Rohan Kanhai enjoyed a career in which he played on great teams from start to finish.
Maybe it is a testament to his ability that he was a mainstay for the West Indies during this period since the cluster of nations had been seeing a swell in the number of talented batsmen it had been producing.
Names like Sir Garfield Sobers, Joe Solomon, Clyde Hunte and Basil Butcher were just some of the talents in the West Indies line-up when Kanhai started his sojourn in Test cricket, and when that sojourn ended 17 years later, the Guyanese batsman had been joined by the likes of Roy Fredericks, Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharan, Clive Lloyd and of course, Sobers was still around.
Despite spending 17 years at the top, Kanhai’s start to Test cricket was not as convincing as his career would eventually turn out to be.
on New Year’s Eve in 1958, more than a year after his debut for the West Indies, Kanhai had yet to make his mark, had yet to prove why the selectors had kept persevering with him.
In truth, he hadn’t done badly, scoring three half-centuries in his first 23 innings. But he had never notched three figures, getting as close as 96 in February of 1958.
In Kolkata, that was to change.
The West Indies had dominated India in the first two Tests of a five-match series but Kanhai had yet to build on some good starts, scoring 66 and 22, nought and 41 in his first four times facing the Indians.
To date, Kanhai had only faced England and Pakistan, with India providing a new challenge to his fledgeling career.
On New Year’s Eve, West Indies had chosen to bat but were in early trouble when Kanhai walked to crease. Medium-pacer Raman Surendranath had, the ball before, removed JK Holt caught for just five.
India threatened for an instant, as Sir Conrade Hunte was back in the pavilion for just 23, leaving the West Indies at 72-2.
Six hours and 42 boundaries later, Kanhai was still there.
Collie Smith had tried to entertain a partnership but he went for 34 to leave the West Indies 180-3. Not a terrible return, but India were very much still in the game.
Kanhai eventually found a willing partner in Guyana teammate Butcher, who scored 103.
Day one would end with the West Indies in a strong position at 359 for 3.
Butcher was not out on 87 and Kanhai had his first Test century, a double. He was on 203 not out.
The following day, Kanhai would continue to keep the Indian bowlers at bay, going on to score his highest Test score of 256 before Surendranath had him caught by Polly Umrigar.
The damage had already been done and an unbeaten century of 106 from Sobers along with Solomon’s fine lower-order stand of 69 not out left the Indians staring down the barrel of 614. All this and Jamaica’s Gerry Alexander, a wicketkeeper who could bat as well, had not even faced a delivery.
That 256, coming in Kanhai’s 13th Test, was a watershed moment. Afterwards, he would get over the three-figures hump 14 more times in his career and score 28 half-centuries to boot to end with a very healthy average of 47.53.
Like sort of a warning, Kanhai would score 99 in the very next Test, before scoring another double century against Pakistan a few months later.
West Indies sealed the series in that game, winning by an innings and 336 runs and went on to register a 4-0 win following a drawn fifth Test.
While Kanhai and co. batted the Indians out of the game, it must be said the hosts had a major problem with handling the pace of Roy Gilchrist, whose match figures of 3-18 and 6-55, ensured the game would end inside four days. (SportsMax)