Cozier on Robert Christiani
Robert Christiani, who died in Toronto on January 4, aged 84, was a player who validated one of Mark Twain's many observations: there are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.
To Guyanese of his generation, who regard him as the unchallenged forerunner of the host of quality batsmen to emerge from cricket's only encampment in South America, Christiani's do lie. A modest average of 26.35 in 22 Tests for West Indies between 1948 and 1954 concealed a player of nimble footwork and a positive and altogether joyful approach to the game whose slim, boyish physique and ever-present spectacles simply added to his appeal. His overall first-class record - 5,103 runs at 40.50 with 12 hundreds - more accurately reflected his ability.
Everton Weekes, who played in all of Christiani's Tests, recognised him as a "very good team man, very unselfish and a very fine player who didn't use all the talent he had as well as he could have ... He was the type of batsman that would get into the 40s and wouldn't carry on."
Christiani was the third of six brothers whose sporting prowess was stimulated by their mother who was also coach, motivator and regular scorer at their school and club matches. Cyril, the eldest and Robert's senior by nearly seven years, was an outstanding wicketkeeper who toured England in 1933 and played in all four home Tests against England in 1934-35. He succumbed to malaria in 1938, aged 24. Ernest and Harry also represented what was then British Guiana.
One of the several batsmen who flourished in the so-called "goodwill" matches between Barbados, British Guiana and Trinidad during the 1940s, Christiani was an automatic selection for the 1947-48 home Tests against England, the first series after the war. He had the traumatic experience of being given out lbw to Ken Cranston for 99 in the second innings on debut, a misfortune that reportedly reduced him - and, no doubt, most of Guyana - to tears.
Invariably down the order at No. 6 or No. 7 in a team whose middle order was dominated by Weekes and the other two Ws, Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott, Christiani played in all but one Test on three subsequent tours. His only Test hundred, 107 at Delhi on the 1948-49 tour of India, was actually made at No.8 in a total of 631. It was the first by a Guyanese in Tests. Like everyone else, he struggled against the pace of Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller on lively pitches in Australia in 1951-52 but he had the satisfaction of securing West Indies' lone victory, at Adelaide on Christmas Day, in an unbroken fifth-wicket partnership of 92 with Gerry Gomez. He was into his 30s by then and played only six more Tests.
Christiani was a true allrounder. He was an outstanding fielder, a fair off-spinner and a wicketkeeper good enough to make two stumpings in the Calcutta Test in 1948-49 when substituting for the injured Walcott. He also represented British Guiana as hockey forward and football goalkeeper.
After his playing days, he helped Walcott organise cricket on the sugar estates that brought to the fore a host of new players, including Rohan Kanhai, Joe Solomon and Basil Butcher. He subsequently emigrated to Canada where he worked at Toronto City Hall, spending the last years of his life suffering from Alzheimer's disease.