One of the reasons that the cricket fans of my generation associate left-handed batsmen with grace and elegance is Alvin Kallicharran, the diminutive West Indian batsman of 1970s who thrilled the Indian crowds with his exploits during his two visits to the country. He was a member of Clive Lloyd-led side that toured India in 1974-75 and returned four years later as the skipper of the team. He was a popular cricketer and scored tons of runs in each of these visits, thus engraving his name in the minds of followers of this sport in the country.
Kallicharran hailed from Guyana, the same country that produced batsmen like Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd and Basil Butcher before him. When India toured the West Indies in 1971, they were told to watch out for a youngster who was breaking all batting records and was hailed as the left-handed Kanhai.
But, in the first class game that India played against Guyana, S Venkataraghavan tied him up in knots, thus delaying his Test debut, which took place against New Zealand the following year. He announced his arrival in style with an unbeaten century on his maiden appearance in International cricket, in front of his home crowd at Georgetown.
However, even as he was settling down into the high pressure cauldron of Test cricket, a controversy hit Kallicharran, for an inadvertent act on his part. In the first Test of the series against England at Port of Spain in 1974, Kallicharran was batting on 142, with Bernard Julien as his partner, when the last over of the second day began. Julien was on strike to play the final ball while Kallicharran was at the non-striker's end. Julien played the ball defensively and it rolled to Tony Greig at silly point. Meanwhile, Kallicharran, who had left the crease as the ball was delivered, did not return to it, but instead turned towards the pavilion, thinking that day’s play was over. Seeing that Kallicharran was out of his crease and umpire had not called “time”, to signal the close of play, Greig threw down the stumps at non-striker's end and appealed.
Umpire Douglas Sang Hue had not other option but to declare the batsman out as “time” had not been called. But this created an uproar and a riot ensued. The matter could be resolved only the next day, which was a “rest day”, when England decided to withdraw the appeal so that umpire could reverse his decision. This incident soured the relations between the two sides besides making Greig a marked man in the West Indies camp.
Indian public was fortunate to see Kallicharran at his best on his first Test appearance in this country. The first Test of the 1974-75 series was played at Bangalore, which was hosting a game of this nature for the first time. However, overnight rain had delayed the start and made the wicket a difficult one to bat on. West Indies lost opening batsman Roy Fredricks early, which brought Kallicharran to the crease. He guided debutant Gordon Greenidge through the initial overs and proceeded to play an innings that would not be forgotten by anyone who was fortunate to witness it. The Indian spin bowlers, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Venkataraghavan and Erapalli Prasanna were in their prime and they brought all the guile and experience to the fore. But Kaliicharran displayed such expertise that there was little they could do to check the flow of runs from his bat, as he coursed to a magnificent 124 that guided his side to safety.
The fact that eight wickets fell in a heap for 59 runs stands as evidence of his brilliance against top quality spin bowling. This innings set the tone for the series where he scored three more half-centuries, with two of them coming in the last innings of the Tests at Kolkata and Chennai where no other West Indian batsman could get going against the Indian spinners.
The inaugural World Cup saw Kallicharran play an innings that is still talked about as one of the most brutal attacks against the Australian fast bowlers. The West Indies took on Australia in the last round of league matches at the Oval. Batting first, Australia were dismissed for a paltry 192. West Indies lost Greenidge early in their chase. But Kallicharran walked in and played an innings of rare ferocity, tearing the Aussie attack to the shreds. He was particularly severe on Dennis Lillee, hitting him to the fence repeatedly, employing the hook shot effectively against the bouncer.
This was a classic contest between the tall, well-built Lillee, the most aggressive fast bowler of his generation known for his glares and cuss words, and the short, diminutive Kallicharran, batting without a helmet and the top three buttons of his shirt open. Kallicharran rose to the occasion and decided to meet the thunderbolts unleashed against him by refusing to be cowed down and taking the fight to the opposite camp. The faster Lillee bowled, the harder Kallicharran hooked. The counterattack was so fierce that at one stage he scored 35 runs off 10 balls with seven fours and a six! The 83-ball 78 turned out to be his highest ODI score as well.
The tour of Australia in 1975-76 dealt a shattering blow to the pride of the West Indies as they were mauled 1-5 in the six-Test series. Dubbed as the battle for title of world champions, this series turned out to be a one-sided affair after the first two Tests as the visitors could not match the firepower of the Aussies.
Kallicharran started the series with a hundred in the first Test and scored a couple of half-centuries later on and was thus one of the few batsmen to come out with their reputation intact.He continued his run of tall scores when India toured the West Indies in the early part of 1976.
Kallicharran found himself at the wrong place when Kerry Packer launched the World Series Cricket (WSC) in 1977, luring away top players of Australia and the West Indies. The entire West Indies side under Clive Lloyd chose to sign with Packer, except Kallicharan, who could not join this parallel cricket structure as he had a contract with Queensland radio station that prevented this move.
However, he was rewarded with captaincy of the West Indies side that toured India in 1978-79 for a six-Test series. The team led by Kallicharran had many players who blossomed into top class players during the 1980s, such as Malcolm Marshall, Larry Gomes and Faoud Bacchus. However, when they toured India, they were an inexperienced and untested bunch, who were pitted against a full strength home side.
Though they matched the hosts in all departments of the game, the visitors lost the series 0-1. India won the fourth Test at Chennai on a hard, bouncy pitch.
Kallicharran led from the front, scoring 187 in the first Test at Mumbai and 98 in the first innings at Chennai, the latter knock matching the century made by Gundappa Viswanath in the same match as the top innings of the series.
But Kallicharran was in for a rude shock when the side returned home after the series. He was brusquely informed that his service as skipper was not required any longer as Lloyd and the rest of the players were back from WSC. When the West Indies side for the 1979 World Cup was announced, Kallicharran was back to being an ordinary member of the playing eleven, as wicketkeeper Deryck Murray was nominated as vice-captain.
The period after this saw Kallicharran being reduced to a shadow of his former self. The emergence of Viv Richards as the best batsman in the world pushed Kallicharran to the supporting cast, a role that he did not find to his liking. After the tour of Australia in 1979-80, where he was among the runs, he failed with the bat during the series against England in 1980. He was so completely out of touch that he could only muster a total of 102 runs in five Tests, without even a half-century to his credit. His form continued to be lacklustre during the tour of Pakistan in the winter of 1980-81 as well.
It was at this juncture that Kallicharran took the suicidal step of joining the rebel side on a tour of South Africa. All Test playing nations had stopped playing competitive cricket with South Africa since 1971 on account of the policy of racial discrimination and apartheid followed by the government there. It was well known that the South African Cricket Board was looking at organising tours of willing teams to the country to sustain the popularity of the game there. Teams that fell for this bait and the players involved were handed punishments involving suspensions from the game by the respective cricket boards.
Playing South Africa during this period had larger ramifications among the countries that constituted the West Indies, as the populace there had been at the receiving end of racial discrimination from the whites. Hence joining the bandwagon to tour South Africa was seen as falling for the lure of the “rand” and considered a sacrilege in the islands that formed part of the West Indies.
Thus, the decision to play cricket in South Africa effectively wrote a finis to the cricketing career of Kallicharran. He was at his peak one of the best batsmen. But more than that, he was the very picture of grace and elegance when he held the cricket bat in hand. His performances in India, which were absolute top drawer stuff, made him a favourite of the crowds in our country.
It would remain a matter of great pity that he had to leave the game under a cloud, thus making him a virtual persona non grata in the cricketing circles in his home country. The mastery he had over the craft, the sophistication he brought to the proceedings and sheer physical courage that he displayed warrant a better epitaph for the life story of Kallicharran, one of the giants with the cricketing willow during the 70s.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)