Single Test Centurions Part 5 - Faoud Bacchus
Six of the 33 West Indians who have scored only a single century in Test cricket are Guyanese. Previous instalments of this article focused on the first four of these players, namely, Robert Christiani, Bruce Pairaudeau, Joe Solomon and Leonard Baichan. The focus of this fifth instalment is on Faoud Bacchus.
Sheik Faoud Ahumul Fasiel Bacchus was born in Georgetown in January 1954. He was an attractive aggressive right-handed batsman who possessed a good array of strokes, especially on the off-side, but often lost his wicket due to impetuosity. For both Guyana and the West Indies he opened the batting as well as appearing in the middle order. He was also an excellent fieldsman anywhere, but especially in the covers or close to the wicket on the on side at silly mid on or forward short leg.
Although he showed exceptional promise as a youth, his initial years in first-class cricket were disappointing. On his debut in such cricket in October 1971 at the age of seventeen, he had scores of 9 and 8 for Demerara in an inter-county game against Berbice. In his next first-class match 18 months later in April 1973 for Guyana against the Australian tourists he made 31 and 36 not out.
This was followed with scores of 2 and 10 in two regional Shell Shield matches for Guyana against Jamaica and Barbados early in 1974 and innings of 24 and 14 against the MCC tourists in March 1974. In short, in his initial five first-class games in eight innings he scored only 134 runs with a highest score of 36 not out and a paltry average of 19.14.
Thereafter, however, his performance improved significantly. In the Shell Shield competition in 1975 he made two fifties (50 not out and 53) in three innings and two more half-centuries (80 and 84) in four innings in the 1976 tournament. In both these regional seasons his average exceeded fifty (55.50 and 52.75). However, it was not until February 1978 that he achieved his coveted maiden first-class century-102 in a drawn game against Jamaica at Jarrett Park, his 24th innings in his 17th first-class match.
It was this innings, his apparent talent, and, above all, an unexpected crisis in West Indies cricket which led to his entry into Test cricket a few months later at the age of twenty-four in two games against the visiting Australians. The crisis was occasioned by the withdrawal after two Tests of the series of virtually the entire West Indies team in the wake of a dispute over team selection with the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, peeved that the team had signed contracts with Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket. As a result of this rift, seven West Indians, including Bacchus and his compatriot, the Berbician all-rounder, Sew Shivnarine, were selected to make their Test debuts in the remaining three Tests of the series as replacements for the players who had withdrawn.
Bacchus played in the last two of these games at the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad and Sabina Park in Jamaica in April and May 1978, batting at Number 6 in the first match and opening in the second. He failed dismally, recording scores of 9 and 7 and 5 and 21- a total of only 42 runs in four innings with a very poor average of 10.50. Nevertheless, in the absence of the Packer recruits, he was selected in the West Indies touring squad, led by Alvin Kallicharran, which proceeded to India at the end of the year for the region’s next Test series.
India won this six-match rubber in 1978-1979 by one game to nil, with the other five games drawn. This was the first time the Indians won a series at home against the West Indies in five attempts.
Bacchus did much better in this rubber than in the previous one against the Aussies. He missed his maiden Test hundred in the first innings of the second Test at Bangalore when he was bowled by the orthodox left-arm spinner, Bishan Bedi, for 96, the top score in the match. He made another valuable half-century (61) in the second innings of the drawn fifth Test at Delhi when his team followed on. However, he surpassed these commendable efforts in the final Test at Kanpur in February 1979, when he made his first and only Test century in his eighth Test appearance.
This was a high-scoring game, played on a lifeless pitch which proved to be a batting paradise. India, batting first, amassed a mammoth total of 644 for 7 wickets declared, then its highest ever Test score. This achievement was due mainly to centuries by Gundappa Viswanath (179), Anshuman Gaewad (102) and Mohinder Amarnath (101).
The West Indies began their reply just over an hour after lunch on the third day, opening with Bacchus and the Barbadian, Alvin Greenidge. When Greenidge was out for 20 with the score at 37, Bacchus shared a second-wicket partnership of 97 with the Trinidadian left-hander, Larry Gomes, during which he reached 50 in 77 minutes. Gomes (37) was dismissed five minutes before the close of play, when the West Indies was 137 for 2 with Bacchus 72 not out and the night watchman, the Trinidadian slow left-arm bowler, Raphick Jumadeen, 2 not out.
Bacchus continued to bat impressively the following day, when play was halted 50 minutes before its scheduled close due to poor visibility. He was involved in two century partnerships-the first, surprisingly, 129 for the third wicket with the tail-ender, Jumadeen, who batted with the skill of a recognised batsman, scoring 56, including five fours. The second was an unbroken stand of 105 for the fifth wicket with the Barbadian wicketkeeper, David Murray, after Kallicharran was dismissed for four. During this partnership Bacchus reached his double century in 433 minutes off 317 balls by driving the able off-spinner, Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan, to the mid off boundary. When play ended shortly after, he had reached 204 not out of the team score of 373 for four, with Murray 35 not out.
No play was possible on the following day because of rain and owing to the dampness of the pitch, the game did not resume until after lunch on the sixth and final day, when Bacchus took his score to 250. He was unfortunate to have been dismissed then when he slipped in attempting to sweep Venkataraghavan and hit his wicket. He sat down on the wicket in disbelief and disappointment as he was only six runs short of the highest score not only in a Test in India but also in any Test between the West Indies and India-256 by his compatriot, Rohan Kanhai, at Calcutta in 1958-59, 20 years before. In short his 250 was the second highest score for any Test in India and the second highest in Tests between the West Indies and India.
Bacchus’s knock saved the game for the West Indies. He scored more than half of his team’s total of 452 for 8. It was a magnificent innings lasting 512 minutes and containing 33 fours. According to the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack he batted with “authority and brilliance”. His innings was also praised by the Reuters correspondent who stated that “he batted with style and determination…pulling his team out of a difficult position…He treated the Indian bowlers, both spinners and medium pacers, with contempt…He hit the bowlers ruthlessly.”
His double century was the highest individual score ever achieved at the ground at Kanpur, eclipsing the previous record for the ground, 198 made by the Barbadian, Garfield Sobers, in 1958. Furthermore, his partnership of 160 runs with David Murray established a new record for the sixth wicket in Tests at that venue.
Bacchus’ innings was a major contribution to the high-scoring nature of the Test, which produced 1096 runs for the loss of only 15 wickets or an average of 73 runs per wicket. This was at that time the third highest scoring rate in all Tests matches since their inception in 1877.
In that knock Bacchus scored more runs than his aggregate in the other nine innings which he had in the rubber. His double hundred enabled him to score 472 runs in the series with a good average of 47.20, placing third in his team’s batting averages behind Kallicharran (59.77) and Jumadeen (58.00).
Like most of the other Guyanese single Test centurions, Bacchus’ Test career after scoring his maiden Test hundred was an anti-climax. He was never able to achieve that quality of batsmanship again and after the senior team’s boycott ended, he found it difficult initially to command a regular place in the Test team. He represented the West Indies in 11 more Tests in the following four years, but in 16 innings in these games against England, Pakistan and Australia he had only one score over fifty. His scores in these matches were 30 and 19,0,0,61,11 (against England), 0, 45 and 17, 16, 2 and 39 against Pakistan and 1 and 0, and 0 and 27 against Australia- a total of 268 runs at an average of 16.75.
Bacchus eventually forfeited his ability to continue to represent the West Indies by participating in a tour of West Indian “rebels” to apartheid South Africa in 1983. In his entire Test career of 19 matches in 30 innings he scored only 782 runs, including his double century and three fifties, with an average of 26.06. Although his batting on the whole was disappointing, his fielding was usually brilliant, enabling him to take 17 catches.