KANHAI: A STUDY IN CONFIDENCE

Kunhai did not go crazy. Exactly the reverse. He discovered, created a new dimension in batting. The only name I can give to it is cat-and-mouse. The bowler would bowl a length ball. Kanhai would play a defensive stroke preferably off the front foot, push­ing the ball for one, quite often for two, on the on-side—a most difficult stroke on an uncertain pitch demanding precision, foot work and clockwork timing. The bowler, after seeing his best lengths exploited in this manner would shift, whereupon he was unfailingly despatched to the boundary. After a time, it began to look as if the whole sequence had been pre-arranged for the benefit of the spectators. Kanhai did not confine himself too rigidly to this pre-established harmony.

One bowler, to escape the remorseless billiard-like pushes, brought the ball untimely up. Kanhai hit him for six to long-on off the front foot. The bowler shortened a bit. Kanhai in the same over hit him for six in the same place, off the back foot this time. Dexter who made a brilliant, in fact a dazzling century in the traditional style, hit a ball out of the ground over wide mid-on. Kanhai hit one out of the ground some 40 yards further on than Dexter. He made over 170 in about three hours.

Next day, Brian Johnston in the “Daily Mail”, Crawford White in the “Daily Express”, John Wood­cock in the “Times” — men who have watched critically all the great players of the last thirty years, made no effort to contain themselves — they had never seen such batting. Here and there some showed that in their minds, the Everest con­quered by Bradman had been once more scaled.

They were wrong. Khanhai 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.

Now to fit his cricket into the history of the West Indies. 1 saw all his batting against the Australians dur­ing their tour of the West Indies in 1965. Some fine play, but nothing in the same category as Edgbaston.

At Melbourne in Australia in 1959, he had experienced a freedom in which his technique could explore roads historically charted, but to him unknown.

He had had to wait until the last Test in Eng­land in 1963 to assure himself that his conquest of Australia was not an accident. Now in 1964 at Scarborough and Edgbaston, he was again free; to create not only a house for Mr. Biswas, a house like other houses, but to sail the seas that open out before the East Indian who no longer has to prove himself to anybody or to himself. It was no longer, anything you can do, I can do better. That had been left behind at the Kensington Oval in 1963. Now it was fresh fields and pastures new, not tomorrow but today.

At that moment, Edgbaston in 1964, the West Indian could strike from his feet the dust of centuries. The match did not impose any burdensome weight of responsibility. He was free as few West Indians have been free.

Cricket is an art, a means of national expression. Voltaire says that no one is so boring as the man who insists on saying everything. I have said enough. But I believe I owe it to the many who did not see the Edgbaston innings to say what I thought it showed of the directions that, once freed, the West Indies might take. The West Indies in my view embody more sharply than elsewhere Nietzche’s conflict between the ebullience of Dionvsus and the discipline of Appollo. Kanhai’s going crazy might seem to be Dionvsus in us breaking loose. It was absent from Edgbaston. Instead the phrases which go nearest to expressing what I saw and have reflected upon are those of Lytton Strachey on French Literature, “(the) mingled distinction, gaiety and grace which is one of the unique products of the mature poetical genius of France”.

Distinction, gaiety, grace. Virtues of the ancient Eastern Mediteranean, city-states, islands, the sea, and the sun. Long before Edgbaston I had been think­ing that way. Maybe I saw only what I was looking for. Maybe.