Kanhai continued to score, in the West Indies, in India, in Pakistan, but the next great landmark of his career was his innings against England at the Oval in 1963. All through that season he had never been his new, his Australian self. In Tests, he got into the nineties twice, but while always showing himself a master batsman something was wrong somewhere; if something was not wrong, at least everything
was not right. Then at the Oval, with the fate of the match depending to a substantial degree on his batting (especially after Sobers ran himself out) in this his last test innings in England, Kanhai set off to do the English bowling what he had done to Australian.
Perhaps I should have seen its national significance, its relation to our quest for national identity. Here was a West Indian proving to himself that there was one field in which the West Indian not only was second to no one, but was the creator of its own destiny. However, swept away by the brilliance and its dramatic circumstances, I floated with the stream.
1964 was a great year, perhaps the most important year in the steadily growing facts and phenomena I was automatically accumulating about the fascinating Kanhai. High on the list was an opinion which was the climax of many other opinions. All through the Tests of 1964, I sat in press boxes most often between Sir Learie Constantine and Sir Frank Worrell. We were reporting England against Australia; there was a lot of talk about cricket and naturally about West Indian Cricketers. About Kanhai, for quite a while the only thing noteable said was by Worrell. He made a comparison between Kanhai and Everton Weekes as batsmen who would stand back and lash the length ball away on the off-side or to the on-boundary. Then at Leeds, Kanhai himself turned up and came and sat in the press box. Learie had a long look at him and then turned to me and said “There is Kanhai. You know at times he goes crazy”.
I never believe that an intelligent man or a man whom I know to be well informed about a subject is talking nonsense. I knew that Learie had something in mind. 1 waited and before long I learnt what it was. I shall try as far as I can to put it in his own words.
“Some Batsmen play brilliantly sometimes and at ordinary times they go ahead as usual. That one”, nodding at Kanhai, “is different from all of them. On certain days, before he goes into the wicket he makes up his mind to let them have it. And once he is that way nothing on earth can stop him. Some of his colleagues in the pavilion who have played with him for years, see strokes that they have never seen before, from him or anybody else. He carries on that way for 60 or 70 or 100 runs and then he comes back with a great innings behind him.”
That was illumination indeed, coming from someone who knew all about batting which aimed at hitting bowlers all over the place. It was obvious that at times Kanhai’s audacity at the wicket had earned not the usual perfunctory admiration, but the deep and indeed awesome respect of Constantine. We both were thinking of the 1963 innings at the Oval. He had hit the English bowlers all over the place, he gave no chance and never looked like getting out. Yet I knew Learie was aware of something in Kanhai’s batting that had escaped me. At off times, I wondered what it might be.
Going crazy. That could be Greek Dionysus, the satyric passion for the expression of the natural man, bursting through the acquired restraints of disciplined necessity. I played with that idea for a while. Tentatively, I settled for a West Indian proving to himself that henceforth, he was following no established pattern but would create his own.
Certainly came at the end of the 1964 season. Sir Frank Worrell led a team of West Indies players against England elevens at Scarborough and Edgbaston (a third game at Lords’ was rained out). I reported both games.
Kanhai made a century in each, and what I saw no one has written about; nor have I met anyone who appears to have noticed it.
At Scarborough, Kanhai was testing out something new. Anyone could see that he was trying to sweep anything near the leg-stump round to fine-leg to beat both deep square and long-leg. He missed the ball more often than he connected. That was easy enough. But I distinctly remember being vaguely aware that he was feeling his way to something. I attributed it to the fact that he had been playing league cricket all the season and this was his first first-class match. Afterwards, I was to recall his careful defence of immaculate length balls from Trevor Bailey, and without any warning or fuss, not even a notable follow-through, he took on the rise and lifted it ten feet over mid-on’s head to beat wide long-on to the boundary. He never budged from his crease, he had barely swung at the ball. Yet as far as he was concerned, it was a four predestined.
We went to Edgbaston. Bailey’s side had six bowlers who had bowled for England that season. If the wicket was not unresponsive to spin, and the atmosphere not unresponsive to swing, the rise of the ball from the pitch was fairly regular. Kanhai began by giving notice that he expected test bowlers to bowl a length, balls a trifle loose so rapidly and unerringly paid the full penalty, that by the time he had made 30 or 40, everybody was on his best behaviour.