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Against genuine pace, spin Rohan Kanhai was best player, on par with Viv Richards

By Harsh Thakor 

Rohan Kanhai took creative genius in batting or aesthecism to regions unexplored. He virtually gave the art of batting a new dimension, being the equivalent of a Beethoven or Rembrandt to batting. He in full flow was manifestation of a divine energy. He could literally invent strokes of his own. He could eviserate any bowling attack, in any conditions.
On his day no was a more consummate batsman, than Kanhai. Kanhai was a concoction of the inventiveness or wizardry of Denis Compton with the solidity or technical skill of Sunil Gavaskar and flamboyance of Viv Richards. Kanhai traversed, originality and sportsmanship at in zones not penetrated in the game of cricket and perhaps will never be equalled. There was beauty in his craft even when he annihilated a bowling attack. Whereas other batsmen could wear down an attack, Kanhai would dissect it like a sculptor chiselling monument. He was poetry in motion although this never compromised the sheer force with which he struck the ball.
Kanhai’s roti shot or falling sweep-hook stroke, reminded one of magician performing tricks. A cross between a sweep and a hook, Kanhai took off the ground as the horizontal blade gave a mortal blow the ball, and with a free flow he would lay on his back, the bat aloft, his head off the ground, his eyes frozen, guiding the retreating ball into the crowd beyond the backward square boundary. The execution of this stroke required a combination of footwork, timing, immense self-confidence, and, an instinctive sense of theatre. No one could duplicate it.
Born at Port Mourant on British Guyana on December 26th, 1935, Kanhai played for the country from 1954-55 until 1973-74. Kanhai had Indian ancestral origins. In his early days he was a wicketkeeper as well as an aggressive middle-order batsman; indeed, in his first three Tests he kept wicket before Franz Alexander took over behind the stumps. Kanhai deputised as keeper on several other occasions. He made his debut on the 1957 tour of England.
Kanhai was a cricketer of diminutive height, standing at 5ft 4inches, and thus joining the exclusive club of short batting greats like Bradman, Hanif Mohammad, Sunil Gavaskar , Sachin Tendulkar ,Neil Harvey and Virendra Sehwag. Above all he symbolised spirit of sportsmanship and grace , always walking when he was out and never resorting to vile play over opponents. Rarely did any cricketing great uphold the spirit of the game in such magnitude, or display such humility.

Career Highlights

In 1958-59 in India Kanhai was an epitome of batting perfection when aggregating 538 runs at an average of 66.8.The manner he tackled the likes of Subhash Gupte, reminded one of a circus juggler. Kanhai’s 256 at Calcutta was an epic ,and his 99 later was not far behind. In 1959, in Pakistan, his 217 at Lahore was masterpiece, on a turning track.
In 1960-61 in Australia he overshadowed the great Sir Garfield Sobers, topping the averages at 50.3 and aggregating 503 runs. At Adelaide he scored back to back centuries of 115 and 117, at the rate of a run a minute, giving memories of Bradman. Kanhai took bowling domination to heights almost unscaled .On that tour in game against Victoria, when scoring 252, Kanhai took batting virtuosity to sublime proportions. Never had an overseas batsmen been such a medley of grace, technical skill and creativity. Kanhai could make even Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson look like club bowlers. Writer Moyes classed Kanhai’s batting as scintillating, while Alan Davidson rated Kanhai’s batting even better than Gary Sobers.
In 1960 at Trinidad his 110 out of 244, was one of the game’s epics in a losing cause, scored on a wearing track. In 1961-62 at home Kanhai averaged 70.71 against India scoring 2 centuries. He literally toyed with the Indian spinners. In 1963 in England he displayed his great skill and composure against the moving ball. When scoring 92 at Leeds and 77 at the Oval , he possibly surpassed every overseas batsman, in taking an attack to shreds in adverse conditions. In a first class game, his 163 at Scarborough, simply explored undiscovered region sin batting. Overall he averaged 55.22,in that series.
1n the 1965 series at home against Australia his 129 at Bridgetownand 121 at Port of Spain played an important role in shaping a first series for West Indies against Australia .He simply took apart bowler Graham Mckenzie.K anhai was consistency personified ,scoring 462 runs at an average of 46.20. In 1964 in England Kanhai’s 170 in 3 hours in Birmingham against an England XI penetrated cricketing skill in barriers untranscended. In 1966 in England he was highly overshadowed by Gary Sobers ,averaging 40,66 with one century and one fifty. In 1967-68 in Australia, although inconsistent, he gave flashes of his brilliance, scoring some fifties with mastery. In 1968-69 at home against England Kanhai averaged above 57,scoring 2 classical centuries at Georgetown and Trinidad, both 150’s.In a most organised manner he took apart the likes of fast bowler John Snow. Ironically, Kanhai landed up on the losing side.
In 1970-71 in a home series Kanhai was an epitome of consistency, averaging over 54,but still could no avert a series defeat for his country. Most impeccably he tackled the Indian spin quartet. When scoring an unbeaten 158 at Kingston he took cricketing skill to it’s supreme height.
In 1971-72 in Australia, playing for the Rest of the World side in an unofficial series, Kanhai was consistency personified, averaging over 69.75, scoring 2 centuries. At his best, when scoring 118 in the 2nd unofficial test at Perth, Kanhai manifested all –round batting perfection, at it’s supreme height. The manner he cut, drove, pulled and hooked the likes of Dennis Lillee on the fastest of tracks, reminded one of great counter revolutionary assault by an army battalion, in the clutches of adversity. Very rarely had any overseas batsmen handled pace with such assurance and contempt, in Australia.
In 1972-73 at home against Australia inspite of playing some refined knocks, like a 105 at Bridgetown, and fifties at Port of Spain and Georgetown his side suffered a 2-0 loss. In 1973 in England, he retired leading his team to a 3-0 series triumph. He ended his career with a spectacular finale, scoring 157.Very hard, to envisage a batsmen at the age of 40, stroking cricket ball in such an accomplished manner or producing such scintillating strokes. He averaged 44.60 in that series. Sadly, he was hardly at his best in his final test series against England at home, averaging 26.16, when he again led his side. Positively he made his bid farewell to International cricket with a timely 55 in the 1975 Prudential world cup final, playing a sheet anchor role for skipper Clive Lloyd, to secure a world cup title.

Experts rating of Kanhai

In John Woodcock’s view none batted as much like Bradman, as Kanhai, be it Viv Richards or the ‘W’s. He felt Kanhai had as much natural talent as Bradman. Len Hutton felt that on his day, Kanhai came within touch distance of Bradman. CLR James wrote : “Kanhai discovered, created a new dimension in batting…He had found his way into regions Bradman never knew.”
Ian McDonald, cricket writer and historian wrote: “In the batting I have seen, as in all the great arts of sport, there are many supreme proficiencies. There is statistical greatness - Bradman. There is the greatness of the man who carries a team on his shoulders almost alone - Headley. There is the greatness of athletic genius - Sobers. There is the greatness of tenacity, persistence - Gavaskar, Boycott, Chanderpaul. Is there not greatness in elegance too - Worrell? There is the greatness of the hammer-stroke batsman - Walcott, Richards. There is greatness in a crisis - Lloyd.Greatness lies in all these names and in a hundred more you or I could go on naming. But for me the best I have watched remains Rohan Kanhai of Guyana and West Indies, the batsman who had a good part of all the greatnesses but, in the indefinable totalling, surpassed them all."
Albert Baldeo was convinced that for sheer genius he had no equal. Quoting Abert Baldeo “His creative genius surpassed any other batsman in the game, and his flamboyance was spellbinding. There were times in his batting artistry where he touched heights of batsmanship beyond the reach of any batsman, such as in the execution of his unique falling hook shot, most times played off the eyebrows, the half-pull, half-sweep style stroke, the flick off the toes which dissected the on-side field, the reverse sweep off the leg stump, the magical late-cut or his majestic cover driving.”
Quoting Michael Manley “No more technically correct batsman ever came out of the West Indies than Rohan Kanhai” .
Quoting James Scott, May 1966, on the occasion of Guyana’s independence ‘To see Kanhai flat on his back – with the ball among the crowd beyond the square-leg boundary – after making one of his outrageous sweeps to a good length ball, is to watch a man capable of playing shots fit to lay before an audience of emperors”. The great Sunil Gavaskar rated Kanhai as his role model, and the most perfect of all batsmen. Late Rajan Bala rated him as the best of all right handed batsmen.

Evaluation

Rohan Kanhai’s rank is debatable amongst the all-time great batsmen, but his place is unquestionable. Kanhai scored 6227 runs at an average of 47.53 and 15 centuries in 79 tests and 137 innings. This did not compare favourably with greats like Viv Richards, Greg Chappell, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara or even Gary Sobers. Still, even one measures the sheer worth of his runs, he could well join them. Statistics hardly did full justice to his moral stature, or impact of his batting. On a bad wicket, arguably none of them, could surpass Kanhai.I feel Kanhai played lethal short-pitched bowling better than even Tendulkar, Greg Chappell and Lara.
Had Kanhai done justice to the talent he was endowed with he may have averaged even around 87.He simply had scant desire for personal records. More than often he would contribute to his own dismissal, or throw his wicket away. Significant that in test matches won, he averaged above 58, and at one down position averaged around 53. Notable that from December 1958 to February 1973, in 95 tests, only 13 times did Kanhai not bat at one down. We must bear that for the first half of his career Opener Conrad Hunte hardly had a stable partner.
Kanhai faced the highest quality of bowlers like Brian Statham,Fred Trueman ,John Snow ,Grham Mckenzie and Richie Benaud. He also executed scintillating hundreds facing bowlers like Wes Hall and Charlie Griffiths, when representing Guyana against Barbados. Throughout Rohan Kanhai's career, whether at county or Test level, competed for a place with great players, and it is remarkable that he sparkled like a star with many as the gems around him. Like Sonny Ramadhin, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes, Garfield Sobers and Frank Worrell. Ten years later he was playing with Charlie Griffith, Wes Hall and Lance Gibbs.
Kanhai played an instrumental role into turning West Indies into one of the most formidable sides in the world, comparable to the best ever. From 1958 to 1973 he played in 14 series and scored a century in 11 of them, with a highest average of 7071 at home and a lowest average of 37.10 in Australia in 1968-69.He amassed over 400 runs, 7 times, in a series.
In first class cricket Kanhai’s figures were outstanding, overshadowing even Viv Richards or Greg Chappell later. Kanhai amassed 29250 runs at an average of 49.40, with 86 centuries and 120 fifties. For Warwickshire Kanhai scored 1,000 runs in a season on ten occasions, his most prolific year being 1970 when he hit 1,894 at an average of 57.39. He also hit 1,000 runs in a season once in Australia and once while touring India and Pakistan. His highest score for Warwickshire was 253 against Nottinghamshire in 1968 at Trent Bridge. Kanhai and Jameson created a first-class world record with an unbroken stand of 465 for the second wicket for Warwickshire against Gloucestershire at Edgbaston in 1974; Jameson made 240 and Kanhai 213.
What went against Kanhai,was his relative inconsistency in test cricket. Although he scored a fifty, every three innings, he frequently did not convert fifties, into centuries. Statistically he scored most of his runs against weaker sides like India and Pakistan, and against and in England and Australia averaged around 40.He averaged 41.78 against England and 45.98 against Australia. In England Kanhai averaged 40.32 while in Australia he averaged 43.7. Playing against India he averaged 62.7, including 63.75 on Indian tracks.
Kanhai did not have the hunger for runs like Gary Sobers, Graeme Pollock or even Ken Barrington in his time .Perhaps, too often; he landed on the losing side, being involved in losing series at home against England, India and Australia. He was also unsuccessful as a skipper, only winning a series in England in 1973.
To me, unfairly Kanhai was excluded in the top 100 selection of cricketers, by Christopher Martin Jenkins in 2009 .Geoff Armstrong placed him at 75th place, while John Woodcock at 52nd, amongst all-time greats.Strangley Woodcock has rated Kanhai below stars like Ted Dexter, Peter May and Colin Cowdrey and even Cristopher Martin Jenkins. Overall I think Kanhai has been considerably underrated, with his name often obliterated, when mentioning the very best. In my view against genuine pace and spin, Kanhai was the best player of his era. Gary Sobers rated Kanhai the best batsmen in his era, and on par with Viv Richards.
For sheer talent or genius, I place Kanhai as joint best with Brian Lara and Victor Trumper, edging Viv Richards and Don Bradman by a whisker. Although generally Gary Sobers is rated ahead of Kanhai, quite a few rated the latter ahead. Sunil Gavaskar and Rajan Bala, felt Rohan was technically better and more complete. On basis of consistency, I give the nod to Sobers. Amongst West Indies batting giants I would rate Kanhai behind Viv Richards, Lara, Sobers, Headley and Weekes, in that order. Amongst one down specialists only Bradman, Viv Richards ,Ricky Ponting and possibly Rahul Darvid rate ahead of Kanhai.
With a gun on my head I would place Kanhai amongst the 25 best batsmen of all, in place, just a notch behind greats like Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara or George Headley and a whisker below stalwarts like Javed Miandad,Alan Border or Rahul Dravid . In my view Kanhai, was the best ever post-war batsmen, who averaged under 50.Whout hesitation, I would place him above likes of David Gower, Colin Cowdrey , Peter May, Geoff Boycott or Kevin Pieterson.
Amongst the all-time great cricketers I would place Kanhai amongst the 50 best of all. Due to inconsistency, Kanhai may just miss out in an all-time world team, by a whisker. The cricketing world dearly missed Kanhai facing the likes of Wasim Akram, Shane Warne or Glen Mcgrath. It may well have been cricket’s ultimate spectacle. Had he played in ODI form of the game, he may have become close to the best ever. Perhaps also we missed Kanhai not playing against or in South Africa, arguably which had the most powerful team of his time and the most testing tracks.
Kanhai was a successful coach of West Indies in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and in later years as a manager, playing an instrumental role in guiding and nurturing youngsters. Sadly, he could not bring West Indies back to the pedestal of a world conquering team, or resurrect it from it’s decline.
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Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has done extensive research on cricket

Comments

tony boodhoo said…
A batting genius without a shadow of a doubt.

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