Kanhai: Digicel Cricketer No 21
Rohan Kanhai was simply a natural batting genius possessed of hawk-like reflexes, nimble feet, an impeccable defence and all the strokes in the manual including a few that he invented of his own.
He thrilled thousands the world over with his flamboyant, attacking style of play during which he indulged in 421 first-class games inclusive of 79 Tests and seven One Day Internationals in an illustrious career spanning two decades.
Kanhai came to the fore in the early 1950s as one of the charges under the late Sir Clyde Walcott (a member of the famous 3 Ws clan) who was appointed to coach on the sugar estates.
His natural flair for batting coupled with his ability to learn quickly propelled him into the national team in 1955 at the age of 19.
In his debut inter-colonial game against Barbados at the Kensington Oval he made only 14 and one but later that same year he did impress with scores of 51 and 27 in a tour match against the visiting Australians whose attack included the famous four of Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Ritchie Benaud and Alan Davidson.
A year later he registered his first first-class hundred (129) against Jamaica and a superbly fashioned 195 off Barbados. He then added scores of 62, 90 and 117 in the trial matches which earned him a place in the 1957 squad to England.
There, burdened with the double roles of opener and wicketkeeper, he had a moderate series compiling a mere 206 runs at 22.88 per innings. However, his class was evident and he duly kept his place for Pakistan’s inaugural tour to the Caribbean in 1958.
For this series he was relieved of the wicket-keeping duties but was still asked to open the innings in four of the five games though he relished batting in the middle order from where he stroked a polished 96 in the Barbados Test.
He then toured India and Pakistan in 1958-59 and by the end of the second Test in Kanpur, he had played 13 matches without recording a century although he had chalked up three fifties and had had several good starts.
In the third Test at Calcutta, he came of age, producing a truly monumental innings of 256 (his highest Test score) which is still the highest by a West Indian in Asia and stood for 42 years as the highest score by anyone in India.
His appetite now opened, he was run-out for a splendid 99 in his very next innings in Madras and not surprisingly he accumulated 538 runs in the rubber at the excellent rate of 67.25 runs per knock to carry West Indies to a 3-nil series win.
On the Pakistan leg for the three-match engagement, he was off to a slow start but produced another awesome display of brilliant batsmanship in the final game in Lahore to garner 217. This was good enough to earn the guests a victory although the series was lost 2-1.
When the English visited the region in 1960, he battled for over six hours at the Queen’s Park Oval for a restrained and disciplined 110 in a failed effort to save the West Indies from defeat as the five-Test series was lost 1-nil.
By the time the historic 1960-61 tour to Australia came around, Kanhai was at the pinnacle of his game. He cracked a chanceless 252 against Victoria early on the tour during which he invented the extraordinary ‘falling hook’ that became his trademark shot.
On this particular tour, he excelled by constructing twin hundreds in the Adelaide Test (117 and 115) and totalled in excess of 1 000 runs in all first-class matches on tour.
The batting maestro, dubbed ‘Corentyne Thunder’, was now terrorising bowlers everywhere. Against India at home in 1962 he aggregated 495 runs; in England in 1963 he scored another 497 including a most belligerent 77 in only 88 minutes with 10 blistering fours and a six; in 1965 against the Aussies in the Caribbean he churned out 462 more runs.
He slipped a notch on the tour to England in 1966 compiling just 324 runs at the fair average of 40.50 per innings over five Tests but he had the pleasure of reaching his first century on English soil, a compact 104 at the Oval in the final encounter.
He bounced back on the tour to India in 1967-68 with 227 runs at 56.75 in only three Tests and when the West Indies hosted England in 1968, he accumulated an additional 535 runs at the impressive average of 59.44 runs each time he batted.
In the series against England he powered his way to 153 in the fourth match in Trinidad and an exhilarating 150 in the final game at Bourda when he and Gary Sobers went on a rampage.
After a moderate tour to Australia in 1968-69, Kanhai opted out of the three-Test duel in England during the 1969 summer to rest and in the process broke a sequence of playing 61 consecutive matches.
A late call up to be part of the team for the first Test against India at Sabina Park in 1971 did not deter him as he proceeded to plunder an unbeaten 158 in the second innings after the West Indies were forced to follow-on. His superb effort ensured the match was drawn and he ended the series with an additional 433 runs to his credit.
At this juncture of his career he was contracted to Warwickshire in the English county championship where he passed 1 000 runs for each of the ten years he played and shared in huge recording-breaking partnerships with Billy Ibadulla (402) and John Jameson (465) as he got stuck into the opposition.
Kanhai was not invited to be a part of the first series of New Zealand to the region in 1972 as the selectors blooded Lawrence Rowe and Alvin Kallicharran but after leading Guyana to a first Shell Shield title in 1973 he was named captain for the home series against the Aussies later that year.
The West Indies lost the series 2-nil mainly due to a lack of penetrative bowlers but the captain acquitted himself well and led from the front. His first three innings produced scores of 84, 105 and 56 as he garnered 358 runs at 51.14 runs per innings.
In mid-1973 he led the team to a 2-nil triumph in England which ended a barren seven-year period. In a mammoth West Indies victory at Lord’s he and Sobers marked their final Test in England with breathtaking knocks of 157 and 150 not out respectively.
He retained the captaincy for the English return visit to the West Indies in 1974 but after leading the side to a resounding seven-wicket victory in the first Test in Trinidad and three successive draws, the team faltered in the final game ending the series 1-1.
Coupled with his meagre returns in the series and the fact that he was now 39, the selectors thanked him for his great services and appointed his fellow Guyanese Clive Lloyd as captain for the trip to Asia in 1974-75.
Kanhai also had the distinction of being at the helm when the West Indies contested their first ever One Day International match in 1973 and played an invaluable innings in the 1975 World Cup final during which he partnered Lloyd in a match-winning stand of 149 after the team were stifling at 50 for three.
He continued to grace the first-class field for a couple more years before he retired, bathed in the glory of having engraved his name in the pages of history as a batsman of the highest order.
He coached the Jamaican senior team in the 1980s then took up a similar position with the regional side a few years later.
Kanhai currently resides in England.