GO HARD OR GO HOME
Fighting many adversities and overcoming significant barriers to amass over six decades of cricketing experience, Alvin Kallicharran lays it bare in his autobiography Colour Blind. Excerpts:
"Go sit at the back of the bus, come and speak to me when we arrive at our ground," said Mr Gibbs, my captain at the time. That was the longest coach ride of my life. It was a comfortable air-conditioned bus that was taking us to the next cricket ground three hours away, but I was sweating all the way nervously! I was in sublime form, scoring four consecutive county centuries, what on earth could I have done wrong?
GIBBS: HONOR, RESPECT AND DUTY
I was a young, enthusiastic player and jokester boarding the bus, beaming with confidence from my last four consecutive hundreds playing for Warwickshire. The year was 1973, and I had just scored four county cricket hundreds in a row.
We were heading to the first test in England. I was fooling around with Roy Fredericks (cement head) playing with his hair and slapping his head a bit. Mr Gibbs took one look at me, glared at me, and sent me to the back of the bus. He told me that he'd speak to me when we arrived at the hotel. This encounter was not the welcome I was expecting from a man whom I highly respected. I was wondering if he was aware of my recent great knocks and thought that he might give me a positive compliment about my current good form. After all, I was in sublime form. The next three hours felt like an eternity, I never said a word and wondered what on earth I had done wrong. When we arrived at our hotel, I was rather scared, but knew that I had to speak to Mr Gibbs or else if I ignored his instruction, I'd be in deeper waters. When the bus finally arrived at the hotel, I followed Mr Gibbs. I said: "Sir, you wanted to see me?" "Go get me something to drink!" he said.
I quickly ran to buy him a drink and brought it to him. I was so nervous I never thought to bring one back for myself. I sat next to him and listened attentively. "You think you can bat?" he asked. "You can't bat, you can't bat to save your life! Scoring 120, 120, 130, 110 in your last four knocks, that's not scoring! Who do you think you are? You're NOTHING! You need to score 200, 250, 300 runs, that's runs!
"Yes Sir," I said, "Thank you, Sir!"
In today's age and modern society, this may seem negative or a discouraging conversation and, at first, I was a bit taken aback by this outburst, but after careful reflection, I felt honoured that Mr Gibbs was taking his valuable time and concern to share his thoughts and advice with me. Everything that I would hear from one of my role models was my cricket gospel, and I latched on to every word. If Mr Gibbs reached out to me, I knew, undoubtedly, he was correct. I knew that he cared for me and I'll forever be grateful for his seemingly harsh words. This scolding was not a negative, but was a blessing.
In retrospect, as I've grown up and matured, I can see what he was doing: he was keeping me humble and hungry! He told me exactly what I needed to hear at the time. He was preparing me for the upcoming test series. There is a fine line between being overconfident and complacency, and as a youngster in top form, he noticed that my mind was not in the game. He wanted to prepare me mentally for the test match against England which lay ahead. He also saw potential weaknesses in my character and was willing to address these.
Years later I discovered that the cricketing great, Graham Pollock, had a very similar conversation with his dad. Graham Pollock was my roommate when we went on tour playing for the Mean Machine Transvaal team in South Africa. Two weeks before Graham scored his personal best score of 274 against Australia playing for South Africa, his father passed away. When asked about this high score, he recalled the words of his dad: "If you want to be seen as a top-class player, you've got to get big scores. You've got to keep going. Don't give it away. Don't just get 100, 150, or even 200. Keep going."
I highly respected Mr. Gibbs and therefore still refer to him in that manner. Mr Gibbs demanded the best from himself and all his players, he demanded respect, and he rightfully earned it. If I expected a compliment or praise after a good knock, I knew it wouldn't come from him. He believed that you had a job to do and that you needed to do that job well. If you were successful at the crease, you did your job. He imparted the mindset to me that your reward or praise was your selection, and your celebration was staying in the team!
SIR GARFIELD SOBERS: EXCELLENCE
It was the 1973 test series against England. During the first test match, I arrived at the crease and scored around 80 In the first innings. We had a terrible start, and were 28 for three before I came to bat. I stabilised the innings and played well, but unfortunately, I didn't capitalise on getting a century. In the second innings, the openers didn't learn from their poor start that occurred in the first innings and apparently, nor did I. We were again around 20 something for three, and I saved the innings and was batting solidly on approximately 80. I saw the ball as big as a saucer, capitalising on the loose deliveries and playing disciplined cricket. As one of the spinners tossed up a delivery, I stormed down the track and missed the ball by a mile. It was more like a run-out, not a stumping! A rush of young blood was maybe a poor excuse. I don't like excuses as they leave room for negativity, but the shot was not on, I was reckless and threw my wicket away. Although we won the game and my performance was relatively admirable, my captain Sir Garfield Sobers never spoke to me; looked at me, or acknowledged my presence for TWO WEEKS! Yes, TWO WEEKS! He was teaching me a valuable lesson: don't throw your wicket away, and, once you're in, take responsibility to see the innings through. He was saying that I needed to be patient and build a big score. Eighties are not good enough; stay hungry for more! Where Mr Gibbs demanded excellence, Sir Garfield Sobers, expected excellence. As I reflect on why.
Sobers was so upset with me for throwing my wicket away, it was not only the reckless shot and throwing it away after the hard work, but I think it's also because we had completely different styles of playing spin. I wasn't scared to leave my crease as I was one of the few batsmen that could read the Googly or Chinamen or whatever the bowlers were trying. I watched the ball as it left the hand and could see what it was going to do while it was in the air. Sobers never left his crease and was only stumped once, I believe in his entire test career. He was, however, a very aggressive batsman and not afraid to take on the bowler. He also played the ball late and had fast reflexes so he could change his shot with the flick of his wrists. He did play out of his crease when the wicketkeeper was back, and this put the bowler off his line. He liked the ball coming onto the bat. He was such a brilliant natural all-around athlete. Gary struggled fewer times in the sporting arena than anyone else. Everything he did looked so natural to him. He was a great goalkeeper on the soccer pitch, an excellent golfer, and a formidable tennis player, and I believe he represented Barbados in all these sports. Most sports will complement each other and give players a different dynamic or approach to the game. It also allows them to improvise more when they are slightly out of position with their feet. I played squash to keep fit, and this also required a significant amount of hand-eye coordination and improvising. Gary was even a star outside the sporting arena. In Barbados, dominoes was very popular and a boisterous affair. He also mastered this strategic game at a very young age. The great cricketer Sir Don Bradman even called him the "Five-in-one cricketer! He could bat, field, and bowl competitively in three different styles. Life was tough for Gary. His dad died at sea in 1942 when a U-boat torpedoed his ship, and later his best friend, Collie Smith, sadly lost his life in a car wreck on the way to a cricket match in London.
(Excerpted with permission from Colour Blind; written by Alvin Kallicharran; published by Notion Press. The exceprt here is a part of the chapter titled 'Leaders, My Role Models')