Rohan Kanhai: Cricket’s Noble Emperor!

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Rohan Kanhai

By Dr. DHANPAUL NARINE

There is the House of Rohan. It dates from the seventeenth century with its dukes and princes. Who can forget the Kingdom of Rohan, in Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings?’ In this classic, Rohan was the land of pastures in Middle Earth. Our own Rohan Kanhai is a combination of all. He is adventurous, unorthodox, and fearless, that blasted his way from the pastures of Port Mourant to become the Prince of the Willow.

In December 2021, Mark Nicholas asked Sunil Gavaskar why he named his son Rohan. Gavaskar explained that Rohan Kanhai was the best batsman he has seen. He said that in a Rest of the World game in Australia, Kanhai played the perfect innings for a magnificent century. Gavaskar was at the other end to appreciate the opulent stroke play. He was happy that his son bore the name of the great man.

Rohan Kallicharran (left) with his dad Alvin Kallicharran and Dhanpaul Narine.

Rohan Kanhai was born on Boxing Day, in Port Mourant, Guyana. The unwrapped gift went on to thrill the world with his unforgettable stroke-play, from the time he played for Guyana as a teenager, to his final innings at Lords in the 1975 World Cup. The 1958-59 tour to India and Pakistan saw Kanhai emerge as a brilliant batsman. He scored 256 in Calcutta that remains his highest Test score and followed this with another double ton in Lahore. But it was on the 1960-61 tour to Australia that Kanhai would achieve world stature. Joe Solomon, a contemporary on that tour, said that Kanhai was unstoppable.

According to Solomon, ‘Rohan made a double-hundred against Victoria. It was there that the world got to see the falling hook, that C.L.R. James would call the triumphant fall. Rohan showed that he had the temperament for the big time by making a century in each innings at Adelaide. By the time the tour ended, all of Australia was in love with him, and we must not forget Hall, Sobers and Worrell.’ We must not forget Solomon either, as he was the one that hit Meckiff’s stumps, to give the game the first Tied Test.

Rohan Marley, son of Bob Marley, was named after the great Rohan Kanhai.

Kanhai was not one for statistics. He played the game with flair and finesse. His innings were a celebration, stories to be told, relived and relished by his many fans. But it was not all about the swashbuckler hitting the ball into oblivion. Kanhai showed that he had the resolve to play the obdurate innings when it mattered. The accolades flowed like honey.
John Arlott sees Kanhai, as ‘a genius of a stroke-player’ while Fred Trueman says, ‘he is a player with all the shots in his locker’ and Ian McDonald describes him as, ‘the best batsman I have seen.’ John Woodcock, E.W. Swanston, and others, have also swooned over Kanhai’s artistry, his wristy flicks, strokes all around the wicket, and the ribbon of runs that flowed from the willow.

In the early seventies, Kanhai was bestowed with the captaincy of the West Indies team. He instilled into the team, self-belief, and the will to win. A series win in England, in 1973, saw Kanhai and Sobers performed their magic with centuries, at Lords. In the inaugural 1975 World Cup, a crucial partnership between Kanhai and Lloyd, gave West Indies a winnable total. But the master was not done. Kanhai became the manager of the West Indies team, and saw Brian Lara break a world record. The Jamaicans loved Kanhai and made him their national coach. His keen cricketing brain unearthed talents for the region, and not a day goes by without someone discussing him on social media.

Sunil Gavaskar with his son Rohan

What does it take for one that has given so much to join the ranks of the immortals, to stamp his legacy for all time? In the case of Kanhai, the number of ‘Rohans’ in the world has ensured that the name of the great Rohan Kanhai will live forever. There is Rohan Gavaskar, but there is also Rohan Kallicharran and Rohan Holland. These are cricketers that named their sons after the maestro. Rohan Marley, son of the legend Bob Marley, is named after Kanhai and there are Rohan Kapoor, son of the Indian playback singer Mahendra Kapoor, tennis player Rohan Bopanna, and Rohan Kohli of Youtube fame. There is also Rohan Oza from ‘Shark Tank’, Rohan Sippy, the film director, and a bunch of other ‘Rohans’ that include Dennis, Davey, Jayasekera, Ricketts, and Suppiah.

Several years ago, while teaching in New York City, a young man walked into my class. He was short and stocky with a liking for baseball. He too was a Rohan. I asked him about his name. ‘My dad named me after a cricketer,’ he said, swinging his baseball bat. ‘I heard they would pitch fast balls at him, and he would hit them out of the park, and he didn’t even wear a helmet. That’s crazy, man. I want to be like him!’ All’s well in the Kingdom of Rohan!

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The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.