For Alvin Kallicharran, life has come a full circle in many ways. It’s been 45 years since the former West Indies captain came on his first cricketing tour to India when in his very first innings, he produced a splendid, match-winning hundred. And although he’s travelled to India, the birthplace of his grandparents, several times since, he’s never been happier than he is now.
Earlier this year, Kallicharran got introduced to officials of the Cricket Association of Pondicherry. He was in India to launch his book at that time and eventually ended up signing on as mentor for the Pondicherry cricket teams across all age groups. And this, he says, is an opportunity he was hoping to get for a long time.
“This gives me a chance to travel across India, my mother country. I’ve been coming to India since the 70s, but I always came here for spiritual reasons. My wife and I are followers of Sai Baba. But now, finally, I have the opportunity to come here and work. I have more promises than money in my bank account, I couldn’t let this opportunity go,” says the 70-year-old.
Kallicharran is one of only six West Indies cricketers – including Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, Deryck Murray, Vivian Richards and Andy Roberts – who was part of the World Cup-winning squads of 1975 as well as 1979. One of the most elegant left-handers the game has ever seen, he played 66 Tests and 31 ODIs in a nine-year international career.
In a conversation with Scroll.in, Kallicharran, who’s hard at work in Pondicherry these days, reflected on how he went from having no means to buy equipment to captaining the West Indies, his time playing in arguably the greatest team the game has seen, and what’s holding back cricket in the Caribbean as of today.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
Growing up in Guyana as a kid with Indian heritage, what made you take up cricket?
We grew up in a modest family and it wasn’t easy to get good equipment. We were barefoot, ignorant, suffering, tiring, and yet we became international cricketers. At 10, I was working in a rice plantation. At 12, I was cutting cane with my father and also chopping wood for my mother. When you put it all in perspective, these things help you grow faster than others. You mature as a person, you don’t see obstacles, negativity doesn’t enter your mind, all you want to do is survive. When you can’t see obstacles, you keep moving forward. So I found playing cricket easy.
You were part of teams that possessed some of the hardest hitters of the cricket ball, yet you were a batsman with great poise and elegance. How did you develop your technique?
We grew up playing in sandpits and didn’t even have a bat or ball. It was only when I got selected for the Guyana Under-16 team did I see a brand new bat. Until then, everything I had was borrowed. I never had a coach. Whenever club matches would be played, I would take a stick, find a corner and imitate the shots the senior cricketers used to play. I didn’t receive any formal coaching, this is how I developed my game.
But facing all these adversities taught me how to survive, and that became a great lesson for me in my life. I became mature quickly. The great Rohan Kanhai came before me, he was from my village and was a great inspiration to me. Even Joseph Solomon and Basil Butcher came from my village. Our village had a population of 1,500 and yet it produced 11 Test cricketers.
Getting to the international level is a massive task in itself, and you made your way into what is regarded by many as the greatest team the sport has ever seen. Tell us about the challenges you faced.
Growing up in Guyana as an Indian, I had to train twice as hard as the West Indies players. They were natural athletes with a lot of strength. We weren’t blessed that way. I had to be strong and work on my fielding, to be able to catch the ball with those fast bowlers operating. It was a big challenge to try and fit in. I grew up on that diet of how to survive adversities. It created in me a strong sense of discipline.
You had Gordon Greenidge, Vivian Richards and Clive Lloyd in the top five but if you looked at the scoreboard, it wasn’t going anywhere without me. I was hitting fours, finding gaps. Batting is all about timing and that’s all I focused on. How does Virat Kohli score so many runs? He finds the gaps. I never wanted to break the boundary board, I only wanted to touch it.
There was no money. We could survive if we had club contracts. Say I scored runs for Warwickshire, I could survive for three years then. So if I work in a certain period, that’s my bank balance then. You can’t go to the bank if you don’t get paid... if you don’t have a job. There was so much pressure to score runs. It was all about survival.
From those days of glory to the current state of obscurity, what do you think went wrong with West Indies cricket?
It’s so sad. Players from India and West Indies are spontaneous. We learn on the go. For me, the game is all about common sense and fighting adverse conditions. We were brought up as spontaneous cricketers and to bring in all this technology, I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but there has to be a balance. Computers don’t play cricket. Common sense plays cricket. I played for West Indies and in county cricket for 25-26 years, I think I know a little bit about the game. It all depends on how you communicate.
You go ahead and bring an Australian or South African to be the West Indies coach? Someone who can’t understand our lingo or behaviour? Look at the cricketers West Indies has produced – Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, Gordon Greenidge, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding – and you’re telling me they know nothing about cricket? These guys have all played 20-25 years of professional cricket. And you go and bring average people from Australia, South Africa and England to coach West Indies? Our cricket is all about spontaneity, you can’t take away something that comes naturally.
So how can things be changed?
Recently, we had Indian fast bowlers come and teach our fast bowlers how to bowl on our wickets. You win the toss twice and put the opposition in to bat. Could you explain this to Andy Roberts and Michael Holding? Our batsmen seem talented on flat wickets. They’re used to the good wickets in T20 cricket. In Tests, the pitch always does something and the bowler has his tail up.
India has invested well in its cricket. That’s why they are where they are. West Indies can’t produce the same kind of output because to start with, they don’t have the management. They don’t have the money. There’s a reason for that – if you’re the boss of a company and someone comes and asks you for a real salary, what will be the first question you ask him? You’ll ask him where the results are. Where is the performance? Where will the sponsors come from?
But didn’t we produce greats like Gary Sobers, Viv Richards, Rohan Kanhai, etc. without any money? How did we produce all these players without money? So don’t give me that nonsense. There was a time we were filling stadiums all over the world. But in the last series against India at home, how many people did you see in the stands? Doesn’t that tell you something? It’s very unfair to those die-hard supporters of West Indies cricket. And it hasn’t been easy for us ex-cricketers to watch either. The players simply have to bring passion into their game and get results on the field. That’s the only way things will start to change.