R Christiani - Single Test Centurion
The most satisfying achievement of Test cricketers worldwide is arguably the scoring of their maiden Test century. In the recent series against New Zealand and England three West Indians achieved this feat – Jerome Taylor (106) at Dunedin, Denesh Ramdin (165) at Bridgetown and Brendan Nash (109) at Port of Spain.
These three players have joined a sizable and ever-growing group of what is now 32 West Indians who have made only a single Test century in their career. Nine of these players are from Jamaica-Franz Alexander, Ivan Barrow, Maurice Foster, Frank Martin, Easton Mc Morris, Brendan Nash, Robert Samuels, Jerome Taylor and Kenneth Weekes. Eight of them are from Barbados, namely, Denis Atkinson, Carlisle Best, George Carew, Clairmonte Depeiza, Adrian Griffith, David Holford, Collis King and Dwayne Smith.
The group also has six players from Guyana, five from Trinidad (Michael Carew, Andrew Ganteaume, Gerald Gomez, Denesh Ramdin and Philip Simmons), two from Grenada (Junior Murray and Devon Smith) and one each from Dominica (Irving Shillingford) and Nevis (Stuart Williams). The six Guyanese are Faoud Bacchus, Leonard Baichan, Robert Christiani, Clayton Lambert, Bruce Pairaudeau and Joseph Solomon. The remainder of this first instalment of this article will focus on the earliest of them, namely, Christiani.
Robert Julian Christiani, called R.J. by his admirers and my boyhood cricket idol, occupies a very special place in the history of Guyanese cricket. An attractive, attacking, right-handed middle-order batsman who advanced down the wicket to spinners further and more frequently than any other batsman whom I have seen, Christiani was British Guiana’s most highly esteemed cricketer in the 1940s and early 1950s.
For much of his Test career from 1948 to 1954 Christiani was not only merely the only Guianese who was a regular member of the West Indies team, but also more often than not the only Guianese in the side. This was a period when British Guiana was making only a minor contribution to the regional team.
Christiani, who was the finest Guianese batsman until the emergence of Rohan Kanhai in the mid 1950s, was the first Guianese to score a Test century. This historic achievement occurred at Delhi in November 1948 in the first ever Test between the West Indies and India. By then 22 Test centuries had already been scored by West Indians – 13 by Jamaicans, five by Barbadians and four by Trinidadians, none by Guianese.
Christiani, in fact, had come near to scoring a century in his first Test appearance in January 1948 against England at Kensington Oval in Barbados, the Test played by the West Indies since the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 interrupted international cricket. In that game in the second innings he was adjudged leg before wicket for 99, his team’s highest score, and is said to have wept his way back to the pavilion in bitter disappointment. Until then the highest scores by a Guianese in Test cricket were 80 and 70 made against England at Kensington Oval eighteen years earlier, in January 1930 by Francis de Caires, the father of the late founder of Stabroek News.
Christiani surpassed all previous Test scores by Guianese when he made 107 at Delhi in the first Test to be played at that venue and the first in India since 1934. He was the only Guianese in the team, though his compatriot, Clifford Mc Watt, the reserve wicket-keeper, was the 12th man.
Christiani came to the wicket with his team’s score at 403 for 6 and featured in two productive partnerships. He shared a stand of 118 with the Barbadian, Everton Weekes, for the seventh wicket and one of 106 with another Barbadian, Denis Atkinson (45), for the ninth wicket, the latter being then the West Indian record for that wicket in Tests.
The century by Christiani was chanceless and included nine fours. He reached his first fifty in 104 minutes and his hundred in three hours. His innings was distinguished by his superb timing, splendid cover drives and excellent use of his feet to the very able Indian orthodox left-arm orthodox spinner Mulvantrai “Vinoo” Mankad.
It was the first occasion that a West Indian batting at Number Eight, had made a Test century-a feat performed since by five other Caribbean batsmen, namely, Clairmonte Depeiza, Franz Alexander, Bernard Julien, Clive Lloyd and Jerome Taylor. It was also the first and a rare occasion when as many as four West Indian batsmen made a Test hundred in the same innings, the other three centurions being Clyde Walcott (152), Gerry Gomez (101) and Everton Weekes (128).
Christiani’s hundred contributed to a team total of 631, which at that time was a record score by any team against India in a Test. It also surpassed the previous highest West Indies Test innings score of 535 for seven wickets declared made against England at Sabina Park in Jamaica in 1935.
Christiani’s century did not enable his team to win the Test. India, dismissed for 454 and asked to follow on, struggled successfully to reach 220 for 6 in their second innings and earned a draw. Christiani, a leg-spin change bowler, took three of these six wickets, his only Test victims in his career.
Although the Guianese cricketer played 17 more Tests after his century in Delhi, in these games he never achieved a score of more than 76, which he made against Australia at Sydney in 1951. His overall Test career statistics were disappointing for such a gifted player. In 37 innings in a career of 22 Tests, he made only 896 runs including one century and four fifties, with a low average of 26.35.