Heroes of Associate Cricket – Alma Hunt
When the news came through on March 3, 1999 that Alma Victor “Champ” Hunt, OBE, had passed away, it gained little coverage outside his native Bermuda.
Even the sight of the piper who performed a lament at his funeral didn’t elicit many raised eyebrows in the Caribbean. Nor even the fact that Hunt, the greatest cricketer his country had ever produced, lived in a house called “Mannofield”.
And yet, as I’ve discovered in the last few days by talking to his daughter, Beverly Baldwin, Hunt was almost as much in thrall to Scotland and Aberdeenshire – the club where he excelled as a professional all-rounder on either side of the Second World War – as he was to his homeland, where he served as one of the most forward-thinking administrators in the sport for decades.
Many might still be unfamiliar with his name, but this ebullient character deserves to be commemorated properly. He scored a century in an organised men’s match at the age of ten in 1920. He was selected for trials by the West Indies in 1933 and was considered gifted enough to merit his place until question marks were raised over his eligibility.
When he arrived in Aberdeen the following year, his exploits gradually became the stuff of legend. Indeed, some of them were so remarkable that even the most Capra-inspired scriptwriter might have rejected them as being far-fetched.
In one fixture against West Lothian in 1939, for instance, he helped skittle out his opponents for 48 with a spell of seven for 11, then padded up for Shire and scored all 49 runs required to win, with eight fours and two 6s in the space of just 25 minutes. And, at the climax, he held an impromptu coaching session with the members of the team that he had just demolished.
These prodigious deeds made him famous, not just in the north-east of Scotland, but across his second home and he is one of the few men to have turned out for two different nations. And, even now, 17 years after his death at the age of 88, there’s a picture of him in the clubhouse at Mannofield where his smile oozes radiance, and a deep passion for the game he graced.
As Beverly told me: “Dad just loved Scotland, particularly Aberdeen, and he was so grateful to be given the chance to play there year after year, and forge friendships with so many others at the club.
“It was a joy for him, something he never forgot. Our home in Bermuda was called ‘Mannofield’ after the cricket ground where he spent so many happy summers and Dad maintained several friendships over there as the years passed with people such as the Cordiner car family and the Walkers shortbread family. You must realise the Scottish link meant an awful lot to him. It was a bond which was never broken.”
One of his former opponents, Edinburgh-based David Morris, was only a teenager when he first saw Hunt in the late 1940s. But it left an indelible impression.
As he told me: “One of the things about great players is how easy they make it look. I remember when he came in and stroked a couple of fours and took a single or two and you just marvelled at his timing. Then you glanced at the scoreboard and suddenly realised he was on 36 or 42. Later on, I saw [West Indian maestro] Rohan Kanhai play for Aberdeenshire and he was a fantastic batsman. But I wouldn’t say he was any better than Alma.
“If anything, Alma reminded me a little of [Garry] Sobers. He could bat and bowl superbly, he was a terrific fielder, and he always had a smile on his face.”
Cricket was in the fellow’s blood. Even after he returned to Bermuda, he enveloped himself in the game and was a progressive influence in its development. Perhaps, his earlier problems with the West Indies left an enduring legacy. Because, for the rest of his life, Hunt was an unabashed champion for the expansion of cricket beyond its traditional enclaves.
That progressive spirit shone through like a beacon when he became president of the Bermuda Cricket Board in 1966, subsequently holding the post for 18 years and spreading the Associate gospel wherever he travelled.
As Beverly said: “Dad was never interested in standing still. He wanted as many people to enjoy the sport as possible, he was very involved in ICC cricket, he was an honorary life member of the MCC and he was [posthumously] inducted into the Bermuda Hall of Fame.”
In short, he was an individual who appreciated that his pursuit couldn’t live in a bubble. On the contrary, it needed to evolve and nurture talent in new settings and fresh environments. Better still, Alma didn’t just talk about it. He went out and actually made it happen, which makes him one of the true heroes of Associate cricket.
I also caught up with his great grandson, O’Brian Roberts this week – Alma’s eldest daughter, Valencia Manning is his grandmother – and while the youngster lives in a very different world as an expert in social media, he has the same reverence for the “Champ” as Beverly does. Oh, and he plays for a team in Bermuda called Somerset and suggested it would be wonderful if his club could visit Aberdeenshire at some point.
As O’Brian said: “To me, Alma was a great visionary and a man who was before his time. He is still fondly remembered by many and his legacy lives on through the ICC tournament.”
It’s not a bad memorial, is it!