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Rohan Kanhai, West Indies’ beacon of light in 1960s

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Last updated on 26 Dec 2023 | 03:24 AM
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Rohan Kanhai, West Indies’ beacon of light in 1960s

The legendary West Indies batter turns 88 today

Clive Lloyd had surely taken away much of the limelight in the 1975 World Cup final between West Indies and Australia, but very few would forget the significant contribution of Rohan Kanhai in that crucial clash. 

The right-handed veteran had come to bat when the Caribbeans were struggling at 50/3 with Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge and Alvin Kallicharran all sent back to the pavilion. Kanhai would forge a mammoth 149-run stand with captain Lloyd that set the foundation of a steep 292-run target for Australia, who eventually fell short by 17 runs.

Interestingly, Kanhai had already retired from Test cricket more than a year before the ‘75 World Cup and was well and truly at the dusk of his career, when he got a spot in the team for the ICC tournament. Widely believed to be the best batter of the 1960s, Kanhai excelled in executing the falling hook shot where he would fall while playing it and manage to get the boundary regardless.

Kanhai's compatriots comprised the brilliant likes of Sonny Ramadhin, Garfield Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Alvin Kallicharran, Andy Roberts and more, but the Guyana-born man still kept his place in a star-studded West Indian Test team for almost 17 years and retired from the side as their captain.

Born on 26 December 1935, at Port Mourant in British Guyana, Kanhai debuted during the West Indies tour of England in 1957, where he was the wicket-keeper for the first three Tests and an opener. He took his time to get going, tallying just 206 runs in the five Tests.

He blew hot and cold until the match against Pakistan at the Port of Spain in 1958, where his unbeaten 96 forced the world to take notice of the newcomer. His next big score would come against India at the Eden Gardens, where Kanhai scored 256 to help West Indies win by a huge 336-run margin. He fell short of a century in the very next innings in Chennai as he was run out on 99 runs. 

After West Indies won 3-0 in India, their next assignment was in Pakistan and Kanhai would go on to score another double century, this time 217 runs, against Pakistan in Lahore as the visitors won by an innings.

Kanhai retired with 15 Test centuries - five against Australia and England, four against India and one against Pakistan. He tallied 6227 runs in 79 matches with an average of 47.53. ODI cricket had just started to gain relevance when Kanhai retired from all forms of cricket and he could only feature in seven 50-over matches.

Kanhai had succeeded Gary Sobers as the West Indies captain in 1972, but his captaincy stint was a forgettable one. He started with a 2-0 loss to Australia in the 1972-73 tour, which was followed by a 2-0 series win on the England tour next. However, when West Indies faltered to a 1-1 draw in the home series draw against England, an unhappy Kanhai decided to hang up his boots.

Kanhai was a popular figure figure in first-class cricket as well, where he tallied 29,250 runs in 421 matches, most of which came while playing for Warwickshire. Playing for the county side, Kanhai crossed 1000 runs in a season 10 different times. His best came in 1970, where he tallied 1894 runs in a year with an average of 57.39. His 465-run stand with John Jameson against Gloucestershire in 1974 is still spoken of, even today.

While Kanhai wouldn’t be counted among the West Indian cricket superstars like Sir Vivian Richards, Gary Sobers, Clive Llyod and more, he held a special fan base that was evident in the fact that former Indian captain and cricketing legend Sunil Gavaskar and Australian spinner Bob Holland both named his son “Rohan” after Kanhai’s name.

Kanhai was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame in 2009.

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