Elegant, classical, and watchful, Alvin Kallicharran was, in all fairness, one of the world’s most accomplished left-handers in the 1970s. It was a time when the West Indies dominated the world of cricket. The likes of Sir Vivian Richards, Clive Lloyd, and Desmond Haynes made the opposition’s bowlers look ordinary. The men from the Caribbean had everything, right from world-class seamers in Garner, Marshall, and Roberts to game-changing batsmen in Haynes, Greenidge, Gomes, Lloyd, and Richards.
Sharing the dressing room with these legends was a man from Guyana. At five and a half feet, he was a short man, but his batting masterclass is what made him look gigantic. An elegant striker of the cricket ball who could tear apart pace attacks, Alvin Kallicharran was, in many ways, one of the finest left-handers during the 1970s.
Known for his excellent technique and the ability to score runs against any given pace attack, this lad from the Caribbean made a humble beginning in 1967 when he was picked to play for Guyana. He got a chance to don the national colours in 1972, and within no time, rose through the ranks to become one the team’s most reliable players.
One of his finest innings, a knock of 158 against England in Port-of-Spain invited controversy when Tony Grieg ran him out under bizarre circumstances. The crowd went berserk and Kallicharran had to be called back in order to avoid a possible riot-like situation.
Controversies played a major spoilsport in Kallicharran’s career. He played 66 Test matches for the West Indies and scored close to 4500 Test runs. Despite being one of the finest players of his era, his career was marred by several controversies.
In 1981, he led a rebel tour to South Africa. He captained a depleted West Indian team. Other teams had severed all ties with Cricket South Africa because of the prevalence of the Apartheid Regime.
Kallicharran’s decision to play against South Africa was met coldly by the Cricket West Indies. Kallicharran was banned from representing the West Indies. The rest of his playing years were spent in England, where he plied his trade for Warwickshire CCC.
He represented Warwickshire from 1971 to 1990. Apart from playing for an English county, he was also a part of Queensland (Australia) in the 1977-78 Australian cricketing season. He even played from the Transvaal county team (South Africa). The Orange Free State also signed Kallicharran in 1984. He played for them till 1988.
Kalli (his nickname) tried to join Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket but failed. It is during this period that he was assigned the captaincy of a below-par West Indian side. During a season with county side Warwickshire (1988), his request to return home to attend his father’s funeral was declined by the club management.
The club also threatened that it would terminate Kallicharran’s contract if he joined the World Series Cricket. Despite warming the benches owing to an injury, Kalli was denied permission to attend his father’s funeral in Guyana.
It is, in all fairness, quite disheartening and rather shocking to see that a person as cheerful and talented as Kalli was dropped from the national side. Political structures prevalent in the Caribbean during the era are also believed to have played their part in denying Kalli a place in the national squad.
According to a popular belief, Forbes Burnham’s regime in Guyana followed regressive political policies. It is, I believe, because of this very reason that several senior players, along with the team management, wanted only black West Indian players to be a part of the team.
Alvin Kallicharran’s ouster from the national side came as a shock to many. Not only because he was dropped despite performing well, but also because he was one of the finest players of his generation. Guyanese supporters, because of their local hero’s unceremonious ouster from the side, found it hard to support the West Indies as there were no Guyanese Indians representing the side.
The scenario continued for many years before Shiv Chanderpaul was selected to represent the national side in 1994. Ramnaresh Sarwan, another Guyanese Indian, was selected to don the national colours.
It has to be said that despite being one of the finest cricketers in the world during the 1970s and 80s, Kallicharran could not unleash his potential to the fullest. 4399 runs in 66 Test matches aren’t enough to portray the impact Kallicharran had on the game of cricket. In all fairness, it would be unfair to judge him by his numbers. Mathematics doesn’t always show you the real picture.
Simply put, Kallicharran’s story reiterates the fact that legends too end their careers on a tragic note. The tragedy is exactly what makes their contributions valuable and memorable.