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Cyprian Fernandes: Johnny Lobo: Cricketer

JOHNNY LOBO looks backs on a romance with cricket that began in 1932:

My love for the game of cricket began at a young tender age of 5 and together with other boys of the same age, we played on the road between the government wood and iron quarters in Nairobi Ngara area.
Government offices closed at 4.00 p.m. and within fifteen minutes all the men were home for a cup of tea. By 5.00 p.m. We were on the road together with their sons to play cricket. Among those, were the well-known Gama brothers. Marian, Leo and Raul. Everyone had the chance to bat and so they gave us a turn for fielding.

By now, we grew a bit older and so we moved on our own to the road in front of the stone quarters. We also switched to a hard ball. We played against the boys from adjoining Railway Quarters and continued with the game at school during recess for half an hour.

To make it competitive the two sides were called Salcete and Bardez. We had a scorer who recorded the game and two Umpires and so the game would go on for months. This gave us the practice and confidence to play big games.

Our first big match was against the Government Indian School. On matting, I scored a hundred and we won the game. The second game was against the Prince of Wales School. This match was lost despite a fine inning of 50 runs by Monty D'Sa and a good stand by Alan da Cunha who scored 30 runs.

As we felt quite confident in ourselves we decided to travel to Mombasa during the Christmas-New Year holidays to play against the Sacred Heart School. We beat them quite comfortably and so I scored my second century.

I left school in 1946 and joined the P.W.D. I became a member of the Goan Institute and played for them for one season. I then joined the Railway Goan Institute. In 1947, I was selected to join the Nairobi Asian Team to tour Zanzibar and Dar Es Salaam. In 1948, I was again selected to play for the Asian Team against Rhodesia and in 1949 was invited by the Rift Valley Sports Association to play against the South Africa Colored Team.

I scored a reasonable number of runs to justify my selection to play for the Nairobi Asians in the above matches.

The cricket season in Nairobi was from October to mid-March and all the cricket playing clubs both Europeans and Asians would meet and arrange Sunday Fixtures for the first team and Saturday half day for the second. Lunch & tea was a must and the games were highly competitive and enjoyable. I scored several centuries against both the European and Asian Clubs and this helped me to justify my claim to the play in the big game Kenya Europeans vs Kenya Asians in the local Test match if selected.

In 1951, I was selected to play in this match but unfortunately, I was run out and scored only a few runs. At this point the Europeans were leading 11-2 in the series and for the first time two Goans Blaise da Cunha and myself were selected.

The Europeans collapsed in the innings and so the Asians passed the score to win by 10 wickets. I was happy to have participated in this match, because from this win on wards the Asians won every match to equalize the series 11-11 all and so in the 12th match the two opening batsmen Akil Lakhani and Mahendra Patel scored a record 420 runs for no loss. Blaise da Cunha was in top form and so the Europeans lost the game and the series. They decided to wind up the series as most of the top players left the country just before Independence.

The Kenya Commercial Cricket League

This tournament was open to all Commercial firms in Nairobi and was played off season from July to September. I played for the P.W.D. team and we had quite a few Sunday Cricketers. In one season, when I was at my peak, I scored five centuries in a row four of them not out. I felt sure that I would be selected for Kenya vs Tanganyika which was in August. I was called among fourteen others for nets in front of the selectors. It was the month of July the cold season in Nairobi and I was told to bat at 6.00 p.m. when it was beginning to get dark. A new ball was given to Dr. Ranjit Singh the fast bowler. I defended my wicket but got rapped on the pads. The selectors concluded that I could not play for break balls and so I was not selected.

The Kenya Goan Sports Association was due to play their Annual match against Nairobi Club. I was selected to Captain the side and we had heard that this great bowler had arrived in Nairobi. I arranged to meet him and so I was able talk to him. His name was Blaise da Cunha and he was born in Moira, Goa. Blaise had his early education in Karachi, Pakistan.

He excelled as a cricketer, but due to politics he did not make it into the Pakistan side. His brother Martin who worked for the Kenya Commercial Bank in Kericho sponsored him and so he arrived in Kenya.

The day of our match with Nairobi Club arrived and so they decided to bat first and put up 60 runs on the board with no loss when I brought in Blaise. In his first over, he took three wickets. I had never seen such a scramble to empire as the batsmen literally ran to the dressing room to change to come back to see how this great bowler delivered his top spin ball. In the end Blaise took all ten wickets in his first game in Kenya.

The Suleiman Verjee Indian Gymkhana grabbed him and he played for them representing Kenya and East Africa till he retired after 20 years and left for England. I also had the pleasure to introduce Jack Nye the Sussex Fast Bowler to Kenya Cricket. Mr. Nye joined the Ministry of Works to build and tarmac the Mombasa Road. I arranged a friendly match M.O.W. vs European Civil Service. News soon went around and so a number of European players turned up eager to recruit him. Jack was 6ft.9 inches tall and took a 25-yard run and bowled very fast. He was selected to play for the European vs Asian Annual Test Match.

Our normal Sunday fixture between Railway Goans and Nairobi Club was due and in this match, I was determined to do well as a couple of the Nairobi Club players were in the Kenya team. I scored 130 runs and so for the first time we beat them. By now Railway Goans were recognized by the Asian Cricket Association and so we could join the League. The first game we beat the Kathiawar Club and in our second round the Patel Club. The Coast Gymkhana travelled to Nairobi to play us who we beat only to lose in the Semi Finals against the Sir Ali Muslim Club.

By now players were leaving the country and so most of the clubs wound up their Cricket section.
In conclusion, I am deeply indebted to my two grandsons, Jeremy and Julian Lobo for reviewing my writings.