Kanhai: WI Legends, Part 5

Date Published: 
18-Apr-2010
Source: 
T&T Guardian
Author: 
Nasser Khan

Rohan Kanhai was simply one of the greatest and exciting batsmen, West Indian or otherwise, the cricketing world has ever seen.

From the time of his first first-class match in 1954/5 to the end of his active playing days in 1977, well over 20 years later, the dapper right-hander had played a total of 421 games, amassing 29,250 runs at an average of 49.40 with 86 centuries and 120 fifties.

He also held 325 catches during that time which included seven stumpings. For all these years his batting was most times described as stroke-filled with a penchant for the unorthodox…exhilarating, incomparable, dazzling, yet elegant.

For his ability to dominate bowling combined with technical excellence and graceful elegant stroke play, Kanhai is widely acknowledged to be among the best. Never in the history of the game during his prime had a batsman so dominated fast bowling especially, pre-helmet and all, with equal grace, power and elegance.

After quickly rising through the ranks of school and inter-territorial cricket he made his Test debut at the age of 22 against England in June of 1957 ending his Test career in March 1974 at the Queen’s Park Oval. The Queen’s Park Oval was the scene of many of his great Test innings. His first Test innings on our hallowed ground was a scintillating match top score of 96 in February 1958 when we defeated Pakistan, one of the many close-to-100-innings in his career.

In February 1960 he returned to blaze 110 against England; in April 1962, 139 against India; in May 1965, 121 against Australia; in January 1968, 85 against England; and in March 1968 in the famous loss to England after Sobers’ double declarations, he plundered 153.

There are some cricketing images/photos/clips that are timeless and at least three of these involve Rohan Kanhai. The first is the infamous celebratory ‘hands in the air-leap of joy’ photo at the end of the first ever Tied Test match between Australia and the West Indies in 1960/61 after the last ball run-out (other legends in this photo are Garry Sobers, Frank Worrell and Wes Hall).

The second is of Kanhai’s inimitable famous flamboyant falling hook-sweep shot ending up on his backside. The third is of a grey haired, almost 40-year-old Kanhai at Lords in 1975 winning the World Cup hitting a sedate, calculated 55 in a winning 149 partnership with Clive Lloyd the captain who succeeded him. This in an era in which the ODI format of the game was only beginning to take hold.

Superlatives have been unabashedly spoken and written about him by the world’s greatest players and commentators:

  • CLR James: “Kanhai would hit Test bowlers in Australia as if they were league bowlers in Scotland… spasms of alternate toughness and brilliance…”
  • Sir Learie Constantine: “… On certain days, before he goes into the wicket, he makes up his mind to let them have it. And once he is that way nothing on earth can stop him.”
  • Sir Garfield Sobers: “Rohan Kanhai was a great player…—and he was rated one of the tops,” “a good cricket brain….earned the respect of his players.”
  • Sunil Gavaskar who named his son Rohan after “his idol” rates Kanhai as the best batsman he ever saw during his playing days. “Rohan Kanhai is quite simply the greatest batsman I have ever seen.”
  • Michael Manley: “…No more technically correct batsman ever came out of the West Indies than Rohan Kanhai…..” On his captaincy: “During Kanhai’s short tenure, he established himself as a sound tactician on the field and a firm disciplinarian off it.”
  • Clive Lloyd: “...he was always such a big figure in my life, Guyana and the West Indies.”
  • Jimmy Adams: “Rohan came to Jamaica and assumed the role of coach for both our senior and junior teams in the early 80s and continued in both roles for almost two decades….He maintained and demanded very high standards both on and off the field, and was instrumental for a lot of the individual and team successes that both Jamaica and a lot of us as players experienced during his stint here.”

Following a couple of strong domestic seasons he was selected in the British Guiana team in 1955 when nineteen, scoring 51 and 27 in the match with the Australian touring side. In 1956 he distinguished himself by hitting 129 from the Jamaica bowling and 195 against Barbados in the Quadrangular Tournament, followed with innings of 62 and 90 in the first of two trials which helped in the selection of the party to tour England.

In his early days Kanhai was a wicketkeeper as well as a belligerent middle-order batsman. Indeed, in his first three Tests he kept wicket before Franz Alexander took over behind the stumps but still deputized as keeper on several other occasions. His best Test score of 256 came against India at Calcutta in 1958/59 followed by another double century against Pakistan on a further leg of that tour.

He played county cricket with much success for Warwickshire from 1968 to 1977. For Warwickshire he scored 1,000 runs in a season on ten occasions, his best year being 1970 when he plundered 1,894 at an average of 57.39. His highest score for Warwickshire was 253 against Nottinghamshire in 1968 at Trent Bridge. In 1971 during the Rest of the World series versus Australia Kanhai scored a superb 115 against Dennis Lillee at Perth.

In brilliant style he combated Dennis Lillee bowling at his fastest on the fastest and bounciest of wickets at Perth. He captained the West Indies, succeeding Garry Sobers, on 13 occasions including to a 2-0 test series victory in England in 1973. After retirement the West Indies called on Kanhai as their in charge of coaching the under-19s before being assigned to the Test team a role he held from 1992-1995.

FACT FILE

  • Full name: Rohan Bholalall Kanhai, Height: 5’ 7”
  • Born: December 26, 1935, Port Mourant, Berbice, then British Guiana.
  • Batting: Right-hand batsman and wicketkeeper

More Info

  • 256 at Calcutta, India 1959;
  • Indian Cricketer of the year 1958/9; --Wisden Cricketer of the Year: 1964.
  • One of Guyana’s top five cricketers ever: 2004 (West Indian Jubilee Cricketers).
  • First captain of the West Indies of East Indian descent (a West Indian East Indian captain).
  • After T&T’s Sonny Ramadhin, second of East Indian descent to play for the Windies.
  • In his first three Tests he kept wicket before Franz Alexander took over behind the stumps. He deputised as keeper on other occasions.
  • He was West Indies coach between 1992 and 1995.
  • ICC Hall of fame inductee.
  • Pub named after him in Ashington, Northumberland, England

Teams

  • West Indies (Test: 1957-1973/74);
  • West Indies (ODI: 1973-1975);
  • British Guiana (1954/55-1965/66);
  • Western Australia (1961/62);
  • Trinidad and Tobago (1964/65);
  • Guyana (1966/67-1973/74);
  • Warwickshire (1968-1977);
  • Tasmania (1969/70);
  • Transvaal (1974/75;
  • Rest of the World (1970-1971)