Coming off a championship season, Grace Church made an uncharacteristically slow start to the 1989 Toronto & District Cricket Association’s (TDCA) premier division.
Sensing the team could miss the play-offs in his first year as captain, Rohan Jayasekera reached out to veteran all-rounder, Clement Neblett, who retired at the end of the 1988 season. Always a team player, Neblett obliged and rallied the side to its fourth title in five years.
The former Guyana and Canadian cricketer, who has resided in the United States since the mid-1990s, passed away last week while on business/vacation in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. He was 62.
Jayasekera, who played a Test match for Sri Lanka during the 1981-82 tour of Pakistan, held Neblett in high esteem.
“With Clem in your team, the chances of victory were very high,” said Jayasekera who also represented Sri Lanka in two One-Day Internationals. “He was very knowledgeable about the game and he was just a complete player. I have played with very good cricketers and he’s right up there with them.”
The third of five male siblings, Neblett was a member of the Guyana team that participated in the second British American Tobacco Company trophy Under-20 competition in Trinidad & Tobago in 1969.
Opening the batting with United States-based engineer, Dr. Vincent Adams, in the first game against the host country and eventual champions, he was dismissed without scoring in both innings by Bernard Julien, who was the Player-of-the-Tournament. He was subsequently dropped for the remaining matches.
Neblett’s teammates included Rupert Gomes and Harold Pertab who live in the Greater Toronto Area.
“Nebbo showed a lot of promise in the preparation and trials leading up to the tournament,” recalled Gomes, who also represented The Netherlands and coached Canada. “We were disappointed that he did not come off, but you also have to remember that was a quality bowling attack (late left-arm spinner Inshan Ali was in the line-up) and the game was played at the Queen’s Park Oval which, at the time, assisted bowlers. However, he showed great character in bouncing back to represent Guyana and Canada with distinction.”
Neblett was an integral part of the Guyana police team that won four straight Case Cup first division titles from 1971 to 1974. He made a noteworthy debut for the cops as a 19-year-old in 1969 scoring 101 against a Malteenoes Sports Club attack that included England-based wily left-arm spinner Rex Collymore who toured India with the 1966-67 West Indies squad.
Despite the brilliant performance, Neblett was dropped because the selectors at the time felt young players had to work their way through the minor leagues before securing a regular place in the senior side.
The left-handed batsman and right-arm medium-pacer/off-spinner paid his dues and five years later registered 10 centuries in 16 Case Cup matches. He was called to national trials in 1975, but rain ruined the preparation and his chance of representing Guyana at the senior level.
Three years later, Neblett – who ended his career in Guyana as a member of Georgetown Cricket Club – made his senior national debut. He scored an unbeaten 62 against Jamaica in Montego Bay and in the following match against the Combined Islands finished with match figures of 8-150.
Migrating to Canada in 1978, Neblett spent two years with Vikings which won the second division championship both seasons before joining West Indians which captured the first division crown in 1980 and then Grace Church.
His Vikings and Grace Church teammates were ex-police players, Romel Campbell and Francis Waithe.
“I first met Clem in 1969 when we played club cricket in Mahaica,” recounted Waithe. “I have never played with anyone who has had such an optimistic outlook on the game. No matter how grave the situation was, he was somehow able to raise the morale of his club members. He was just a great and funny guy and someone who I will miss.”
Neblett captained Canada on a 10-day tour of Ireland in 1981 and was a member of the national side that toured Jamaica three years later and the TDCA squad that hosted Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) in 1985. He also participated in the 1982 and 1986 International Cricket Council (ICC) Trophy tournaments in England, leading the team in the latter competition to five wins in eight matches.
“Clem led the guys by example on that tour,” said Cricket Canada’s general secretary, Calvin Clarke, who was the team’s assistant manager.” He gave 100 per cent and when guys were down on and off the field, he lifted them. He was a natural leader.”
Reflecting on his career after retirement 22 years ago, Neblett – who was the TDCA premier division top wicket-taker in 1985 with 26 (av. 12.69) – singled out innings of 161 against East Bank in 1973 and 80 that led Grace Church past Overseas in the 1986 premier division semi-finals as his most memorable batting performances. Needing 206 for victory in 100 minutes and 20 overs, Police reached the target for the loss of one wicket.
He has said that his only regret at the time was that he had aged too quickly.
By RON FANFAIR