Sportstar archives: Kallicharran on his best cricketing moments

When one thinks of Kalli, several images flash across one's mind; that brisk walk, nimble footwork, flashy drives, rasping square cuts and daring hooks.

Alvin Kallicharran played a few benefit and charity matches in India in 1992.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

It was like a dream while it lasted. But all good things end a bit too soon, don't they? Yes, for Alvin Issac Kallicharran some dreams did die young. He was the prince charming one moment, and was banished the next. Still, the twinkle in his eyes remains. And the man who scored 4,399 runs in 66 Tests has managed to keep that fire burning. Not surprising really, for he lives life the West Indian way; full of laughter and sunshine. Perhaps he learnt to laugh his way through troubles early on. Son of a plantation farmer of Indian origin, Kalll's younger days were not exactly a bed of roses. But he fought back in his own way and cricket was his means of expression.

When one thinks of Kalli, several images flash across one's mind; that brisk walk, nimble footwork, flashy drives, rasping square cuts and daring hooks. The little southpaw from Berbice, Guyana had class, that indefinable commodity. At his best he could do magic. And magic it certainly was when he waded into Ullee in the 1975 World Cup or when he took on the best of spinners in the Bangalore Test of 1974-75.

In 1979 when big names like Lloyd, Richards and Greenidge, joined the Packer circus. Kalli was made the Windies captain. He led the side in the last three Tests at home against Australia and then against India in the away series of 1979-80. It was an inexperienced side and he had done fairly well. But still when the big boys returned he lost his captaincy and after a while his place in the team too. This was too much for a proud man like Kalli to take. He then did what then was considered unthinkable. He led a rebel West Indian team to South Africa in 1981. The backlash was immediate and he was banned from playing international cricket indefinitely.

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Kalli took all this in his stride. He could not return to his country, but continued playing for Warwickshire and also for Transvaal and Orange Free State in the South African domestic competition. Only his sheer love for the game must have kept him going.

Kalli recently came to India, "his mother country," to play in a series of benefit and charity matches. He spoke to Sportstar in Madras recently.

Excerpts from the interview.

Kalli, tell us about your early days...

I am from Berbice, Guyana, a predominantly Indian area. I started playing cricket at a very young age. It was everything. We did not have opportunities for any other activity. We could not afford going to cinemas. We played in the streets with broken bats, and wooden balls. We used to get empty cartons and broke them up to make pads. It was fun. I remember my elder brother Stanley Kallicharran. He could have gone a long way. I thought he was more talented than me, but he did not put his heart and soul into the game.

So the younger brother made up for it...

It was really surprising. Once a Panditji told my mother, that her son was going to travel round the world. I thought it was Stanley, not knowing one day I was going to be the one.

When did things start looking up?

My dad worked in a plantation. Funny, one day I was sitting in the farm after finishing work early. There was a stream nearby and across it on the other side there was a game going on. I wanted to have a closer look. So I swam across. The nearby school had organised a Teachers vs Students match. The Teachers' team was a man short. So their captain asked me to play. I made 75 not out and won the match for them. My elder brother and sister were already in High School. So my family could not afford a third. But no problem. The Port Mourtant High School for whom I had won the match asked me to join them. I was even given a scholarship. I also did not have to pay for my school uniform. It was from there I went from strength to strength.

N.Ram, Chairman, The Hindu Publishing Group in conversation with Alvin Kallicharran, former captain of West Indies, at an event organised by Sportstar in Chennai in 2019.   -  M. VEDHAN


You were well on your way...

Oh! Yes. In 1965 we had the first West Indian Schoolboys' tournament. I did well. For a little Indian chap it was a bit nerve-wracking really. We were not used to playing in shoes. It was tremendous. We used to imitate people like Kanhai and Butcher. Not everyone could afford a radio, so it was 50 of us listening to cricket commentary on one set.

And did you meet your childhood heroes soon?

You bet! After enjoying tremendous success in the schoolboys' tournament. I was selected for South of Guyana. It was there I met greats like Kanhai and Gibbs for the first time. It was like a dream. Their names alone pushed me to the ultimate.

At 17 you became the youngest player to represent Guyana...

After I finished my lower level, I was selected for Guyana in Shell Shield. For a guy just out of school, it was great. Finally, I was not imitating or just meeting the likes of Kanhai and Fredericks, but was actually playing with them. I had a good season.

So on to Tests...

The Indians under Ajit Wadekar had come in 1971. I thought I had a good chance of figuring in the series. I was playing for Board XI against India in Jamaica. I did well, but was not selected for the Test. Then a funny thing happened. There I was sitting depressed, and guess who came to console me? It was Gavaskar and Visvanath who had little Test experience themselves. Funny isn't it? All the three of us went on to make our mark in Test cricket. Sunny and Vishy are still my great friends.

But when you did play, you got a century on debut...

Well, it was great. It was in the '72 home series against New Zealand. Scoring a hundred at any level is great, but getting one on one's Test debut was out of the world. Glenn Turner too made a lot of runs in that series.

The 1974-75 series, when West Indies toured India, produced some of the best cricket seen here. And you played quite a role in the Windies win...

It was the first time I was involved in such a close series. India did marvellously well, to come back from 0-2 down. And more than anything else, it was the great piece of manipulative captaincy by 'Tiger' Pataudi. The control he had on the field was near perfect. He did not score many runs in the series, but in terms of tactics and thinking he was the best.

One of your best innings came in that series. Is it not?

It was not one of my best, but I think my best ever Test innings. It was in Bangalore and Venky was turning the ball square. Lots of people thought the wicket was bad, but from where I came from we played on a lot of similar wickets.

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Did you expect India to bounce back?

One knew India with those four spinners could always be dangerous. Vishy was great too. His innings in Madras with Roberts bowling at his best was a gem. He had a tremendous series. And had it not been for a bad decision India might have even won the series. Viv (Richards) snicked Venky to Farokh early on in the Delhi Test. Everyone saw it except the umpire and Viv went on to make 192. If he had gone early we might have been in real trouble.

How was it facing the Indian spin quartet?

Well, it was not fun really! Anyway it was a big challenge. Pras used to turn the ball viciously, Bedi was always plotting a batsman's downfall, Venky was nagging and Chandra, the most difficult of them all, was so unpredictable. They were just not the best that time, but probably of all time.

After taking on the best of spinners, you took on the best of pacemen in the 1975-76 series in Australia...

It was the toughest series I ever played. We were battered really. Thommo, Ullee, Walker and Gilmour, were breathing fire. My century in the first Test gave me a lot of satisfaction. I was going well in the second Test too when I received a painful blow. I think we lacked cohesion. We did not play as a team. There were some good individual efforts. And also playing the electric pace of Thommo and Lillee was not easy.

So when Indians toured the Caribbean in 1976-77, the West Indians must have been waiting for a chance to make amends...

It was a good series too. The Indians were terrific in the run chase in the third Test at Port of Spain. Great batting by Sunil, Vishy, and Jimmy.

You think Lloyd declared a bit too early?

No there was nothing wrong with the declaration. It was just that the Indians were great. Getting 400 odd runs in nine hours was not a joke.

You played with and against so many great fast bowlers. How would you rate them?

Holding was the Rolls Royce of fast bowlers... so smooth. Garner's arm came from somewhere... up there, Croft used to bowl from wide of the crease and Roberts had everything; pace, cut, swing and a dangerous bouncer. Lillee had a very good legcutter, Imran was dangerous, but Thomson was the quickest I have faced. Nobody has bowled quite as fast as him.

In the third Test of the 1979 series, in Barbados, Thomson bowled a blistering spell, didn't he?

Oh! That was fast. It was the post tea session on the second day and Thommo bowled real fast. Perhaps it is one of the fastest spells ever bowled.

Alvin Kallicharran in 1976.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES


In the same series you led West Indies for the first time.

Yes, some big names joined Packer. Packer made all the promises to me. But going, to WSC meant someone was going to own me and nobody can own Alvin Kallicharran. Midway through the series, I was asked to lead an inexperienced side. The boys were promised the moon.

You then came to India with that side.

We did very well for a side so inexperienced. The Madras wicket was fast and Ghavri hostile. I received a terrible leg before decision when I looked set for a double hundred in Bombay. There were a lot of young chaps in the side and Marshall was one of them.

But then the big boys came back...

They just took it away from me. Captaincy does not bother me, but I wanted them to respect me for who I am. They had promised the boys everything. But none of them was kept.

What was your personal equation with Lloyd after he took over?

Well, there was no love lost between me and Clive in any case. So things remained the same.

And you were soon dropped...

Nobody told me anything. No communication. I was not treated well. They (selectors) expect you to take it. You seem to be the wrong one. Men who have played little or no Test cricket take decisions. In India Vishy and Jimmy, a gutsy player, suffered a similar fate. The administrators do not want players with Test experience in these positions of power. In Wlndies, they used to barter islands. I know it man. Ultimately cricket will be the loser. It is time the players get together.

The decision to tour South Africa must have been one of the most difficult ones for you?

People ask me why I went to South Africa. It took me months to decide on that tour. It also created a lot of tension at home. Finally, my wife suggested instead of going through this torture why not ask Baba? I sent a telegram to Sai Baba informing him of my decision. He did not reply. But, the very fact, that I had conveyed the message to Baba gave me the confidence to go ahead. After I was dropped, I was deeply hurt, but I have an Indian pride, I wanted to use my own ability. I went to South Africa for financial reasons. I had just got married.

How was your experience in South Africa?

We were treated very well. It was great playing with the likes of Rice, Kirsten. Barry Richards and Pollock. There is a lot of multiracial cricket there now. A lot of blacks and Indians are taking to the game. We went everywhere, to Soweto too.

Do you miss playing Test cricket?

At first it hurt. But. I still wanted to prove I was a world class batsman. I pushed myself to the limit. I got big scores for Warwickshire and then in South Africa. It kept me going.

You played In the first two World Cups. What difference do you find between the tournament then and now?

Well, in the first two World Cups, a lot of class players took part. I obviously enjoyed my duel with Lillee in the first Cup. But, one big difference now is the fielding. All the teams are good today. The players are a lot more fitter now. Nowdays, you have lots of guys, who can both bat and bowl. We used to have a long tail.

A lot of young players like Tendulkar, Inzamam and Lara played brillantly in the World Cup in 1992. Some comparisons have been made too...

Tendulkar is God's gift to cricket. Players like him come very rare. Inzamam too is talented, but let us allow these kids to play the game now, instead of making comparisons. Lara will probably be the king of West Indian cricket.

Your future plans...

Well, I would first love to go back to my country. I want to do something for the Indian community there. They are really toiling at present. I would like to be of some use to them.

What do you think cricket has given you?

It has given me everything. But for cricket, I would not have been able to visit my mother country. I can't explain to you my feelings when I saw the river Ganges for the first time. It was just great. It was a feeling of contentment.

This interview was first published in Sportstar magazine on April 18, 1992

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