playing seriously in West Bay from the age of 10. He was obsessed with cricket, improving his game by watching Test players and reading books constantly.
A brilliant all-rounder, he captained West Bay for many years, winning the league several times. One year they won absolutely every competition they went for.
Two centuries were scored in a glittering career along with many 80s and 90s. He was Cricketer of the Year in 1954 and 1974 and the Sports Person of the Year in 1994. He dabbled in football but cricket remained his abiding passion. Even today, he still turns out for West Bay occasionally.
‘Clive Glidden, who was my good friend, encouraged me to play. Arthur Ebanks helped me too.
‘According to the records, I scored the first century in Cayman, in 1968. Maybe somebody scored a century before but it was not recorded.’
Powell, 69, can boast that he clean bowled a lot of Test players, including Jeffrey Dujon, Robert Samuels, Freddie Trueman and Frank Hayes.
Powell claims his bowling is one ‘that nobody can play!’ He does not like defining it because it is ‘totally unique’.
He adds: ‘It’s medium pace that swings about in the air. The captain of the MCC team, six years ago, when the match finished he gave me a neck-tie and said: ‘That was the first time I ever saw a ball that went in three different directions!”
Two matches that stand out in Powell’s memory were when he captained Cayman against the mighty Melbourne Cricket Club and also against a Rest of the World side, taking plenty of wickets in both.
Consensus is that Powell was one of the first batsmen ever to play the reverse sweep shot, way back in 1965. It was against a Byron Lee team and a fielder standing too close refused to move despite Powell repeatedly asking him to. ‘So I played the reverse sweep and hit him right in the chest! That’s when he got the message.’
Still an active businessman, Powell’s cabinet making company Cayman Active Cabinets keeps him busy. The construction company seized trading four years ago because he could no longer compete with other firms who were paying miniscule wages to their workers.
‘I had Caymanians working and paying them a lot of money. Rather than hire a crew of non-Caymanians I stopped working completely.
‘Nobody could work like my men. We were putting up buildings twice as fast as others. My workers were getting a share of the profits, that’s why they were so fast. It was like they were working for themselves and not for me.’
A father of two girls and seven grandchildren, the only building work he does now is for his family. Three grandchildren live with him in West Bay and the others live in East End.
Leisure time is spent reading and watching boxing, tennis and cricket. Boxing is probably his second favourite sport and he’s been to Vegas 49 times, often to see world title fights.
A philanthropist, he also helps needy people financially and with building work.
Of course, the state of the West Indies set-up is a great concern. ‘If I could, I would fire every one of the West Indies board members, to begin with. The cricket is in a mess so why continue with people who put it in that position?
‘It’s not going to improve with those people. With the players, I would try to get a good relationship with them and try to get their confidence back. They would be treated fairly and I’d help them make a lot of money.
‘They make good money now but not for playing for the West Indies. They go and play in the Indian Premier League or in Australia or England. They made a lot of money in the 20/20 but Stanford is not here anymore.
‘Trinidad and Tobago is talking about going it alone but I don’t think that’s a good idea because when they are combined they cannot make a successful team then they won’t be able to do it by themselves.
‘It’s impossible for Trinidad to play Test cricket successfully.’