Cricket icon Basil Morgan has dedicated 60 years to the game – and country – he loves

Basil Morgan, whose love of cricket began in Harris Village, rose to become Montserrat’s first international umpire and has delved in just about every role in the sport.

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Basil Morgan, who played several years for the Montserrat cricket team, is the island's first international umpire.

This story was originally published in the book A Century of Montserrat Cricket.

On a warm summer day in 1960, a young boy from Harris Village in eastern Montserrat got his calling. Not a divine calling . . . an actual one.

While the lad was at Hyde Park, about a quarter-mile from his home, a Women’s Cricket League match was set to begin. But there was a problem. The ladies didn’t have anyone to keep score. So one of them made a suggestion.

“Why don’t we ask that little boy over there to keep score?” said Sarah Lee, one of the players.

They asked, and the boy – flattered by their show of confidence – happily obliged.

That unexpected assignment would turn out to be a vital moment for 13-year-old Basil Elliot Walton Morgan.

Sixty years later, Morgan has delved in just about every facet of cricket – as a player, coach, statistician, administrator, selector, groundskeeper, historian and pitch preparer, among other roles.

But he has gained his greatest prominence as the only international umpire in Montserrat’s history. Morgan has been umpiring locally since the 1960s, but in the 1990s he became an International Cricket Council umpire.

For more than a decade, Morgan got a close-up view as Brian Lara, Adam Gilchrist, Jacques Kallis, Chris Gayle and other legends displayed their batting artistry. He has stood behind the stumps and felt the breeze as Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Glenn McGrath streaked past him to deliver 90 mph heat. As a TV umpire he overheard the infamous quarrel between McGrath and Ramnaresh Sarwan that almost came to blows in 2003.

He has seen villainous stares from players after he adjudged them LBW and he has been heartened by kind gestures from players, coaches and administrators who sought him out to compliment his umpiring.

On Monday, March 16, 2015, Montserrat presented Morgan with an Order of Excellence award – the nation’s second-highest civilian honor after National Hero. It was a fitting tribute to Morgan’s half-century-plus of service.

It has been an intriguing ride for Morgan, one with more than a few pitfalls along the way.

A CRICKET HAVEN

Anyone who’s familiar with the close-knit village of Harris (pronounced Harris-is) will agree that cricket was a virtual religion there. Morgan was the fifth of six children born to William Henry Morgan – district registrar and a teacher at St. George’s School in the village – and his wife Louise, a seamstress and housewife. Morgan loved cricket so much while growing up that he kept score while listening to matches on the radio.

“We had a Grundig radio,” he says of the popular German brand from the 1950s. “We were one of the few people in the village who had a radio. People used to come by the house to listen to cricket.”

If West Indies was playing England, for instance, Morgan would grab pencil and paper and keep score. He was also scorekeeper for matches at St. George’s School.

But Morgan wasn’t just interested in statistics. He also played the game. He was a decent off-spin bowler. In 1965 he joined his village’s team, Rivals. That year, Rivals defeated the mighty Defense Force team. That win helped dispel the unfortunate myth among some that country folks were inferior. After the win, dozens of fans from Harris led a motorcade from Sturge Park back to the village.

In the aftermath, four players from the Harris area were named to the Montserrat national team: Morgan, wicket-keeper Samuel “Barman” Tuitt, spin bowler David Corbett and medium-pacer George Allen.

Being selected doesn’t guarantee making the final 11. Morgan was often relegated to being “emergency fielder” but he finally got to play in the 1970 Leeward Islands tournament. He bowled 10 overs vs. St. Kitts, taking one wicket. The next year he played in all three Montserrat matches, claiming four wickets. In 1972 he took three wickets against Nevis and had a 51-run partnership with Jim Allen. By then he had begun thinking seriously about his post-cricket career.

“My asthma was acting up and I was getting tired of playing,” Morgan says.

Morgan, circa 1972

MAKING THE TRANSITION

Starting in the mid-’60s, Morgan umpired league matches while he was playing. He later left Rivals, which was renamed Antilles, and played for town club Malvern, which was captained by Bennette Roach.

“Bennette and I used to umpire league matches that we weren’t playing in,” Morgan says. “The players were confident that we wouldn’t cheat.”

Ex-Montserrat player Theodore Bramble, an umpire who became a confidante for Morgan, suggested in 1979 that Morgan take the Leeward Islands umpire’s exam.

“I took the preliminary exam and passed,” Morgan says. “When I took the written exam I failed miserably.”

Morgan was distressed by the abject failure. He put his dream of top-flight umpiring on the backburner and focused on his day job working in airport security.

In 1981, Minister of Education Johnny Dublin contacted Morgan and convinced him to re-take the exam.

“Thirty-nine of us from around the Caribbean took the written exam and I finished first,” Morgan says. “When we did the oral exam I finished first again.”

On June 26, 1982, Morgan made his regional umpiring debut in a Leeward Islands tournament match between Montserrat and Nevis at Sturge Park.

Seven years later, an unfortunate incident almost derailed his career.

Basil Morgan’s decision to stop umpiring matches in Montserrat made the front page of the Montserrat Reporter. Morgan eventually reneged.

FACING ADVERSITY

On May 14, 1989 – one day after Morgan’s 42nd birthday, Montserrat faced Antigua in a Leewards match at Sturge Park. On the final delivery of the day, Morgan adjudged Montserrat’s Oakland Greaves out caught behind for naught off the bowling of Vaughn “Hungry” Walsh. There had already been rising resentment among locals who felt Morgan’s umpiring was often skewed against the Montserrat team. Greaves insisted he didn’t hit the ball. Fans stormed the pitch. One man tried to choke Morgan.

“When I went to the doctor I could hardly talk,” Morgan says. “I was ready to give up umpiring.”

Morgan officially announced that he will no longer umpire matches in Montserrat. The story ran on the front page of the Montserrat Reporter with a screaming headline: “Basil Bows Out.” But a few close friends told Morgan he had come too far – especially in passing the tough umpire’s exam – to give up. He eventually reneged.

A pivotal moment came in 1995, the year Montserrat’s volcanic crisis began. Morgan received a phone call from Lloyd Barker, president of the Barbados Cricket Umpires Association. “I recommended you to the West Indies Cricket Board,” Barker told Morgan, whom he had seen umpire for several years. Morgan thought Barker was joking.

Two days later Morgan received a phone call from the West Indies Board. Four umpires were added that year: two elite, one standby, one TV umpire. Morgan was assigned the TV job, then later promoted to an on-field umpire based on his decisiveness and accuracy in the booth.

Morgan was now officially a member of the ICC panel of international umpires. In the span of a decade he umpired 51 first-class matches, 15 one-day internationals, 58 “List A” matches and one Twenty20, plus served as a TV umpire several times.

Being an umpire comes with great power and great responsibility. Scrutiny is omnipresent. But Morgan says umpiring also came with perks. The pay was good and he had a bird’s-eye view to some of the game’s top players.

“I recall one time Brian Lara hit a shot and after I signaled four I felt like clapping,” Morgan says laughing.

One of his proudest moments came in 2001 when he helped bring the South Africa team to Montserrat for a match against a University of West Indies Vice-Chancellor’s XI squad. It was pivotal for Montserrat, especially with an active volcano. Morgan umpired that match. He also prepared the pitch and was humbled when South Africa captain Shaun Pollock called it the best in the region.

Morgan umpired his final first-class match in 2006. In 2007, shortly after his 60th birthday, he received a letter from the ICC stating that his services would no longer be needed for international umpiring.

Many umpires are often relieved of their duties at age 60, although there are a few exceptions. Morgan was told by the West Indies Cricket Board that he can continue to umpire regional first-class matches. He declined.

“I had already passed that stage,” Morgan says. “If I went back there I would be blocking the path of a younger umpire. I didn’t want to do that.”

Morgan worked a couple Stanford Twenty20 matches in 2008, then called it a career. He has umpired some matches in Montserrat since, but only at his discretion.

Basil Morgan signals a wide during a Stanford Twenty20 match in 2008 in Antigua.

IT’S BEEN A GREAT RIDE

Morgan looks back on his career with pride. He was one of the first umpires in the region to use a light meter, for instance. “The great Frank Edwards got it for me,” Morgan says. “It cost $1,200. I don’t even know how he paid for it.”

Morgan, who was honored in October of 2020 by the Leeward Islands Cricket Board for 60 years of service to the sport, is also proud that he has always approached his job with utmost integrity.

“One time I was umpiring a match between Eastern and Cork Hill,” he says. “I gave a Harris batsman out LBW on 99. The people were mad at me because that’s my village. It has never dawned on me to make a hometown decision.”

These days Morgan keeps busy as curator of the Little Bay Cricket Field. He misses umpiring, but not the travel. For a decade he was constantly on a ferry or airplane.

“I have no regrets,” he says. “I’ve made lots of friends. I’ve earned the respect of my colleagues. I’ve traveled all over the Caribbean. I’ve been to Jamaica 39 times.”

Morgan can’t help it. He’s still keeping score.

1 COMMENT

  1. Mr. Martin thank you for your well written stories of Montserrations and the history of Montserrat the bad, good and ugly. Please continue to write about our people and the best real estate in the world, my birthplace, my sweet sweet Montserrat. May God continue to bless you, and may God bless Montserrat.

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