History this week:Guyanese single test centurions

(Part VIII-Final Instalment)

By Winston McGowan

This series of articles has focused on the six Guyanese cricketers who have scored only one Test century in their career. The earlier instalments examined that special innings played by these batsmen, namely, Robert Christiani’s 107 against India at Delhi in 1948, Bruce Pairaudeau’s 115 against India at Port of Spain in 1953, Joe Solomon’s 100 not out against India at Delhi in 1958, Leonard Baichan’s 105 not out against Pakistan at Lahore in 1975, Faoud Bacchus’ 250 against India at Kanpur in 1979 and Clayton Lambert’s 104 in Antigua in 1998 against England.

This final article will view these innings in comparative perspective, pointing

Faoud Bacchus

out similarities and differences, including areas of uniqueness.

The most obvious common trait of these six cricketers is probably the fact that they played Test cricket in the post-World War II era. Christiani scored his century in the 1940s, Pairaudeau and Solomon theirs in the 1950s, Baichan and Bacchus in the 1970s and Lambert in the 1990s.

Equally obvious, is that only one of these innings (Lambert’s) was match-winning. The other five Tests in which the centuries were achieved ended in a draw. In these five games the most critical or valuable of the hundreds were those of Baichan and Bacchus whose knocks saved the game for the West Indies. Bacchus, in particular, was the West Indies’ hero in that match.

Another common feature of the six innings under consideration is that they occurred early in the cricketer’s Test career. Pairaudeau and Baichan scored their hundred in their very first Test, joining a relatively small band of players who have achieved that distinction. Pairaudeau was the third West Indian to gain that honour and the first of three Guyanese, his feat being emulated by Alvin Kallicharran in 1972 against New Zealand at Bourda and Baichan in Pakistan in 1975. Lambert scored his single Test hundred in his third Test, Solomon in his fourth, Christiani in his fifth and Bacchus in his eighth. All six of them made their century in either their first or second Test series.

Another similarity is that the Test career of these six batsmen after scoring their century was a disappointment and, in several cases, a major anti-climax. For example, although Christiani played 17 Tests and 30 innings after his hundred against India in 1948, his highest score was 76, made against Australia at Sydney in 1951, one of only three scores over fifty in this period. In short, none of these players fulfilled the high expectations evoked by their Test hundred, though it must be pointed out that Baichan and Lambert had very few subsequent Test appearances.

The final characteristic shared by the single Test centurions was that their hundred was historic in at least one significant way. For example, the hundreds by Christiana and Pairaudeau were the first two centuries made by Guyanese in Test cricket. Christiani’s hundred also occurred in a historic match, the first Test ever between the West Indies and India.

Furthermore, several of the six centuries were historic especially in terms of record partnerships and team totals. For instance, the substantial partnership of 219 runs which Pairaudeau and Everton Weekes shared when he made his century at the Queen’s Park Oval against India in 1953 was a fifth-wicket record for the West Indies in all Tests until then. It was also a record for the ground for that wicket in Tests and remained so for 56 years, that is, until Shivnarine Chanderpaul (147 not out) and Brendan Nash (109) surpassed it with a stand of 234 against England last year.

Christiani’s hundred in 1948 against India contributed to a team score of 631, which at that time was a record total by any team against India in a Test and also surpassed the previous highest West Indies Test score of 535 for 7 wickets declared made against England at Sabina Park in 1935. Similarly, Solomon’s century enabled the West Indies to declare at a score of 644 for 8 wickets, the regional team’s highest Test total against India.

The similarities between the six single centurions were matched by obvious differences. One difference was in the venue. Two of the hundreds –those by Pairaudeau and Lambert – were scored in the Caribbean and the others outside the region. With the exception of those by Christiani and Solomon, which were scored in Delhi, the centuries were made on different grounds.

On four of the six occasions the opposing team was India and on one occasion Pakistan and England. This is one indication that Guyanese have scored more Test hundreds against India than against any other country. When Christiani and Pairaudeau made their century, they were the only Guyanese in the team. The other single centurions had compatriots in the team. Solomon had his fellow Berbicians, Rohan Kanhai and Basil Butcher, with him; Baichan had Alvin Kallicharran, skipper Clive Lloyd and Lance Gibbs; with Bacchus were Kallicharran as captain and Sew Shivnarine, while Lambert played with Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper.

Two of the six single centurions, namely, Solomon and Baichan, were unbeaten, while the other four were dismissed, one (Bacchus) by the uncommon route of hitting his wicket. Their centuries also differed in approach and duration. Christiani, Pairaudeau and Bacchus were consistently aggressive, while Solomon and Baichan played more defensively. Lambert, on the other hand, was belligerent in the first half of his innings when he scored 46 off 89 balls and uncharacteristically cautious in the second half when he made 58 off 143 balls. The difference in approach was clearly reflected in the time spent on reaching their coveted maiden Test century- about three hours for Christiani, 281 minutes for Solomon, 346 minutes for Lambert and 348 minutes for Baichan.

Another area of difference between the centurions was in terms of their age at the time when they scored their hundred. Christiani was 27, Pairaudeau 21, Solomon and Baichan 28, Bacchus 25 and Lambert 36. In short, Pairaudeau was the youngest by several years and Lambert by far the oldest. Lambert is, in fact, the second oldest West Indian to score a maiden Test hundred. He is surpassed only by the little-remembered Barbadian opener, George Carew, who scored 107 against England in Trinidad in 1948 at the age of 37.

Apart from being merely historic, there was an element of uniqueness in the performance of some of the Guyanese single centurions. This is particularly the case of the remarkable innings of Faoud Bacchus. He is the only one of them whose century was a double hundred (250). He was not only his team’s top scorer, but also contributed more than half of its total of 452 for the loss of eight wickets and was its only centurion. His score surpasses the combined score of any other two of the Guyanese single Test centurions.

It is the highest score by a West Indian single Test centurion, eclipsing by 31 runs the 219 made by the Barbadian, Denis Atkinson, against Australia at Kensington Oval in 1955, the only other instance of a West Indian cricketer whose only Test century is a double century. Bacchus’ innings was at the time the highest score made in a Test at Kanpur and the second best score in a Test in India, surpassed then only by Kanhai’s 256 at Calcutta in 1958-1959, the first of Kanhai’s 15 Test hundreds.

In conclusion, it must be stated that the fact that these six Guyanese scored only a single Test century indicates that none of them had a truly satisfactory Test career. Only two of them, namely, Christiani and Solomon, commanded a regular place in the West Indies Test team. Most of them had a short or relatively short-Test career- Christiani (22 Tests), Pairaudeau (13), Solomon (27), Baichan (3), Bacchus (19) and Lambert (5). Only Baichan among them has an impressive Test career batting average (46.00). All the others have a moderate or poor average – Solomon (34.00), Lambert (31.55), Christiani (26.35), Bacchus (26.06) and Pairaudeau (21.61). These statistics are mostly in striking contrast to their productive batting for Guyana in first-class cricket.

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