Our cricket community lost a giant with the passage of Wayne Bernhardt Stuger in Atlanta, GA on January 18, 2021.
I first met Wayne in person when I moved from Antigua to New York City almost 40 years ago and began playing in the New York Cricket league. But I had heard about him back in the village in Guyana where I grew up – Sparendaam on the east coast of Demerara – where he also had roots and had started to attract attention as a cricket talent. As a schoolboy, I remember the older guys at Wally’s backyard barbershop talking cricket and mentioning his batting abilities in their arguments about serious Case Cup players like Clive Lloyd and Vincent Adams, and Roy Fredericks. These guys knew their cricket so I listened. With just a few thousand families, Sparendaam/Plaisance had a cricketing pedigree that would produce national players like Rex Collymore, Lonsdale Skinner, and Monte Lynch. Lynch also went on to play a few ODIs for England, and notoriously to tour South Africa with Lawrence Rowe’s West Indies “rebels” in 1983-84.
I do not remember meeting Wayne in person or seeing him play before I left Guyana. He had moved to another town, McKenzie, and by the time I got into organized cricket, he had migrated to the U.S.A. However, life’s journeys brought us together in the early 1980s. As teammates in the Diplomats Cricket Club, and later in the Demerara Cricket Club, I had the privilege of playing with him all over the Northeast Region for more than a decade.
You know a sports figure is special when they’re called by just one name. Michael, Tiger, Serena. . . Stuger. Few in our extensive Caribbean cricket community probably knew his first name. You only had to say “Stuger” and people would nod in recognition, often with rueful smiles as they retrieved memories of his assaults on their clubs’ bowlers. Sure, there were other legendary players around NY cricket in those days, but I cannot remember anyone else with that kind of single-name recognition.
The respect was well-earned. Everyone who played with or against him could share stories of Stuger “beating the bowling” somewhere. One of my favorites was a whirlwind 99 he blasted off a powerful Connecticut League attack in the mid-1980s opening the batting with another dasher named Cruyff for the New York League. It rained boundaries in Hartford that day, with more sixes than fours. He was an entertainer of modern T20 style, with his own distinctive personality and little fan club. The late ‘Tricky Dick’ Dixon, I remember, was a huge fan who did not miss a Stuger innings anywhere.
When I played for Diplomats he was the backbone of our lineup — the one guy opponents targeted to get out ASAP. As a so-so opener back then, I can remember countless times when I was sent back early by the Cornwall or Primrose or Antigua quicks, only to watch Stuger assault the same bowlers with ease. If we did meet in the middle and he saw me struggling he would say, “just take a single and gimme the strike, man. I’ll handle him.” I would mumble something like, “OK, but watch it. . . he’s moving the ball. . .” and Stuger would typically grin and say, “Naaw. . .he’s a joker.”
That supreme confidence was his biggest asset as a batsman. He had that dominant presence at the crease, similar to Viv Richards, that could intimidate bowlers. It also helped that he had great hand-eye coordination and a mind uncluttered with anxieties about “proper” batting technique. See ball, hit ball as far as possible; for him, batting was that simple. When he wanted to, he would take the overgrown outfields out of the equation by simply going aerial. Our leagues were not big on statistical record-keeping back then, so I can only speculate on the many thousands of runs and numerous centuries he scored. Those exploits took a lot of skill on the dodgy matting wickets and unkempt grounds we played on.
Umpiring standards were not always that great either and Wayne wasn’t shy about letting umpires know when he disagreed with a decision. But his conduct never crossed the line, and I suspect that some of them were more on his side than he realized, enjoying his batting as much as the spectators.
There are lots of great Stuger anecdotes because he truly was one of a kind – an independent spirit who did things his way and did not care what people thought. His fashion sense, for example, always left you scratching your head. Colorful pajama pants, tank tops, and sandals were his favorite outfit elements. He also decorated his cricket whites with a bright red bandana necktie. When he chose to wear one, his batting helmet was a flimsy plastic, baseball-style version without a visor. He wasn’t one to spend money on an official cricket helmet when something else was handy. But he was absolutely fastidious about his bats. They were top quality, on the heavier side, and lovingly customized. He removed the maker’s stickers, sanded and oiled the blades to perfection, and neatly labeled them with unique names like “Lickin’ Stick,” “Soul Power,” and “Super Bad.” Those names reflected his love of James Brown and 1960s soul music. I remember once when we were considering a new team name and Stuger recommended “The Village People.” Everyone got silent, glanced at each other, pretended we didn’t hear, and quietly ignored him on that one.
As the years passed the grey hairs came, the knees got stiff and life took us in different directions — me to Connecticut and him to Atlanta. But we began reconnecting again in the early 2000s at the annual Michael Holding Masters Tournament in Jamaica. Wayne was a very private man, and it was only in this later phase of our cricket relationship that I came to know him more as a whole person. We roomed together once on a Masters’s tour and I learned how devoted he was to his children and how tuned in he was to current affairs. He and I also shared a special bond over table tennis, which he also played at a high level for years in Brooklyn with Guyanese ex-nationals.
Perhaps most of all, I learned how much Wayne enjoyed and appreciated still being out on the field after he had passed his prime. He would do anything for a game, including putting on the gloves and keeping wicket. Few aging cricketers with big reputations still found pleasure playing and, more often than not, suffering failure and defeat at the hands of younger players.
Looking back, it is hard to believe that both Wayne and all those years have flown by so quickly. But I am convinced that because of the wonderful gift of memory, time does not really pass and neither do we. Everything merely continues in other ways.
So, I extend my deepest sympathies to the Stuger family and hope you can find comfort in the good memories of your times with your brother, Dad, uncle, cousin, Wayne. I will always remember him fondly as a friend, teammate, and fellow villager from the land of our birth.
On behalf of the Diplomats Cricket Club, the old Demerara Cricket Club, and the Connecticut Masters Cricket Club, Rest in Peace, my friend.
Keith Lawrence, Ph.D
February 1, 2021