If you are of a certain age and a keen fan of the game you will certainly remember Kanhai, if not, the name will maybe ring a faint bell as a member of the fine West Indies sides of the 60s and early 70s.? He was that and more, an explosive #3 who would have been a sensation in modern 50/20 over cricket.
Kanhai played 79 tests for the West Indies scoring 6,227 runs @47.5 with 15 centuries. In FC cricket he tallied 29k runs @49.4 with 86 centuries.
Born in Port Mourant, British Guiana in 1935 on a sugar plantation his background was tropical blue collar, his grandparents indentured labourers from India. His first memories were playing in the streets with his mates Basil and Joe…Basil Butcher and Joe Solomon, not quite the 3 Ws but a good demonstration of the importance of cricket in the colonies of the Caribbean and just how talent was fostered in the dusty streets. It would be an understatement to describe the cricketing education as a tough school, no hint of Grammar school here.
At 19 he was testing the waters of first class cricket with the colony side and his reputation as an attacking top order batsmen and occasional wicket keeper, was starting to spread. The shot making was audacious with sweep/hook shots, which often saw him flat on his back with effort, very much his signature. He scored a rapid 51 against Keith Miller and the Australians of 1955 and that with solid domestic form saw him on the boat to England in 1957 and the start of his international career.
Tours to Australia in 60/61 – including the tied test – and England in 1963 cemented his reputation as not only a real dasher with the bat but one of the better players in world cricket. The West Indian side under the wise counsel of Frank Worrall had become a fearsome proposition and the names of the batting line up rolled off the tongue. Hunte, Kanhai, Butcher, Nourse and of course Sobers were formidable and Kanhai was in his element.
In 1968 the English authorities relaxed the overseas player restrictions and Kanhai signed with Warwickshire where he would spend a very successful 10 years scoring 11,615 first class runs (18,158 in total) @ 51.62 with 35 hundreds. The highlight being the Championship in 1972 in a squad that included fellow West Indians Lance Gibbs, Alvin Kallicharran and Deryck Murray. Earlier in his career he had 3 stints of League cricket with 3 different sides.
Kanhai’s ODI career spanned only 7 matches but as a 39 year old he was included in the West Indies squad for the first world cup in 1975. In the final the Windies were 50-3 until Kanhai and Clive Lloyd added a crucial 149. Showing all his experience Kanhai made a rather (by his standards) subdued 55, allowing Lloyd to be his punishing best at the other end.
The West Indian side of 1963 made an indelible impression on the English cricketing public and particularly so on the keen young fan. Kanhai was one of the main reasons for that. Aggressive, flamboyant, tough and never venturing near the imaginary line, Windies cricket was kicking off a golden spell.
What connects Sunil Gavaskar, Alvin Kallicharran and Bob Marley? They all named sons after Rohan Kanhai. Gavaskar was moved to say that he thought Kanhai to be the best batsmen he had ever played against, shading even Sobers.
Kanhai was a fine cricketer who enjoyed a long and distinguished career. He must look at T20 cricket around the world today and wonder aloud “I wouldn’t have minded a bit of that…”
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