'Snuffy’ Browne at practice at Lord’s circa 1928. Getty Images
‘Snuffy’ Browne at practice at Lord’s circa 1928. Getty Images

This is the introduction that the agency makes about itself in the advertisement brochure: “Carter’s Publications have been publishing price guides on art antiquities, antiques, collectables, retro, vintage and 20th century design for 28 years, and include prices on items from 1500 BC to the present day, with a price range of $5 to over one million dollars.” Well, page 27 of the brochure displays, among other esoteric items, a sheet signed by the members of the first ever Test team from West Indies that had visited England in 1928. The description below the item states: “1928 West Indies Team (the year West Indies were granted full test status), autograph page with 17 signatures, including Karl Nunes (captain), Learie Constantine, Herman Griffith & Snuffy Browne.” The item had been sold at an undisclosed price.

The history of the Browne family is a fascinating one. Father Chester Allan was a prosperous dark-skinned accountant of African descent, as was his wife, and in many ways, a local ‘Godfather’. The family owned two residential properties and several commercial concerns in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Eldest son John Alexander studied Medicine at Edinburgh University and the Royal London Ophthalmic College, specialising in ophthalmology. He later shifted to Georgetown, where he became a Government Ophthalmologist. The next brother, Chester Allan played 23 First-Class matches, mainly for Barbados. He was a year younger to John.

Into this family, a third son was born October 8, 1890, about two years after the birth of Chester, in the St Michael’s Parish of Bridgetown, and was christened Cyril Rutherford, acquiring the nickname of ‘Snuffy’ as he went along.

The brothers were all educated initially at Harrison College, Bridgetown, under the benign influence of Headmaster Horace Deighton. According to Winston McGowan, author of a biographical sketch of ‘Snuffy’ Browne, the legendary Deighton, longest serving Headmaster of Harrison College, had made cricket an important part of the curriculum of the College. Indeed, it was reported at the time that “Under him, the school became one of the most important cricket nurseries in the entire world.”

Browne gradually developed into a bowling all-rounder, combining his right-hand lower-order hard-hitting style of batting with a distinctiveright arm medium-paced version of leg-spin and googly bowling (rather like Bhagwat Chandrasekhar at a later date), the ball often coming so quickly off the wicket that he was frequently asked to open the bowling. Along with brother Chester, ‘Snuffy’ founded, and played for Spartan Club of Bridgetown.

He made his First-Class debut for Barbados against British Guiana at Bridgetown in 1908-09. Playing alongside him was his brother Chester. Barbados won the game by 9 wickets, so the debut turned out to be an auspicious one. Debutant Browne took 3 wickets and scored 19 runs.

In a First-Class span of 1908-09 to 1938, ‘Snuffy’ Browne played 74 games in all, scoring 2,077 runs at an average of 19.97. He also took 278 wickets at 22.39.

In the first phase of his First-Class career, he Browne played 7 games for Barbados between Jan/1909 and Feb/1911. During this time he scored 44 wickets. During this phase he took 3 for 11 and 5 for 26 against British Guiana (BG) in 1910-11, and 6 for 60 and 4 for 59 against MCC in 1910-11.

The archives show a gap in his playing career from 1910-11 till 1921-22. During this time he took up legal studies at the Middle Temple of London (and played some casual cricket for Surrey Club and Ground). The outbreak of World War I in 1914 disrupted regional inter-territorial cricket in the Caribbean Islands completely. During the War years Browne relocated to BG and was admitted to the BG Bar in 1916. He subsequently served with great distinction as a Magistrate in BG.

We find him in his cricketing creams again in the role of skipper of his new territorial team, BG, in 1921-22. It was also the only time he led in a First-Class match. In his next match, against Trinidad, he took 6 for 40.

At the conclusion of the 1922-23 domestic season, Harold Austin of Barbados seems to have taken the initiative to put together a team of 16 players, from Barbados (5), BG (3), Trinidad (5), and Jamaica (3). The intention was to make the third West Indian tour to England, following the forays in 1900 and 1906. The ‘black’ members of the chosen group were the professionals George Francis and George John and the amateurs Browne, Learie Constantine, Joseph Holt (the run out of whose son, John Holt, while on 94 against England had caused a riot at Kingston, Jamaica in 1953-54), Victor Pascall, and Joe Small. The team played 28 matches in England between May 19 and September 5, out of which 20 were attributed First-Class status. No Test was played on the trip, the Caribbean islands not having been admitted to Test cricket as yet.

With adverse weather prevailing at the beginning of the tour, 3 out of the first 5 games were lost. However, of the remaining 23 games, only 4 were lost as the weather proved kinder to the tourists later on. The outstanding batting success of the tour was George Challenor with 1,556 runs from 35 innings and an average of 51.86. He scored 6 centuries and 8 fifties. On the bowling front, Francis took 88 wickets at 15.58 with 5 five-wicket hauls and 2 ten-wicket hauls. The next-highest wicket-taker was Browne, with 75 wickets at 22.29 and 4 five-wicket hauls.

In the match against Nottinghamshire, Browne had figures of 7 for 97. His victims included the first six in the order. The visitors scored 219 for no loss in their second innings. Both openers, Challenor (102) and Tarilton (109), scored unbeaten centuries. This match was mentioned specifically in a newsletter issued from Trent Bridge entitled The West Indies Are Coming Part 2, published December 20, 2011.

Against Warwickshire Browne took 5 for 76 and 3 for 28; against Gloucestershire, 5 for 85; and against Somerset, 2 for 44 and 6 for 66. The visiting West Indian team won 12 matches on the tour in all. This tour has been described by Michael Manley as “the first great turning point in the history of West Indies cricket”, the team creating a favourable impression in England, and doing much to convince the powers that be in international cricket that the region was ready for Test cricket.

Back home at the end of the England tour Browne played only 1 match in the winter, against Trinidad. Trinidad won the game by 77 runs, but the paradox was that the bowling honours were with Browne. He captured 4 for 81 and 6 for 30. His bowling had been going from strength to strength all this time; his batting, however, was not coming along as well as he would have liked, considering his all-round status.

That changed in his first match of the next season, against Barbados. Browne produced the sort of performance all-rounders dream of. He first claimed 5 for 77. Then he contributed a solid 102. When Barbados batted again, they ran into a Browne blitz during which ‘Snuffy’ captured 8 for 58. The top score for Barbados was made by one Don Browne (62), one of the Barbados cousins of ‘Snuffy’.

An English team under Freddie Calthorpe toured West Indies in 1925-26. In his third match against the tourists, playing for a team entitled West Indies, Browne once again demonstrated his batting abilities in the lower-order. The home team batted first and scored 462, the major contributors being Browne (102*) and Vibart Wight (90). He also took 2 wickets.

Meanwhile, events had been initiated in 1926 that would have a profound impact on West Indian cricket. Often thought of as the Father of West Indian cricket, Barbadian Harold Austin had been in talks with Sir William Morrison of Kingston about the possibility of a full tour by a West Indian team to England for the summer of 1928. Austin’s contention was that the 1923 team had done sufficiently well on their 1923 tour of England to merit Test status. Imperial Cricket Conference did not reject the idea completely, but pointed out that to become a Test-playing member of the Conference, it was mandatory for the Caribbean Islands to form their own Board of Cricket Control. Accordingly, the new West Indian Board of Cricket Control was constituted in a meeting on June 23, 1927 with the 50-year-old Austin as President.

Englishman Harry Mallett, who had been the manager of the 1923 West Indies team in England, was requested by the newly-formed Board to arrange the fixtures and to make arrangements for transport and accommodation for the first official Test tour by West Indies.

The tour to England by West Indies was to be a watershed for West Indies cricket, and not one to be taken lightly. Three trial matches were arranged at Barbados (Trinidad-Guyana v Barbados-Jamaica, PH Tarilton’s XI v CA Wiles’s XI, and Barbados Born XI v Rest of West Indies) to facilitate the selection of a team with a sufficient depth of talent for the epochal tour to England.

The team, comprising of Austin, Major GS Cox, PA Goodman, JG Kelshall, CV Wight, and C Shankland, appointed Nunes as captain and Wight as vice-captain of the 17-member tour party, of which Browne was a part. Interestingly, when the only specialist wicketkeeper George Dewhurst withdrew from the tour, it was decided that the duties would be shared between Nunes and Maurice Fernandes.

The assembled party sailed from Bridgetown on the RMS Camito for the Atlantic voyage, arriving at Avonmouth (Bristol Docks) in the face of a bitterly cold wind on April 16. The team members were met at Paddington Station, London, by their English Manager, Harry Martlett.

Browne, by now over 37 years and perhaps past his prime, began the tour on a relatively bright note, taking 4 for 44 and 4 for 37 in the tour match against Derbyshire. On June 23 history was made in the annals of West Indies cricket with their first ever Test getting underway, at Lord’s. Needless to say, all 11 players of the tour party were making individuals debuts in this Test, Browne, at the age of 37 years 259 days, being one of the oldest.

England, under Percy Chapman, won rather easily by an innings and 58 runs. George Tyldesley (122) scored the only century of the Test, and Constantine took 4 wickets in the only England innings of 401. West Indies were dismissed for 177 and 166. Browne (44 in the second innings) was the last man dismissed in the Test.This innings earned considerable praise from the contemporary press. The Times went as far as to say that “Browne’s on driven six into the Mound Stand from the bowling of Vallance Jupp was worth the cost of admission of itself.”

A grainy video of the West Indies line-up for the Lord’s Test shows ‘Snuffy’ Browne sitting solemnly on the extreme right of the front row of players.When the West Indian Test Cap numbers were awarded, retrospectively, it must be added, ‘Snuffy’ Browne had the fortune of being the awardee for the # 1 WI Cap, an incredible and signal honour.

Browne played his second Test at Old Trafford towards the end of July. England won again, this time by an innings and 30 runs. ‘Snuffy’ scored 23 and 7 and picked up 2 for 72 (the wickets of Jack Hobbs and Ernest Tyldesley, his first Test victims) in England’s only innings of 351. For England, ‘Tich’ Freeman was in his elements, taking 5 for 54 and 5 for 39. England won all 3 Tests of the series, and all by innings margins.

Browne captured a total of 32 wickets on the England tour of 1928 from 20 matches including his 2 Tests. The star player of the tour was undeniably Constantine, with 1,381 runs at 34.52 and 107 wickets at 22.95.

It was back to domestic cricket for Browne in 1929-30. He started with a flourish in the Inter-Colonial Tournament game against Barbados, a match that lasted seven days. At the end of the weary game (the second-longest in terms of days played in the Caribbean Islands till then), BG had won by a massive 391 runs. BG led off with 610 all out, Browne scoring 55.

Barbados were dismissed for 331, Browne taking 2 wickets. He then scored 95 in the BG second-innings total of 379. He then took 5 for 53 in the final innings of the game when Barbados were bowled out for 267. It was also the final First-Class appearance of elder brother Chester (for Barbados).

Browne’s next match, against Trinidad, was also a good one for him. BG won by 4 wickets, and Browne captured 5 for 56 and 6 for 134, and scored 83.

He played his third Test under skipper Teddy Hoad against the visiting England team under Calthorpe, in the first Test of the series, at Bridgetown. In a drawn game, Browne collected a ‘pair’, the first for West Indies in Test cricket, and took 2 wickets. Clifford Roach (122) scored the first Test century for West Indies. The Test also witnessed a youthful George Headley make an impressive debut, with 21 and 176.

The fourth (and last) Test of Browne’s career was the third Test of the same series, at Georgetown, one that West Indies won by 289 runs. The young Headley was in imperious form, scoring 114 and 112, and Roach scored the first double-century (209) for West Indies. Browne’s batting contributions were 22 and an undefeated 70. He also took 2 wickets. Browne was by now into his 40th year.

In the words of Winston McGowan in an article entitled CR Browne, Forgotten Hero: “The period from 1910 to 1939 may be described as ‘the Browne era’, because of the outstanding performances of one man, Cyril Rutherford ‘Snuffy’ Browne. Well-known and highly esteemed in that era, Browne is virtually forgotten today.”

There is no question about the fact that Browne was an undoubted hero as far as cricket in British Guiana was concerned in the early days of Caribbean cricket.

There must have been something about the Barbados team that seemed to always trigger off monumental performances by Browne. For example, at Georgetown in 1934-35, Browne had a modest time with bat, scoring 14 and 4, but he shone with ball, with figures of 6 for 59 and 4 for 84, wonderful figures for a man of 44.

In the corresponding game at Georgetown in 1937-38, at the age of 47, Browne scored 69 in his only innings and took 1 for 50 and 7 for 13 (including a hat-trick, thus becoming the only bowler from BG to take a First-Class hat-trick till date) as Barbados were dismissed for 99. BG won the game by an innings and 229 runs. He played his last First-Class match the following season.

He could look back over a long career with satisfaction, even pride. He was the first, and for a considerable time, the only bowler to take in excess of 100 wickets in Inter-Colonial matches. He played pivotal roles in the Inter-Colonial titles that BG won in the years 1929 (their first title since 1895), 1934, 1936, and 1937. Cricket historians writing about West Indian cricket seem to be unanimous in the opinion that Cyril Rutherford Browne (to give him his full name) was one of the finest all-rounders that BG had ever produced and certainly the most accomplished wrist-spinner ever for the region.

In 1941, about three years after he had retired from active cricket, Cyril Rutherford Browne became the first black West Indian to be elected to honorary life membership of the MCC. He passed away on January 12, 1964 at Georgetown, Guyana, aged about 74.