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A tale of two Jamaican rebels

Bharat Sundaresan

Posted: Jun 22, 2011 at 0155 hrs IST

Kingston: As poignant moments go, not many could have surpassed this one, or even had this sense of tragic irony attached to it. At one end of the Sabina Park stood Lawrence Rowe, dressed nattily in a suit, being honoured for his great services to West Indian cricket. The pavilion at his home ground was being named after him. On the other side of the ground, security personnel were busy grappling with another former Jamaican cricketer, donning a completely smudged and torn shirt, equally worn trousers and with a loosely tied head-band and scarf enhancing his ragged looks.

Despite repeated pleas by the police to return to his seat, he continued to gesticulate wildly and brandish his trusty stick, before being physically made to leave the ground. Richard Austin or ‘Danny Germs’ as he is referred to in these parts though is no stranger to Sabina Park. A talented all-rounder who played one Test and two ODIs for the West Indies in the late seventies and also played football for Jamaica, the 56-year-old Austin has been homeless, a cocaine-addict and mentally unstable for over two decades.

Meanwhile, media interviews had been set up with Rowe- as renowned for his hundred and double-hundred on debut against New Zealand as the premature end to his career owing to a grass allergy - on indeed his greatest day of honour. But the former West Indies batsman began by making a statement. It was a public apology like no other.

Twenty-eight years ago, 18 West Indian cricketers led by Rowe had set upon a rebel tour to an apartheid South Africa, ignoring the pleas of their national board and local governments. On Monday, Rowe rendered a sincere apology to the cricketing fraternity of Jamaica, and the rest of the world, saying this was the ‘final death of that tour.’

Every single player, who went on that ill-fated tour was shunned on the team’s comeback, and while the likes of Rowe, Alvin Kallicharan and Colin Croft had to leave their respective homelands and seek exile elsewhere; most of whom who stayed back ended up as wrecks. Austin was one of them.

Since playing his last competitive cricket match in 1983, Austin has largely been dependant on crack and a variety of other chemicals and drugs. Though he does have family still living in Kingston, a brother Oliver, who lives a rather plush life otherwise; Austin feeds his addiction by mainly resorting to begging on the streets. Cricket matches at Sabina Park provide him with added opportunities, and he spends most of his time running around in the stands and trying desperately to grab the attention of some benevolent contributor.

Austin’s speech is mainly slurry and he speaks with loud gasps. But he does have a grasp of what is transpiring on the field, and doesn’t mind shouting out advice once in a while. He, however, still remains popular unless when his mental illness takes over to such an extent that people begin to fear his aggression. The extent of his mental instability becomes apparent as you see him struggle to remain in one place or talk pointedly for more than a few seconds.

He gets into conversations with anyone who even looks at him. He even signs autographs and hands it out without being asked for it. But all for a price. “A 100 Jamaican. At least a 50,” he demands.

There were times when he did give up on the drugs. More than once, the local authorities in Jamaica tried to reach out to him, and put him through rehabilitation programmes. Even as early as 1999, he was back on the field, coaching the Kensington Club. But family tragedy turned him rogue yet again. And this time for good.

He randomly begins talking about his son’s death to whoever who lends him a patient ear. “They killed my son. Shot him thrice through the head,” he says while enacting the exact sequence of events.

The Sabina Park may have been among his many refuges over the last two decades, but it was here that Austin jumped to fame 30 years ago, and his talent was even compared to the great Gary Sobers. Today, anyone who gives him money becomes his friend.

Mid-way through the post-tea session, Rowe left Sabina Park in a plush car accompanied by a few Jamaican cricket delegates. Not long after, Germs was on the street again, this time trying to flag cabs down for a lift. One obliged. Austin got his ride back home. Back to nothingness, just where his life has ended up.

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