Take That, Subhash!

Date Published: 
Indo-Caribbean World
Shan Razack

"Subhash Gupte was the greatest leg spinner I have played against, a man with enough mystic power to perform the Indian rope trick."

That was how Guyana’s and West Indies’ star batsman Rohan Kanhai described Gupte, though the two men "didn't exactly hit it off" in their first meeting during the West Indies tour of India in 1958-59.

Kanhai wrote: "In the first Test I presented him with his 100th Test wicket when he had me snapped by Roy for 22 in the second innings. In the next Test at Kanpur, he bowled me neck-and-crop for a duck, and as we came in for tea, he sauntered up to me and sneered, ‘Hello rabbit’."

"The jibe brought a giggle from the rest of the players in earshot but set my blood boiling.” Gupte obviously felt that by humiliating Kanhai in front of his peers, he'd destroy the confidence of the Guyanese batsman and gain the "whip hand" for the rest of the tour.

West Indies were dismissed for a modest 222. Kanhai made just 43 in his second knock in the second Test. But all that "rabbit" business changed in the third Test in Calcutta in December 1958.

Gupte got Kanhai all right, but not before the Guyanese master batsman had time to translate his glorious form into a personal tally of 256 runs - his highest in Test cricket and overtaking Frank Worrell's record Test score of 237 against India in Kingston.

Above whatever he'd achieved in Calcutta, mastering Gupte was Kanhai "real prize".

Gupte captured nine wickets for 102 runs in 34 overs and three balls with his leg-breaks and googlies. This was the best performance by an Indian bowler against the West Indies and remained so until 1983 when the pace bowler, Kapil Dev, captured nine wickets for 83 runs at the Guyarat Stadium in Ahmedabad in the third Test of the series.

The West Indies batted first and lost its openers, John Holt (5) and Conrad Hunte (23) with the score at 12 and 72 respectively. In spite of these early setbacks, however, they proceeded to compile a massive 614 runs, made in only 575 minutes, for the loss of five wickets.

This mammoth total was due largely to a brilliant attacking innings of 256 by Rohan Kanhai, his maiden Test century and the first double century by a Guyanese in Test cricket.

The local press acclaimed this achievement with headlines such as: "Kanhai's First Century is a Double." According to the Reuter report, Kanhai, "was in devastating mood" and "played classical shots with supreme confidence from the beginning." He soon got completely on top of the bowling and when India brought on Gupte, the leg-spinner was made to look innocuous.

Kanhai scored his first 50 runs, which included ten fours, in 80 minutes. He reached his century in only 132 minutes, the fastest hundred in the series, and 200 in 256 minutes. Kanhai was involved in two dominating partnerships - one of 107 runs in 81 minutes with Collie Smith (34) for the third wicket and another of 217 runs for the fourth wicket with fellow Port Mourant batsman Basil Butcher, who batted brilliantly to score 103, also his first Test century. Between the tea interval and the end of play on the first day Kanhai and Butcher scored 123 runs in only 85 minutes.

The third centurion in the innings was Gary Sobers who made 106 not out, his third century of the series and his sixth in the previous ten Test innings.

Kanhai shared an unfinished stand of 170 runs for the sixth-wicket with Joe Solomon, who made 69 not out.

India never recovered. Forced to follow-on with 490 runs behind, the home side could muster up only 124 runs, its batsmen falling prey to the menacing pace bowling of Roy Gilchrist, who ended the Test with a performance of nine wickets for 73 runs, and Wes Hall, the man who swept through India's second innings to give West Indies victory with a day to spare.

The President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, made a fine gesture in presenting Kanhai with a stuffed tiger's head for what he called "a fine innings played in the right spirit."

Gupte was presented with a tiger's skin for his impressive match performance.

For the West Indies, the Calcutta Test win was a landmark achievement. Solomon and Butcher, two hitherto unknowns, made their mark on the 1958-59 tour.

The Port Mourant trio, Kanhai, Butcher and Solomon seemed to relish the Indian attack. As in the previous three Tests, West Indies compiled a formidable score of 500 runs in the fourth owing largely to the contribution by Basil Butcher who top scored with 142; Kanhai contributed 99 and Solomon made 43. 

Solomon scored exactly 100 not out in the fifth and final Test at Delhi in West Indies’ mammoth 644-8 for eight declared. This was Solomon's maiden Test hundred and only century that he scored in his 46 innings which he had in his 27 Tests in which he represented the West Indies.

In the series, the three Guyanese batsmen in the team placed first, third and fourth, respectively, in the West Indies Test averages.

Heading the averages was Joe Solomon, who, in his first Test series, scored 351 runs in six innings, with a staggering average of 117 runs an innings. This remains the highest average achieved by a Guyanese in a Test series for sixteen years, i.e. until 1975, when it was surpassed by another Port Mourant player, diminutive left-hander Alvin Kallicharran in the short two-match series against Pakistan in Pakistan where Kallicharran had an average of 125.5.

Third in the averages below Sobers (557 runs, the team's largest aggregate with an average of 92.83 runs), was Basil Butcher, who in his maiden Test series, scored an impressive 486 runs with an average of 69.42. This proved to be his largest aggregate and best averages in a Test series in his entire career.

Immediately below him, occupying fourth position in the averages was Rohan Kanhai whose sterling knocks gave him 538 runs at an average of 67.25, his highest aggregate and second best in a Test series in his career.

Gupte was left out of India's tour of the West Indies in 1962 because of a controversy with the Indian Cricket Board (ICB), but traveled with the team nonetheless and eventually married a pretty damsel in Trinidad. Gupte lived with his charming wife, children and tiger's skin until his death last year.

Kanhai, who got to know Gupte fairly well after the Calcutta Test would tell you that his stuffed tiger's head hangs proudly in his mother's home at Port Mourant.