Rohan Kanhai - Blasting for Runs

Date Published: 
Guyana Chronicle
Petamber Persaud

THE bookshelf of Guyanese autobiographies is meagre yet in the realm of oral literature the exploits of the country’s celebrated sons and daughters are brandied from street corners to parliament; there is no shortage of Guyanese heroes or of Guyanese superstars or of Guyanese role models.

“Blasting for Runs” is among the first Guyanese books of autobiographical writing. It holds a place of pride on the local cricket scene – it is the first such book written by a Guyanese cricketer who served his club, country, the region and wider world community with distinction. It is also among the first books written by a Guyanese of Indian ancestry.

This book on cricket and about one of the most exciting and colourful batsmen in the game is insightful, describing the glory and the disrepute on the field while taking the reader beyond the boundary.

The significance is clear – there is about four-fifth more to cricket than what happens on the field including the plague of injuries, the condemnation by foreign press and local fans, homesickness; not only missing home but getting sick from certain food offered by foreign host countries, and bad selection systems.

However, at the end, the reader would warm to the trials and travails of a cricketer and would surely be more tolerant in condemnation and criticism when things go wrong. The 1960s was characterised by long sea travels, great personal sacrifice, and lack of financing to have your family with you on tour especially at Christmas, even the telephone system that time was a test of faith.

But that period was also characterised or tempered by useful communication among cricketers on the game; there was an eagerness to learn, correct mistakes and there were also persons in the camp willing to assist.

There was a great community spirit which translated to useful team spirit without which the best team on paper will falter time and again.

Kanhai imparted a number of tips on the game. “A batsman needs three things to succeed – guts, timing and concentration”. Later he added “determination’ – ‘I’m not saying the attacking flair wasn’t there…but it was harnessed into a controlled and deadly weapon” making reference to his century against England in the 1960 series which took him “nearly six and a half hours”.

For the bowlers and the reference to a dead wicket - it is just sleeping; a bowler can get life out of any pitch if he tries.

The book also reveals human nature in nuances which when mind-boggling brings into question the humanity of man towards man. Example like bad decisions by umpires, like the labelling of Charlie Griffith, “the Chucker”, like captains Peter May of England and A. H. Kardar of Pakistan refusing Kanhai a runner have brought the game in disrepute.

The book reveals human nature in nuances which when refreshing, it makes the reader feel good to be part of the human race. Men involved in fierce rivalry on field striking up great friendship beyond the boundary. The book is one of many contrasts with its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows but always cricket is the winner. All of this and more come out in the story of one of the most exciting batsmen of the game.

“I made my grand entrance on Boxing Day, 1935 – perhaps that is why I’ve been a fighter all my life”, wrote Rohan Kanhai in the chapter titled “How it Began”. It was a challenge to get into the game, a challenge to keep your place in the team and a challenge to maintain form. And along the way those challenges (by trial & error method) became rule of the thumb.

For instance, Kanhai wrote that you could “use your feet to turn the ball into any length you want”. As an extension or corollary, he declared that he was a good player off the leg because when he was learning the game, he was too poor to buy pads. He confessed he was not the beneficiary of coaching but would recommend it “as long as the coach tries to develop the player’s natural talents and not smother them…everyone can do with a helping hand, providing it’s just that”. Kanhai also confessed that he didn’t like net practise because the pitches were not true resulting in injuries and he “couldn’t stand being hemmed in”.

Kanhai couldn’t escape cricket. He grew up among some notable players of the game – Joe Solomon, Basil Butcher, Ivan Madray with John Trim looking over them and Clyde Walcott influencing the development and direction of cricket in the county of Berbice.

Cricket for Kanhai started in a sort of base manner, “I learned my cricket in the narrow backstreets and open wasteland around our house using fronds, a piece of dried leaves of coconut palms shaped into a bat, a piece of cork covered with rags and bound with twine as the ball and twigs snapped from trees for stumps” and no protective gears.

But he made it to the top. In a career lasting some two decades, Kanhai scored 28, 774 runs at an average of 49,01 including 83 centuries in first-class matched for British Guiana, Warwickshire, Tasmania, Western Australia and the West Indies. As an exceptional fieldsman and useful wicketkeeper, he took 318 catches and effected 7 stumpings. In a test career of 79 matches, he amassed 6,227 runs including 15 centuries and took 50 catches.

In the final chapter of the book labelled “what of the future?” Kanhai declared, “there’s a lot more exciting things to see. This game of cricket isn’t dead yet. No sir, not by a long, long way”. The future is now – West Indies hosting the ninth Cricket World Cup.

Blasting for Runs was published simultaneously in London and Toronto; by Souvenir Press, England, and The Ryerson Press, Canada. From whichever angle it is viewed, the book has scored heavily, establishing a number of records in the literature of Guyana, the Caribbean and the world.