Author and cricket fan Edwin Martin shares why he wrote about Montserrat’s cricket legend Jim Allen in Stranded Batsman.
I wanted to write the book for a variety of reasons. I have been playing cricket since a boy growing up in Weekes. However, I never played organized cricket. I loved listening to ZJB’s Wilsie White on the radio as a kid. Cricket was the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 sport in Montserrat when I was growing up. It always held a special place in my heart. So, does Jim Allen.
Jim Allen was my sports hero while growing up in Montserrat in the mid to late ’70s. I can vividly remember the excitement he generated when he played at Sturge Park. He was like the Michael Jordan of the Montserrat team.
On August 27, 2012, I was at Zacky’s Bar in St. John’s and I had my video camera with me. I saw Jim there, and on a whim, I asked if I could do a video interview. I was stunned when he said yes. We spoke for about 25 minutes and it was very engaging. He also showed a vulnerable side when he talked about his eye injury, his relationship with his brother and about how much pressure was on him when he played at Sturge Park. He was very candid. It was at that moment I decided I wanted to tell his story.
Several things intrigued me. Jim told me the No. 1 regret of his life is that he didn’t play in a Test match for the West Indies. My research showed me he was plagued by bad luck, bad choices, and also, he was tainted by the country-town bias that was commonplace in Montserrat. In many ways, he’s a tragic figure.
Just about every one of his former teammates said he deserved to play for West Indies. They say he was fearless. My research, plus spending time with him, revealed that he is also somewhat of a paradox. A very complicated man.
I began writing the book in late summer of 2013 after I served as keynote speaker at the annual Jim Allen Lecture Series. At the time, I was still working at the Miami Herald, so I would work on the book whenever I had free time. But writing a complicated biography requires focus. In March of 2016, I accepted a buyout from the Herald and put all my attention toward finishing the book. In May of 2017, I finally completed it.
I learned so much during my research. For one, I had no idea Jim had an MBE. I also learned much about his family background, including the fact that “Jim” is not his actual name. It’s not James either. The story behind the “Jim” name is intriguing and is explained in the book.
One other aspect stands out: I interviewed at least 20 of his former teammates. The only ones who had criticisms of him were the ones who played for Montserrat. Of his countless teammates for Leeward Islands, Combined Islands, and even the Hyde Cricket Club in England, not one person had a negative memory of him. In fact, they were effusive in their lauding of him.
I think Jim is an unknown hero. He is the second-most famous Montserratian in history behind Arrow. I challenge anyone to debate that fact. But as demographics in Montserrat have changed and the generations have turned over, Jim has become somewhat forgotten. Arrow’s music is played on Radio Montserrat all the time, many live performances have been immortalized on YouTube. So even younger people can get a glimpse of his talent. There is very little evidence of Jim’s talent, simply because technology was not as advanced when he played, and many photos, etc., have been lost over the years due to Hurricane Hugo and the volcano.
I hope to publish a booklet on the 55th Anniversary of Montserrat Festival. I would also like to publish a history of Montserrat cricket. My main goal is not commercial prosperity but rather to document as much as possible in a cogent manner while many of the most important people of this era are still alive and able to tell their stories. Sadly, our archives in Montserrat have been poorly preserved, and that fact caused some of the most frustrating moments on the journey to writing this book.
About Stranded Batsman
A mysterious illness almost claimed his life as an infant. He lost his father at 13. His best friend and teammate was murdered hours before an international match. Jim Allen, the country boy from the tiny island of Montserrat, played alongside cricket giants Viv Richards, Andy Roberts and Clive Lloyd. But he never achieved his ultimate dream of playing in a Test match for the vaunted West Indies team. After an eye injury stalled his career, he was denied the coveted role of coaching his national team. Instead, he was hired as a guard at Her Majesty’s Prison. Consumed by anger and bitterness, Jim descended into self-loathing and neglect. A story of Jim Allen’s hard hits and hard times.
Buy it online at amazon.com.
Get it on island at CostuLess Montserrat, The Stationery Office and Last Chance Gift Shop.
About Edwin Martin
Edwin Martin began his career as a photo journalist while attending Miami-Dade Junior College in 1986. He later moved to the Miami Herald, where was a copy editor in the sports department before moving up to be the main headline writer covering sporting events such as the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and World Series. He has had the privilege of interviewing Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade, Sir Garfield Sobers, and many other sports stars. He covered the 2007 Cricket World Cup for the Miami Herald.