NY Mayor's Cup
Kanhai -Social Phenomenon & Action Hero
By Lloyd Jodah
Dec. 24th, 2009
Word was Santa didn't come to poor homes but in 1935 there was proof
that he did, even it was a bit late : on December 26th 1935 he brought
a gift to the Kanhai home in the village of Port Mourant in British
Guiana (now Guyana), a baby boy named Rohan Kanhai.Like every Guyanese
boy (especially of Indian heritage) he crawled, learned to walk
then began to play cricket ( not neccessarily in that order ).
By the time Rohan Kanhai made his Test debut for the West Indies
in 1957 it had only been nine years since Gandhi led India to Independence
and few knew of the existance of a small Indian population outside
of India, in Guyana and Trinidad, and fewer cared. Contrast that
with now when from New York to London to Hong Kong and countless
cities in between, people of Indian ethnicity play active and major
roles at all professional levels, doctors, IT professionals, engineers
etc. From finding water on the moon, to the corriders of any American
hospital, you can't help but be struck by the breadth and accomplishments
of India and the Indian diaspora around the world.
It is difficult to imagine what it was to be Rohan Kanhai,back when
Guyana and the West Indies were segregated, not only by Black and
White but also Indian.
Rohan Kanhai strode onto the world stage and acted like he belonged,
not with a personal arrogance but with the assertiveness of his
batting. He played in a mannner,and a time, and places, that heralded
a New World Order. Kanhai was a pioneer and a leader, his weapon
was his bat which was like a flashing blade that he swung viciously
through a nearly 360 degree arc. Of the thousands of batsmen the
world over,it was only Kanhai who played the "falling hook".
The velocity of his swing lifted him off his feet and threw him
on his back as he completed the shot ! The Lightsabers of the Star
Wars Trilogy must have been inspired by Kanhai's flashing blade
! Kobe Bryant may dunk like Michael Jordan bot NO batsman before,
or since, plays the "falling hook".
Kanhai took 13 Tests to score his first Test century but then did
so in India, scoring 256 in the 3rd Test in Kolkota. Rohan Kanhai
had returned in magnificent style to the land that his grandparents
had left, to the very city they may have sailed from. His impact
thereafter was meteoric, in Pakistan on the same Tour, in Australia
in 1960-61, and JS Barker's book "Summer Spectacular"
rhapsodizes about Kanhai's batting in England in 1963, particularly
his 77 which won the Oval Test for the West Indies.
Here is what literary giant CLR James said:
“I take Kanhai as the high peak of West Indian cricketing
development. .....He discovered, created a new dimension in batting
.....Kanhai’s batting is a unique pointer of the West Indian
quest for identity.
About a Kanhai innings CLR James wrote :
"Kanhai had found his way into regions Bradman never knew.
It was not only the technical skill and strategic generalship that
made the innings the most noteworthy I have seen. There was more
to it, to be seen as well as felt. Bradman was a ruthless executioner
of bowlers. All through this demanding innings Kanhai grinned with
a grin that could be seen a mile away."
The great West Indies Allrounder Sir Learie Constantine said: "Some
of his colleagues ..who have played with him for years have seen
strokes that they have never seen before: from him or anybody else."
Hopefully we grow beyond ethnic identity but there is no question
that as kids our aspirations can be shaped by being able to identify
with accomplished people who look like ourselves.More African Americans
believe they can become President because of President Obama. Bruce
Lee inspired millions of Chinese kids.For a boy of Indian etnicity
in the Caribbean Kanhai was the perfect action Hero - even as Muhammed
Ali was a hero for what seemed like most of the world, Kanhai was
our hero. Not even Indian movie stars were not as dynamic, Like
Bruce Lee, Kanhai transcended race, and so,as an evidence,Rohan
has been one of the most popular names in Jamaica for boys since
Cricket writer Harsh Thakor once wrote "If Statistics was not
the prime criteria and the chief criteria was the technical excellence,
style or raw ability of a player then my vote for greatness after
Bradman would go to Rohan Kanhai.
Statistically Everton Weekes, Gary Sobers,Sunil Gavaskar, Vivian
Richards, Sachin Tendulkar (Brian Lara) or Greg Chappell surpassed
him. However for ability to dominate bowling combined with technical
excellence and graceful strokeplay Kanhai defeated all of them".
Ousman Ali said: "His dominance over pace and spin was phenomenal;
he possessed the best defence among his contemporaries but was commensurately
devastating with shots all around the wicket including his trade-mark
and inimitable falling hook shot."
In comparing players from different eras fans talk of the pressures
of playing more cricket now, without acknowledging the benfits of
playing more.They know little of the higher social pressures of
playing against racism and low boxed-in expectations. Glimpses exist
nowadays as when the Australian Press calls for the banishment of
the West Indies from Test Cricket or the anger at the BCCI's domiinance
of the the game. In Kanhai's playing days there was no escape, it
was everywhere in society. The West Indies Team of the 19960's,
especially under Sir Frank Worrell, actually played against the
divisiveness of race and insularity,even within their home territories
of the Caribbean.
Imagine the insecurity of playing cricket and not knowing how you'll
feed yourself, or your family. Kanhai pioneered a solution to that
too by leading the way to playing professionally (and with great
success) in English County Cricket - many followed from all the
cricket playing countires.
Comparisons also ignore the protective equipment
that has now strongly tilted the game in the batsman's favor - who
has reason to fear a fast bowler, also hamstrung by limits on bouncers
? Rohan Kanhai's protection was his cup.Today's batsmen are armored
whilst the bowlers have gained nothing in their quest to get batsmen
out, any surprise at the glut of runscoring now ?
Ian McDonald, cricket writer and historian wrote :
“If I had to choose , I would have chosen above them all Kanhai.
This batsman has something of all the greatnessess and, in their
total combination, I believe surpasses all the others”. (
he named Bradman,Gary Sobers, George Headley, Brian Lara, Viv Richards,
Steve Waugh, Sachin Tendulkar )
Writers Michael Manley and Donna Symonds wrote in their "A
History of West Indian Cricket"::
“ No more technically correct batsman ever came out of the
West Indies than Rohan Kanhai….His average at 47.53 ( 6,227
runs in 137 innings in 79 Tests) is surprising in that he always
looked the type of batsman who would have ended up with an average
in the high 50s. The explanation lies partly in the relationship
between the number of half-centuries that he scored by comparison
with the centuries. On 43 occasions Kanhai passed his half-century.
Of these he went on to a hundred only 15 times."
They also said that as Captain "Kanhai is credited with restoring
both discipline and morale to the side…and welding the team
into an effective force under his leadership”.
At age 37 Kanhai was appointed Captain of the West Indies for the
home series against Australia in 1972-73,which WI lost.They had
not won a Series since 1967. But he led the WI to victiory in England
the following summer. winning the three-Test series 2-0. and began
the climb back to the top that was followed through by the great
Clive Lloyd. The next series against England was tied 1-1 and Kanhai
retired, because he was not happy with his batting, and amidst the
racial and political meddling in the West Indies Team of then Guyana
Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. This was one example of the social
turbulence that Kanhai played through. As an "East" Indian
from Guyana even his President wanted the West Indies Captaincy
taken from him for no reason other than race.
Yet at 40 Kanhai came back magnanimously to play under Captain Clive
Lloyd and together they won the first World Cup in 1975. In his
autobiography "Supercat" Clive Lloyd said of that Finals;
“It is difficult to imagine out-scoring Rohan. I mean he was
always such a big figure in my life,Guyana and the West Indies.
I remember him coming down the wicket, encouraging me by saying,
”Go on, stay there”."
In tribute the unparallelled Sunil Gavaskar named his son Rohan,
and said of Kanhai, "To say that he is the greatest batsman
I have ever seen so far is to put it mildly."
2010 approaches and all over the world, from New York to Hong Kong
and most major cities in between, the Indian diaspora excells with
an energy, confidence and dynamism.Yet in his heyday Kanhai strode
virtually alone on the world stage, a cold uninviting place, with
no role model to show the way. More than being one of the World's
Greatest batsmen ever, Kanhai was a social phenomenon, and
without ever appearing in a Bollywood Movie, the handsome Rohan
Kanhai was the first Bollywood action hero.