Tribute To Robert Christiani

Judge Vibert Lampkin
Date published: 
St. Stanislaus News & Views

Robert Christiani attended Saints in the mid to late 1930s, and went on to become the premier batsman for British Guiana until the mid-1950s. He also was selected to represent the West Indies against England, India, Australia, and New Zealand from 1947 to 1954, for which team he showed his skills not only as a batsman but, occasionally, as a spin bowler. In the mid-1940s, he was also active in the sports of soccer and Field Hockey.

Now every Guyanese who lived in the late 1940's and 1950's and early 1960's would remember Robert Christiani. He is perhaps the greatest Guyanese athlete of that period, having represented Guyana in soccer - goalie; hockey - goalie; and of course cricket. He was batsman extraordinaire, spin bowler and wicket-keeper. Not to mention that he was unmatched as a fieldsman.

Even in the days of the mighty "three W's", Robert, known to schoolboys of my day as 'Sir Robert" or "RJ" (for Robert Julian), was outstanding at the crease. Who can ever forget his matchless footwork, the dance down the wicket, his immaculate hook to square leg? Who can forget his 99 in his first Test appearance - still only the second man in cricket history to have done that? Who can forget his century in each innings at Lords against the MCC when even the three W's failed?

In those days, he was the only one carrying British Guiana on his back - with some assistance from Leslie Wight, Bruce Parideau, and Lennie Thomas. Rohan Kanhai (who, it is claimed copied to a 'T' Robert's hook to square leg), Joe Solomon and Basil Butcher had not yet arrived on the scene. Lance Gibbs and Clive Lloyd were still in school.

Who can ever forget Robert in the outfield running almost the whole length of the boundary to catch a ball going for six, making the catch and rolling over, coming up with bruises on his face? Who can ever forget him in the slips or at silly mid-on catching Len Hutton at 2 in the second innings after Sir Len had made 202 not out in the first innings and The West Indies enforced the follow-on? Who can forget him behind the wicket where (as the caption in the newspaper with the photograph said), "With the swiftness of a sparrow and the grace of a swan, Christiani dives for the ball"?

Robert, I hasten to add, was also an alumnus of St. Stanislaus. We don't know yet if, with his death and Charlie's death, they are building a cricket team up there. Or whether Father Smith, SJ., former Principal of St. Stanislaus, is calling his boys home. But perhaps both cricketers and alumni of St. Stanislaus should be on tenter hooks!

Robert Christiani was certainly my hero in my teenage years. I watched him not only from the "College" stand at the south end of G.C.C. but in Club Cricket at B.G.C.C. when the whole team would be out for 161, of which Robert had scored 100. I have seen all the great West Indian batsmen of the late 40's to the mid 60's: the three W's, Stollmeyer, Alan Rae, Conrad Hunte, Rohan Kanhai, Joe Solomon, Basil Butcher and others. Each had his own quality; there was the grace and artistry of Worrell, the power of Walcott, the fantastic wrists of Weekes, the stroke making of Stollmeyer, the steadfastness of Rae, Solomon, Butcher and Fredericks, and the flash of Hunter and Kanhai.

They all scored more Test runs than Robert. But when it came to sheer beauty of watching a master at the crease, no one, no one, exceeded Robert Christiani. Maybe it is because I am Guyanese and there is a certain bias. But no one brought greater joy to me than to see Robert at bat when he was on the go.

About 1952, in my late teens, I was travelling down from Rosignol to Kitty by train. It was sometime after that tour of West Indies to England. Goddard was the Captain. That was the year when either John Arlott or Neville Cardus had said that: "Goddard and Christiani were the two best fieldsmen in the world".

On the train, there was the usual loud discussion back and forth among cricket aficionados about the greatness of the three W's as against other batsmen. An old Indian man could take it no more. He finally came forward and said: "Me nah care what alyou say. Me agree that Worrell, Weekes and Walcott great. But when Christiani hit a ball, it like God talk". There ended the lesson and the discussion!.........Vibert