Few things seem capable of arousing emotions as strongly in Guyanese as the West Indies cricket team. And for the non-cricket fan, this phenomenon can seem daunting, especially with the poor performances of the men’s team over the past two decades.
Why cricket is special to Guyanese is an interesting question. Of course, some may even want to argue that Guyana is not even part of the West Indies and therefore its citizens should not even be part of its cricket team. But this debate is more or less settled based on Guyana’s history and culture rather than its geography.
Nevertheless, the story of West Indies cricket is captivating and even a cursory examination of its narrative is certainly intriguing as it is complex and highly intriguing. A particularly interesting part of this narrative is the contribution of Guyanese cricketers to the success and survival of the West Indies team. The significance of this part of the West Indies cricket story should not be underestimated because strong West Indies teams were often built on the services of skilled Guyanese cricketers. Such an assertion is not an attempt to undermine the contributions made by the other territories that make up the West Indies, but players like Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Lance Gibbs, Basil Butcher, Alvin Kallicharran, Roy Fredericks, Colin Croft, Carl Hooper, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and others have left their indelible mark on West Indies cricket.
West Indies have been trying their trade in Test cricket since 1928 and have experienced two periods of dominance in the long form of the game: the first between 1965 and 1968 and the second between 1980 and 1995. Not surprisingly, Guyanese cricketers have been given key roles to play during these periods of domination.
This article focuses on five Guyanese players who would have depreciated after 1966 – Lloyd, Croft, Kallicharran, Hooper and Caenderpaul – and looks at their contributions to West Indies cricket. With the exception of Croft, all were former WI captains, albeit to varying degrees.
During his time as a West Indies cricketer, Clive Lloyd set a high standard as captain, batter and fielder.
In a Test career spanning nearly twenty years (1966 – 1985), Lloyd scored 7,515 Test runs from his 110 games at an average of 46.67 with 19 centuries. His ODI record is just as impressive. In his 87 games, he scored 1,977 runs at an average of 39.54. His highest score in this format came in the 1975 World Cup final where he scored an astonishing 102.
He also stood out in the field as an athletic fielder with a safe pair of hands. During his Test career, he took 90 catches.
It would be impossible to discuss Lloyd without reference to his success as captain. Lloyd captained the West Indies in 74 Test matches – winning 36 games and losing 12 with 26 matches. In ODI cricket he led the side in 84 games, won 64 games and lost 18 with one draw and one without result. This record makes him West Indies’ most successful captain to date.
Significantly, he was in charge when West Indies became the dominant team in Test cricket and when they won the first two World Cups in limited over cricket. Its policy was to develop a team around a four-piece speed attack which is considered one of the key reasons behind the dominance of the WI team during this time.
As a member of Lloyd’s four-piece speed attack, Colin Croft has the distinction of being the most successful Guyanese fast bowler to play Test cricket for the West Indies. After negotiating in February 1977, Croft played 27 games and grabbed 125 wickets at an impressive 23.30 average. In his second Test match played against Pakistan in Port-of-Spain, he scored 8 for 29- the best figures from a fast bowler from West India. Even in ODIs, he was a strong wicket-taker as he grabbed 30 wickets at an average of 20.66 in the 19 ODIs he played.
Croft was an extremely fast, non-orthodox and fearsome bowler. Writing on the popular cricket site espncricinfo.com, Mike Selvey said: “’Crofty,’ a fellow West Indies teammate once said, ‘would bounce his grandmother if he thought he had a wicket. ‘In a relatively short career lasting just five years, he established a reputation as one of the healthiest fast men, with no compulsion whatsoever about pain. ”
Whether it was a fear factor, his skill or both, Croft lacked regular wicket-taking. His strike rate of 47.36 is among the best for a West Indies bowler.
It wasn’t just the runs that scored, but how he scored that made Alvin Kallicharran one of the more exciting Guyanese batsmen to play for the West Indies. After making his first appearance in April 1972, Kallicharran played 66 Tests and scored 4,399 at an average of 44.43. He scored 12 centuries with his highest score, 187 against India.
He announced his entry into Test cricket with a beautiful unbeaten century on his debut against New Zealand and followed with another century in his next match. Kallicharran was a delight to watch. He had a full range of strokes to match his penis and balance in the crease. He captained the West Indies team from 1977 to 1978, replacing Lloyd following Packer’s cricket appearance in Australia.
Later, Lloyd would return to the captaincy, leading the West Indies to several more years of dominance. Overall, Kallicharran captained the team in 9 Test matches.
For many years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the much-maligned Carl Llewelyn Hooper was the only Guyanese who regularly appeared in the West Indies team. Although his record can be aptly described as average, it still suggests that he is one of the best round cricketers ever produced by the West Indies. In 102 Tests, he scored 5,762 runs at an average of 36.46; his highest score was 233 against India at Bourda in 2002. He also scored 114 wickets with his spin.
Hooper, throughout his career, was also a valued member of the West Indies cricket team over the age of 50, scoring over 5,761 runs at an average of 35.34 and capturing 193 wickets.
After his sudden retirement from the game in 1999, Carl Hooper returned in 2001 to captain the West Indies. Although he led the team in only 4 of the 22 games played while at the helm, the extra responsibility appeared to strengthen his on-field performance, as during this time he was closer to 50 average runoff.
He was also a formidable fielder, being one of the few West Indies to capture more than 100 catches in Test cricket and one-day cricket.
Amidst the weak fortunes of West Indies cricket, Shivnarine Chanderpaul has stood still. He has the credit of being the Guyanese with the most Test runs and is second on the all-time list of West Indies run scorers, behind Brian Lara.
In a Test career spanning 21 years, Chanderpaul played 164 games, scored 11,867 runs at an outstanding average of 51.37. He also scored 30 centuries, the most by a Guyanese batsman in Test cricket. His record in limited overs cricket is also outstanding. In 268 ODIs, he scored 8,778 runs at an average of 41.60 with 11 centuries. He also has the highest ODI score for a Guyanese cricketer – 150 against South Africa.
Chanderpaul’s record is even more remarkable when examined in the context of a weak West Indies team, where his discipline, endurance and skill stood out.
He led West Indies in 14 Tests over the period 2005 to 2006, but struggled to win just one game while losing 10. His track record in ODI was also poor as he only led twice. team to victory in its 16 games as captain.
Of course, any discussion of players and their contributions will provoke controversy. Was Kanhai the best Guyanese batsman ever? Or does Chanderpaul, by the sheer weight of the statistics, deserve that title? Although these arguments are entertaining on the whole, it is futile as the comparison is between two different types of cricketer who played in completely different circumstances. What should be celebrated, however, is the important contribution each player has made to the game in the region.