England In WI 1968
My earliest memories of England in the Caribbean go back to 1968 when Rohan Kanhai and Gary Sobers mauled the English attack at GCC Bourda. The teams had arrived in Guyana with England holding a 1-0 lead following that infamous declaration by Sobers in the previous Test in Trinidad. Word in Georgetown at the time was that when Sobers arrived at Timehri International and Customs asked if he had anything to declare, Sobers responded: "Declare? Who, me? No way!"
Those were the days of pocket radios, scrap books, newspaper clippings and, of course, endless arguments. Who was the best bowler, batsman or fielder? And everyone can remember, I am sure, that friend who could describe the Kanhai hook shot in a way that you could have sworn he saw it live on TV, except that there was no TV in Guyana back then.
One of my friends swore that the voice of Tony Cozier was the jinx. He would say to me, "Sham, every time Cozier came on the air West Indies would lose a wicket!" And who can forget those annoying breaks in commentary; and just when your favourite batsman was approaching his hundred ... sitting there, heart in hand, hoping that when commentary resumed he was still batting.
England, led by the late Sir Colin Cowdrey, had arrived in the Caribbean in January of ’68 at a difficult time for West Indies cricket. A few years earlier, Sir Frank Worrell had surprisingly anointed Sobers as his successor for the captaincy ahead of the rightful Conrad Hunte. As a leader, Sobers was proving to be a major disappointment.
In the first Test in Trinidad, West Indies sporting a batting line up of Kanhai, Sobers, Lloyd, Butcher, Nurse, Comacho, Holford, and Murray struggled against an average English attack of Brown, Jones, D’Oliviera and Titmus. Winning the toss, Boycott and Edrich faced the opening attack of Hall and Griffith at Queen’s Park oval, with a youthful Steven Comacho making his debut.
Centuries for Graveney and Barrington saw England post an impressive 568 all out with Griffith picking up 5 for 69. West Indies, in reply, were dismissed for 363 despite a spanking 85 from Kanhai and a fighting ton from Clive Lloyd. Following on, West Indies got solid starts at the top of the order – Nurse (42), Comacho (43), Kanhai (37), and Butcher (52), but a middle order collapse saw them desperately struggling to stave off defeat at 243 for 8.
Next, it was on to Jamaica and a thrilling game that had everything, including a riot on Day 5 that forced the players to return for a sixth day. A century for captain Cowdrey and Edrich (96) took England to 376. In reply, West Indies were bundled out for 143 with Lloyd (34) and Kanhai (26) the top scorers; John Snow grabbed career figures of 7 for 49.
Forced to follow on, Sobers scored a fighting century to take West Indies to 391; Nurse (76) and Kanhai (36) were the other run-scorers. Chasing 159 for victory on the final day, England were on the brink of defeat at 68 for 8, but West Indies just could not seal the deal.
The third Test, played at Kensington Oval in Barbados, also ended in a draw. There were half centuries for Comacho, Butcher and Sobers in the West Indies first innings of 349. England led by a 150-run opening partnership between Edrich (146) and Boycott (90) replied with 449. Lloyd got a hundred in the 2nd innings and Butcher (60) as the game petered out to a draw.
The teams then returned to Queen’s Park Oval for the fourth Test and the West Indies surpassed 400 for the first time in the series, scoring 526 for 7 declared. Kanhai registered a majestic 153, smashing 18 glorious fours and one six, sharing in a 250 odd-run partnership with Nurse who slammed a brilliant 136 with 12 boundaries. England replied with 404; Cowdrey scoring 148 and wicketkeeper Allan Knott 69 not out. Butcher, in as a change bowler, earned career-best figures of 5 for 34.
And then came that infamous Sobers’ declaration at 92 for 2 that set England a victory target of 215. It was a decision that Sobers has come to regret dearly. Led by Boycott (80 not out) and Cowdrey (71), England cruised to victory by 7 wickets to take a 1-0 series lead as the teams headed to Guyana for the fifth and final Test.
On a bright and sunny morning in Georgetown, West Indies won the toss and elected to bat. At 72 for 3, Sobers joined Kanhai in one of the most memorable partnerships (250) between these two giants of West Indies cricket. In front of a packed Bourda, Kanhai hammered 21 fours in a scintillating knock of 150, while Sobers smashed 18 delightful fours in his knock of 152.
It was a special treat for the Guyanese fans with the Babulal and the Baron in full cry. In one Snow over Kanhai savaged him for 4 consecutive boundaries. Twice Sobers came down to have a word with his partner, but to no avail. The following over Sobers himself cut loose against Jeff Jones and the carnage was in full flow as the West Indies went pass 400 for the second time in the series.
Boycott got a hundred in England’s reply of 371. Batting a second time West Indies were dismissed for 264 with Snow grabbing 6 for 60. Chasing a target of 308 for victory England held on for a draw at 206 for 9. Gibbs sent down a marathon spell of 40 overs capturing 6 wickets for 60 runs. Allan Knott and last man, Jones, survived a string of leg before shouts from Gibbs but Umpire Kippens was unmoved.
Many years later, I met Sir Gary Sobers for the first time purely by coincidence. I was working at the Ministry of Finance and we were at Cheddi Jagan International welcoming guests to the Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ conference. Sir Gary arrived that very evening to take part in a West Indies cricket development program.
One of my coworkers, Sheik Ameer, who was the president of the East Coast cricket association knew Sobers, and even though he was not one of the guests, we took the opportunity to roll out the red carpet for the great man. Later, Ameer offered Sobers a ride and we traveled together to Georgetown. I took the opportunity to ask Sobers about that partnership with Kanhai against England at Bourda.
Back then, it was rumoured that a few of the players had been drinking the night before at the Tower Hotel, and that the thrashing that England got was, as we say in Georgetown, hang-over licks. The Baron only offered a smile, but over the years I have wondered if my eyes were playing a trick on me that evening, or did I indeed notice a mischievous twinkle in his eyes?
Sobers did admit, however, that both he and Kanhai have reminisced, often, about those magical moments in West Indies cricket.