A slice of Basil Butcher's grit
Recently-departed West Indies batsman of the 1950s and 1960s once scored a Test ton while coping with the news of his wife's miscarriage
Before last weekend closed out, 17 international players, international umpire Dara Dotiwalla and reputed coach Ramakant Achrekar had retired to Elysian Fields this year.
That was before former West Indian Basil Butcher, 86, bid goodbye on Monday, succumbing to a prolonged illness in Florida.
Like his teammate Seymour Nurse, who passed away in May, Butcher was an integral part of the West Indies batting line-up even as Garfield Sobers and Rohan Kanhai spent a lot of time in the spotlight during the 1960s. Butcher represented West Indies in 44 Tests, scored 3104 runs at 43.11 and hit seven centuries. His first-class run tally reads an impressive 11,628.
If Barbados is famous for its pace bowling power, Guyana produced the kind of batsmen who have contributed to West Indies cricket in no small measure — Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Roy Fredericks, Carl Hooper, Alvin Kallicharran, Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Joe Solomon.
Three Guyanese batsmen were part of the Gerry Alexander-led West Indies team to India in 1958-59 — Butcher on his maiden tour, Kanhai and Solomon. Butcher made his Test debut at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. He struggled to cope with the leg-spin of Subhash Gupte, who trapped him leg before wicket for 28 in the first innings but stayed unbeaten with 64 in the second opportunity. A second-innings 60 in the next Test at Kanpur was followed by hundreds in consecutive innings across the Kolkata and Chennai Tests. He ended the series with 71 at New Delhi. Nari Contractor, who figured in that series, told me on Tuesday that Butcher was a very fine sweep shot player and tackled leg-spin well while scoring 486 runs in the series.
India 1958-59 was not the last time Butcher constructed two hundred in a series. He did so in Australia 1968-69 as well, but that was a very forgettable tour which was lost due to some brilliant cricket from Australia, reported team disharmony and plenty of dropped catches.
His second and last Test visit to India was in 1966-67 and after a successful English summer, he was naturally expected to be one of the stars of the tour. "A Butcher for whom any bowling is easy meat is Basil," said one of the tour brochures for that India series. Sure, he could tear apart bowling attacks with his wristy strokeplay, but he could also play grind it out. Unfortunately for him, he couldn't get past 35 in the three-Test series.
Coping with personal issues is some sort of a litmus test for a player on tour, many miles away from home and Butcher's example, revealed to me by West Indian radio commentator Joseph 'Reds' Perreira must be highlighted and hailed. "Basil was padded up to bat at No. 4 at Lord's 1963. The West Indies were in early trouble and just before Basil walked out to bat, he was handed a telegram by his manager Berkeley Gaskin. Basil opened it, only to discover that it was a message from his wife who delivered the news of her miscarriage," Perreira said on Tuesday. Another version of this story says it was a letter, but Perreira insisted it was a telegram since Butcher spoke to him about it later on. The grieving Butcher batted for more than four hours to score 133 out his side's total of 229; skipper Frank Worrell being the second-highest scorer with 33.
It was a dramatic Test with England needing eight to win off the last over. The ninth-wicket pair of David Allen and Derek Shackleton was broken with Shackleton getting run out off the fourth ball. The last man to walk in was an accomplished batsman — Colin Cowdrey — but it was with a plastered left arm courtesy a Wes Hall delivery in the first innings. Cowdrey had been practising batting with one hand in the dressing room, but he was not needed at the striker's end as Allen negotiated the Hall threat in the last two balls to draw the Test.
Celebrated writer Ian Wooldridge wrote in Cricket, Lovely Cricket that the Test, "produced neither victor nor vanquished." Doubtless, Cowdrey gave courage a great name, but the real hero was Butcher and of course Fred Trueman too for his 11 wickets in the match. Perreira, who was at the Test as a spectator, reminded me that Hall bowled 40 overs in the second innings unchanged.
Butcher's 133 at Lord's in 1963 didn't eventuate in a West Indies victory, but his highest score of 209 not out against the Englishmen at Nottingham in 1966 did.
Kanhai and he were booed by the crowd for not scoring swiftly, but there was a Test match to be won and skipper Sobers's strategy was vindicated with a 139-run triumph. Butcher was a useful leg spinner and took five first-innings wickets against England at Trinidad in 1968 to help Sobers revive a boring Test match. England were set 215 to win and they did it with three minutes and seven wickets to spare. Butcher could not repeat his first-innings bowling heroics and went wicketless before which Sobers was roasted in the media for his adventurous captaincy.
Sobers said in his autobiography that Butcher was an under-rated player for all his fine qualities as a cricketer. And Perreira, who felt his hundred at Lord's in 1963 was the finest exhibition of batting in the 200 odd Tests witnessed by him, deserves to have a stand named after him at the new Providence Stadium in Guyana, an honour which also should be bestowed on other greats from that region. "Basil was a good bloke and a happy chatter," said Perreira.
He was also the kind of player his peers loved talking about. Hopefully, Basil Fitzherbert Butcher is the last international cricketer to retire to that eternal pavilion for the year.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance.
He tweets @ClaytonMurzello
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