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Victim to cricketing politics, Alvin Kalicharan was a most organized left handed batsman

By Harsh Thakor*

On March 21st Alvin Kalicharan celebrates his 75th birthday. Sadly, his exploits have been forgotten or overlooked. Arguably no left handed batsman was technically sounder or more organized than this little man. Kalicharan was classed as a left-handed version of Rohan Kanhai. Possibly no left-handed batsmen to such a degree blend technical perfection with artistry and power.
Apart from David Gower or possibly Brian Lara, I never saw a left -hander with such composure or grace or more dazzling at his best. Kallicharran drove and cut with the elegance and artistry of an orchestra pianist and could hook and pull with stunning power of a boxer. On his day he could produce magical strokes, like any batting genius.
Memories of mine are never extinguished of Kalicharan’s effortless drives or hook shots of Dennis Lillee or his razor sharp or rhythmic footwork against likes of Bedi and Underwood. In my view no left handed batsmen at such height blended power with technical skill and creativity.
Few batsmen ever displayed as much prowess or arguably no left-hander against the most lethal pair of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. Facing pure pace and spin, Kalicharan was in the league of the very best.
Alvin Kalicharan was a striking or abject contrast to skipper Clive Lloyd, with regards to physique, disposition and style .Ironically; both were baptized on the hard wickets of Guyana. Although diminutive in size, at 5ft4in; in contrast to Clive Lloyd’s 6 ft 3 in, Kalicharan’s genius of touch could often overshadow Lloyd’s brute power .Possibly Lloyd and Kali, moulded into one, would comprise the perfect left-handed batsmen. Batting together, they resurrected memories of Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai, batting together a perfect blending of power with grace.
Sadly,Kalicharan’s rivalry with Lloyd as batsman ,unfolded into a intense rivalry for captaincy of West Indies .Unlike Clive Lloyd, Kalicharan refused to sign up for World series Cricket in 1977.After termination of Packer cricket, Lloyd was re-instated, in 1979,as skipper, much to the dismay of Kalicharan.
Kalicharan rated Dennis Lille and Andy Roberts as the great fast bowlers of his era, and Viv Richards, Rohan Kanhai and Sunil Gavaskar as the best batsmen.

Playing Career

Kalicharan made a spectacular debut playing in a home series against New Zealand in 1972, scoring successive centuries at Georgetown and Port of Spain. He gave flashes of a Gary Sobers or Rohan Kanhai resurrected, with his imperious strokeplay.His average of 109-50, was a record for a left-hander in a debut series.
Although not consistent at home against Australia in a 4 test series, he scored an immaculate 53 and 91 at Trinidad.
In 1973-74 in a home series against England, Kalicharan exuded prowess amongst left=handed batsmen, very rarely witnessed for very long, when scoring 158 at Port of Spain. The sheer craft in his batting was poetry in motion. He was controversially declared run out at 142, but ironically recalled after an appeal. He went on to score 93 at Kingston and 119 at Bridgetown, being an epitome of consistency, averaging over 56.
In India in 1974-75 he proved his great mastery against top spin bowling when scoring a chanceless 124 at Bangalore on pitch with deadly turn. He resembled a surgeon successfully operating on an incurable patient. He amassed 454 runs in the test matches, at an average of 56.75., 2nd best to only Clive Lloyd.
In Pakistan, in 1974-75, Kalicharan aggregated 251 runs, averaging 124.50., which was a phenomenal performance.
In the 1975 Prudential World cup, Kalicharan’s 78 of 39 balls, including 35 from 10 balls, against Australia at the Oval n the 1975 Prudential world cup, was reminiscent of a Blitzkreig or combing operation, taking cricketing genius to it’s pinnacle. He subjected the most lethal pace duo ever, Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, to treatment or demolition never ever meted out to them, with a series of magical strokes. Hard to envisage a more spectacular or dazzling batting display, on a cricket pitch.
The faster Lillee bowled, the harder he was struck.The shorter he pitched the more he was ripped apart. Kallicharran simply hooked and pulled with ferocity of a tiger. When Lillee pitched on the off stump, he was milked d through the covers and cut through point.
That classical knock of 78, took batting domination or virtuosity to magical zones. Arguably the best ever innings in a cricket world cup in terms of sheer domination .Kalicharan blended the power of a bulldozer, with the skill of an artist. That innings was like the scripting of a Hollywood epic.
In 1975-76 down under when virtually every Calypso batsmen was traumatized by the rattling speed and intimidation of Lillee-Thomson, Kalicharan scored a century with effortless ease at Brisbane, averaging over 38, and aggregating 421 runs, in the entire series. Few batsmen ever displayed as much prowess or arguably no left-hander against the most lethal pair of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.
In a home series against India in 1975-76 Kalicharan was consistency personified tackling the spin bowlers, averaging 47.6.
Kali was not consistent in England in 1976 or in a home series against Pakistan in 1977, but came back into crackling form in a home series against Australia in 1977-78 scoring 408 at an average of 51., and in India in 1978-79 amassing 538 runs at an average of 59.77 Representing a 2nd string Calypso team, with the best signing of in Kerry Packer cricket, Kalicharan gave flashes of a comet, single-handedly bearing the mantle of his team’s batting.
Kali’s 187 at Mumbai, in the 1st test, in 1978979 was a gem, manifesting batting skill and perfection at it’s highest scale. Regretfully, he was wrongly adjudged leg before, when on the threshold of scoring a double century. He also scored a princely 98, in the fourth test.

In terms of sheer raw ability, Kalicharan was possibly ahead of skipper Clive Lloyd, and almost on par with Viv Richards or Brian Lara

In Australia, in 1979-80, he gave flashes of his genius, when scoring a match-winning 106, in the final test at Adelaide, taking the likes of Dennis Lillee to pieces. He averaged just over 50, in that series.
In his last 12 tests Kalicharan averaged a scant 19.29, and test average plummeting. Regretfully he faded out after 1980-81, and embarked on rebel tour to South Africa, in early 1982. Kalicharan joined the group led by Lawrence Rowe, with likes of Collis King, Sylvester Clarke .Colin Croft and David Murray.
Still he went on to score prolifically for Warwickshire for considerably more years. In 1984, he blaster 206 in a limited-overs game against Oxfordshire, and followed it up by picking up six wickets with his rarely used off-spin. He continued to score prolifically for Warwickshire, Transvaal and Orange Free State till the mid-eighties.
In 1982 at Taunton in NatWest Trophy quarter-final against Somerset, Former West Indian teammate Joel Garner steamed in, producing a short ball that alarmingly darted for the skull. Kallicharran miraculously produced an electrifying a hook that sent the ball soaring into the stands beyond square-leg. The stroke defied conventional bio mechanics. Kalicharan scored 141 priceless runs that day, taking cricketing art to metaphysical regions.

Statistics

In test cricket, Kalicharan aggregated 4,399 runs at an average of 44.43, scoring 12 centuries. In ODI’S he averaged 34.41 scoring 826 runs, including 6 fifties .Kalicharan, was hardly at his best, on the seaming tracks ,in England, averaging 30.87,and relished the turning sub-continent tracks ,and the fast, bouncy, strips in Australia and West Indies.

In first class Cricket, Kalicharan was an outstanding performer for Warwickshire, performing at the stature of an all-time great. In 1984 he amassed 2 301 runs at an average of 52.29, including 9 centuries, a Warwickshire record. Overall in first class cricket he aggregated 32650 runs, at an average of 43.5 and scored 87 centuries.

Assessment of Kalicharan

In terms of sheer raw ability, Kalicharan was possibly ahead of skipper Clive Lloyd, and almost on par with Viv Richards or Brian Lara. On his day, he scaled regions in batting prowess or creative genius to almost transcendental heights, executing strokes that were unbelievable. Amongst left-handers Clive Lloyd or Gary Sobers possessed more power, but would not surpass Kalicharan’ sheer timing.
Arguably in a complete package no left handed batsmen was more consummate as Kalicharan.
At his best, around 1973-1975, I would have selected Kalicharan in a world test XI. In 1979 Sir Garfield Sobers ranked Kalicharan as the 8th best batsmen in the world, just behind Clive Lloyd and Zaheer Abbas.David Gower chose him amongst his 3 best left-handed batsmen in 1984,behind only Gary Sobers and Greame Pollock .
At one stage Kalicharan looked set, to emulate all the past West Indies batting greats, and statistically surpass Gary Sobers. After 23 tests, he averaged 56.82, scoring a century against every test playing nation. Sadly he declined early, in the mid-1970’s, with his test average dropping below 45, at the end of his career. His final figures hardly did justice to the ability he was endowed with. He could not end his international career with the flourish of Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd or Gordon Greenidge .
In my opinion, had he done justice to his talent, he could have joined the league of the all-time greats. Probably, he felt sidelined being an Indian, and fell a victim to cricketing politics. Playing alongside other superstars like Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Gordon Greenidge, reduced Kali’s motivation by diminishing his role, which he denoted in the mid-1970s. His final figures hardly did justice to the ability he was endowed with. Disillusionment and lackadaisical or irresponsible approach possibly cost Kalicharan a place amongst the all-time great batsmen.
---
*Freelance journalist

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