Remembering Thelston Payne – “I will die playing for St. Catherine”

“From the time I went there, I was welcomed with open arms. The camaraderie is good and the people up there are very friendly.”

“They look after me in a lot of ways and I just enjoy playing there. I have had many offers from a long time ago to join other clubs, but I have stuck with St. Catherine. I will die playing for St. Catherine.”

By Keith Holder

Bridgetown, Barbados, May 16 – (www.barbadoscricket.org) – Commitment and loyalty to club and country marked the cricketing career of Thelston Rodney O’Neale Payne.

Payne, a former St. Catherine, Barbados and West Indies wicketkeeper/batsman, died on Wednesday, May 10 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital after a lengthy ailment. He was 66.

For over three decades in the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) top division, he had an illustrious career with both bat and gloves for St. Catherine, the Bayfield-based, St. Philip club, which he also captained and later coached.

Payne’s dominance is underlined by the fact that in the First (rebranded Elite in 2012) division Championship, he amassed more than 12 000 runs with 18 centuries, and also excelled with the gloves in just over 300 matches (See statistics later in the story).

The affable Payne worked as a cricket coach at the National Sports Council (NSC) for 33 years and had the honour of serving as a senior Barbados selector as well.

Born February 13, 1957 at Foul Bay, St. Philip, left-hander Payne played 68 first-class matches. He scored 3 391 runs (Ave: 36.85) including six centuries and 25 half-centuries after making his debut as an opener against Jamaica at Sabina Park in the 1979 Shell Shield Championship, top-scoring with 97. The Barbados captain was Lawrence Maxwell. Payne took 103 catches and had eight stumpings.

Of those statistics, Payne played 49 matches for Barbados, scoring 2 862 runs (Ave: 41.47) with six centuries and 21 half-centuries.

His highest score was 140, batting at No. 3, against the Viv Richards (now Sir Vivian)-led Combined Islands at Kensington Oval in 1980 when Barbados, captained by Albert Padmore, triumphed by an innings and 19 runs to become the first team to win all of their matches in a season.

Replying to a total of 257, Barbados amassed 555. Emmerson Trotman slammed an unbeaten 158. The Combined Islands attack included the great Andy Roberts (now Sir Andy), fellow fast bowler Winston Davis and off-spinner Derick Parry.

In the 1983 Championship, Payne scored 517 runs (Ave: 73.85) including three centuries in successive matches – 123 versus Jamaica at Sabina Park; 107 versus Guyana at Kensington Oval and 107 not out versus Windward Islands at Arnos Vale, St. Vincent.

Payne played in five Barbados champion teams – 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1986.

At the international level, he turned out in only one Test match against England at Queen’s Park Oval, Trinidad in 1986, scoring five and taking five catches, having been drafted in for the established wicketkeeper/batsman Jeffrey Dujon, who had sustained a finger injury.

Payne played in seven One-Day Internationals, scoring 126 runs (Ave: 31.50) with a solitary half-century of 60 against Australia at Sydney in 1987.

In 38 List A matches, he scored 795 runs (Ave: 29.44) including 100 not out against the Windward Islands at Kensington Oval in 1986.

It is no secret that Payne should have played more Test and ODI matches.

My first knowledge of Payne’s gift as a batsman came in the 1970s from three of my schoolmates at Foundation – all from St. Philip – Joseph “Judge” Coppin, Willatt Barrow and Adrian “Injun” Greenidge.

We were then playing in the BCA Ronald Tree Cup Under-15 Tournament and they all talked quite a lot, especially Greenidge, about Payne, nicknamed “Carew”, who represented Princess Margaret.

In fact, Coppin, Barrow and Greenidge attended the same Primary school as Payne – St. Martin’s Boys’ (now St. Martin’s Mangrove).

A couple years later in 1976, Foundation encountered Payne when he played for St. Catherine, skippered by the inspirational Trevor Clarke, in an Intermediate division match at Bayfield. I was the Foundation captain and Coppin, Barrow and Greenidge all played in the match, which St. Catherine won.

I vividly recall the rivalry, which Coppin in particular enjoyed. He took six wickets in the first innings including a hat-trick with all three of his victims – Stephen Lorde (like Payne, a former Princess Margaret and Barbados Under-19 team player, who later represented YMPC in the First division), Lawrence Mapp (who soon joined Wanderers) and Tyrone “Borde” Brathwaite (now deceased) – edging outswingers to be caught at the wicket by yours truly. Coppin also later removed Payne, caught behind as well, off an inside edge. And he accounted for Payne again in the second innings.

Truth is, St. Catherine were a wonderful team and after dominating in the Intermediate division, promotion to the First division in 1978, still under the captaincy of Clarke, who died last year, was inevitable and most deserving.

Playing at Bayfield felt somewhat different when compared with other venues, as their diehard supporters made their presence felt. And lest we forget, St. Catherine had its genesis in the grassroots Barbados Cricket League.

Payne made his First division debut with St. Catherine’s elevation 45 years ago and he remained with the clannish “country” club through thick and thin until his death. He loved St. Catherine and was adored by club-mates, members, fans and others.

Significantly in 1978, St. Catherine won the BCA one-day title (Barbados Fire Cup Knockout as it was then called), beating Banks by three wickets in the Final at Kensington with Payne hitting the match top-score of 45 to earn the Man-Of-The-Match award.

Three years later, St. Catherine captured the Division 1 Championship, sharing it with Carlton (44 points). St. Catherine also won the title in 1997, 2008 and 2016, while they have been one-day Cup champions three times – 1978, 1992 and 1996.

In the very last round of the 1981 First division competition, Carlton beat Banks by ten wickets at The Brewery and St. Catherine defeated YMPC by four wickets at Beckles Road.

But it was not a straightforward victory as St. Catherine, chasing 184, slumped to 98 for six before Payne (60 not out) and Elbert Proverbs (42 not out) carried them home. Payne scored 56 in the first innings. Proverbs, better known for his off-spin bowling, was also a schoolmate of Payne at Princess Margaret. He played for the Barbados Under-19  and senior teams as well, albeit just a single first-class match and one List A game.

Scores: YMPC 205 and 237-8 declared. St. Catherine 259-7 declared and 184-6.

It was a match in which well-known calypsonian and now Cultural ambassador, The Most Honourable Stedson Wiltshire, nicknamed Red Plastic Bag, made an impact for St. Catherine as an opening batsman. He scored a career-best 93 with “crisp drives” in the first innings, and four, and had a somewhat unique record of being run out in both innings.

There was a memorable front-page photo in the Sunday Sun newspaper the following day with Payne being lifted off the field by exuberant supporters.

In that 1981 season, Payne amassed 506 runs and scored the only century for St. Catherine – a brilliant, match-saving 102 not out against Pickwick at Kensington Oval. Scores: Pickwick 260. St. Catherine 67 and 177 for seven.

The members of the 1981 St. Catherine Division 1 team were: Trevor Clarke (captain), Henderson Jackman, Stedson “RPB” Wiltshire, Thelston Payne, Delbert Griffith, Luther Wiltshire (Stedson’s brother), Neville Mason, Winfield Brathwaite, Elbert Proverbs, Anthony Brathwaite, Victor “Percy” Brathwaite, Argyle Inniss, Henderson Sargeant, Sylvan Stoute, Roy Alleyne (not the former BCL and Spartan batsman), George Browne and Mike Barrow.

After leaving Princess Margaret in the mid-1970s, Payne played club cricket for St. Catherine only and maintained that attachment as their coach for several years until a couple seasons ago.

In 302 top division matches, Payne amassed 12 307 runs including 18 centuries and averaged in the mid-30s. He also boasted of more than 400 victims as a wicketkeeper.

No batsman has scored more runs than Payne in the last four-and-a-half decades, and only Floyd Reifer, the former Combined Schools, Schools North, BET (Cable & Wireless) and UWI batsman, with 24, has more centuries in the island’s premier domestic competition. Reifer is a former Barbados and West Indies player, who captained the regional team as well.

Payne’s highest score was 203 not out against Banks at Bayfield in 1988 (Series 4). He was the only batsman that season to score two centuries, having made 154 not out off Police at Weymouth in the second round.

Of his 18 centuries, four were against Pickwick, two each against BCL, Banks, Police and Spartan and one each off Carlton, Combined Schools, Maple, Schools North, Empire and C&W BET.

In the decade of the 1980s, he made 4621 runs (Ave: 36.67) with 11 centuries. Apart from 1981, he scored over 500 runs on three other occasions in the 1980s – 726 (Ave: 42.70), 1982; 531 (Ave: 44.25), 1985; and 610 (Ave: 50.83), 1988.

He achieved the 500-run mark five times in the 1990s – 536 (Ave: 29.77), 1990; 717 (Ave: 51.21), 1993; 501 (Ave: 33.40), 1994; 552 (Ave: 30.66), 1995; and 796 (Ave: 53.06), 1996 – when he piled up 4 710 runs (Ave: 34.13) including six hundreds and had 222 victims behind the stumps, of which 212 were catches.

His last Division 1 century was an unbeaten 102 off 125 balls with 16 boundaries, batting at No. 7 in a second innings total of 278 for nine declared against Spartan at Queen’s Park in a drawn match in the opening round of the 2000 season.

It took his aggregate to 10 384 runs (Ave: 34.72) in 238 matches, and was his first hundred since 1996 when he hit 149 against BET at Bayfield in the 11th series.

Then aged 43, he said he would still like to be in his “whites” at 60.

As it turned out, Payne last played a top division match at the age of 58 against Wanderers at Bayfield in 2015. St. Catherine won by eight wickets.

“Personally, I am in love with the game and to tell the truth, as long as the Lord gives me strength, wisdom and courage, I will continue playing for as long as I possibly can,” he told me in an in-depth interview at his Foul Bay home following his ton in 2000.

The story was carried in the Barbados Advocate with the headline: Payne pushes on – Veteran St. Catherine batsman now boasts 18 centuries.

“As long as my eyesight and knees hold up, I think I can play until I reach 60. And now that I understand pitches will be covered from next year, I will play a little longer. I am in fairly good condition. I feel physically fit and I will try to see if I can continue to get as many runs as I possibly can.”

Payne vowed to go to his grave “a St. Catherine man”.

“From the time I went there, I was welcomed with open arms. The camaraderie is good and the people up there are very friendly,” he said in a unique ‘Philipine” accent.

“They look after me in a lot of ways and I just enjoy playing there. I have had many offers from a long time ago to join other clubs, but I have stuck with St. Catherine. I will die playing for St. Catherine.”

Asked which of the 18 hundreds he rated as the best, Payne paused for a few minutes.

“Those are a lot of centuries. This one (against Spartan) is fresh in my memory. I thought it was pretty cool. The pitch was good and I told myself the plan was to bat virtually all day because we knew we couldn’t win the game since the pitch was good.

“But the double century against Banks was a good innings. I think I made a century the day before and came back the next day and finished off, but it wasn’t the best. I made a few against Pickwick and my first one against Carlton was a great one. (Victor) “Percy” Brathwaite guided me along the way during that century.”

So what was the secret to Payne’s success?

“It all boils down to commitment,” he said. “What motivated me was to represent Barbados and the West Indies.”

Payne reckoned the Barbados selectors gave him a raw deal when he was discarded in 1990 after being one of the top batsmen in the trials, and he felt even more peeved about his short international career.

“At first when I was discarded or dropped (from the Barbados team), whatever the case may have been, I thought about quitting but I said no, I am stronger than that. I love the game so I continued in that process.

“I am disappointed,” he said of his international career. “I personally felt that I could have played more Tests, not as a wicketkeeper but as a batsman, especially when other guys were failing and they had me just sitting down doing basically nothing.

“I thought I could have played as a batsman, especially when players like Clive Lloyd and Larry Gomes retired. I thought that would have been my chance, but it wasn’t so. I am a batsman who can keep, but it seems they thought I was only a wicketkeeper.”

Payne said he was concerned with the falling standard of play in the top BCA division Championship, as he called on batsmen to show more commitment while eagerly looking forward to pitches being covered from the following season.

“To be honest, the standard of Division One cricket had deteriorated over the years. Since many of the older players have gone out, the younger players just don’t have the commitment like the older fellows,” he asserted.

“Furthermore, the young players think that they can get a hundred off one ball. They don’t plan on staying long at the wicket. They want to play too many strokes and don’t play straight enough. They don’t play the ball in the ‘V’, to mid-off, mid-on and keep the ball in front of them long enough.

“I think they should occupy the crease for as long as possible and play the ball in the ‘V’ as much as possible, keep the ball in front of them and choose the correct balls to hit. If you know that you are strong in one area and weak in another, wait until the bowler puts the ball in your area and score the runs off them.”

Payne was employed as a coach at the NSC from 1984 until his retirement six years ago. He coached at primary and secondary schools and obtained a West Indies Cricket Board Advanced coaching certificate in 1999.

The Pavilion at Princess Margaret School is named after Payne and there is also the Thelston Payne Balcony at St. Catherine Club.

In calling for covered pitches, Payne said: “Covers are needed, especially in the rainy season, because I don’t like to bat on soft pitches. You can’t play your natural game. I like to play my shots and when pitches are wet, it really hampers your batting. The bowlers reap all the success, so I am glad that they have decided to cover the pitches. It will probably lead to some of the older fellows returning to play.”

And what about the dwindling number of spectators at top division matches?

“Spectators are lacking. I would definitely like them to come back out and support the clubs and teams. They must not only harass the players, but also encourage them, especially the younger fellows. I would like old players to also return and help the youngsters and all will go well for the future,” Payne said.

Rest in peace, Thelston.

Keith Holder is a veteran, award-winning freelance sports journalist, who has been covering local, regional and International cricket since 1980 as a writer and commentator. He has compiled statistics on the Barbados Cricket Association (BCA) Division 1 (rebranded Elite in 2012) Championship for over four decades and provides statistics and stories for the BCA website. Email: Keithfholder@gmail.com