I met Sylvester “Nul” Greenaway in person only once. It was in March of 2017. I visited his home in Olveston, Montserrat, to deliver an enlarged photo of him playing cricket for Montserrat in 1972 in Saint Kitts. In the photo, Nul raises his bat to allow a delivery from the Saint Kitts bowler to go to the wicket keeper. Nul is slim, tall and handsome in his pristine uniform. He told me he really loved and appreciated the photo, which he had never seen.
I came across the photo while doing research for my book on Montserrat’s most famous cricketer, Jim Allen, who was Nul’s teammate for six years. Nul was very helpful in providing stories and background information for the book. So I felt the least I could do was give him the enlarged photo as a gift.
When I arrived at his home, I felt as if I was stepping onto palatial grounds. The house was beautiful. He led me to the family room that featured a plush sofa, large flat-screen TV, a bar and a billiard table. “I’m going to hang the picture right up here,” he said, pointing to the wall across from the billiard table.
I first contacted Nul (by phone) in 2016. I had never met him, but I have fleeting images of watching him play for Montserrat when I was a child. I remember how he used to stretch forward to defend the ball with style. When I told him the subject of my book, he immediately began recounting stories of playing with Jim Allen. He was candid and genuine. I liked him right away. He spoke to me for probably an hour and never once gave me that “I’ve got to go,” signal. Some months later, I phoned him again to ask some follow-up questions.
“Young man, I’m sorry I can’t talk right now. I’m in a lot of pain,” he said. I immediately told him I understood, and I prepared to say good-bye and hang up. Before I could, he added: “Listen, I’m going up to Canada to check myself out, I will give you my number up there so you can call me.”
He could have easily brushed me off, considering his delicate state, but he remained accessible and gracious. Over the next year, I phoned him regularly in Canada, giving him updates on the progress of the book and also checking on his condition. “I’m doing OK,” he would always say, refusing to elaborate.
We would talk at length about his cricket career. He told me he has no regrets about his slow playing style, which some regarded as boring. When I told him that Jim was quoted as saying, “It took Nul five days to score two runs,” he replied: “Hey, I take that as a compliment. At least it means I kept my wicket for five days.”
He told me about playing for Leeward Islands against New Zealand in February of 1972 in Antigua and how New Zealand bowler Murray Webb bowled him out in the first innings with a delivery that he still can’t figure out. In the second innings, he said that during lunch break, a cricket administrator asked him to “get out on purpose” so the crowd can see Viv Richards bat. He said that was one of the most hurtful moments of his career.
When my book was published in July of 2017, I had a copy delivered to him. I spoke to him a few times after that but didn’t realize his condition had deteriorated. When I heard of his passing I was stunned. There was so much more I wish I could have asked him. I still have text conversations with him in my phone. I pondered deleting them after his passing but I will hold on to them a little while longer as I reminisce on my friendship with a man whom I met only once but felt like I knew for a lifetime. By the way I have my own copy of that photo of Nul batting in Saint Kitts. I can’t help but notice he’s wearing all white.
Like an angel.