Tue, Apr 27, '04
The Sonny Ramadhin story is one dreams are made of. From very poor and humble beginnings, the legend began with a child whose birth certificate had no name, simply the word 'Boy'. It was from this moment on that everyone began referring to him as Sonny, since he had no legal name.
As a youngster, he played cricket with coconut branches as bats and used limes, coconuts, stones and similar objects as a substitute for the leather cricket ball. Born May 1st 1929 in the small village of St. Charles, Trinidad, Ramadhin was orphaned at a very young age and brought to Esperance village, just south of San Fernando, by his Uncle Soodhai. It was here where he went to school and, as told to me by my grandfather, where he learned his art of spinning the ball whilst bowling with a lime.
On Friday 23 April, the Faculty of Social Sciences of the St. Augustine Campus UWI, in collaboration with Guardian Life Insurance, hosted 'The Inaugural UWI/Guardian Life Sonny Ramadhin Cricket Lecture, commemorating his distinguished career. Respected West Indies commentator and journalist Mr. Tony Cozier delivered the feature address.
After the welcome and chairpersons' remarks made by Dr. Hamid Ghany, the Dean for the Faculty of Social Sciences and Mr Gerard Pinard, Chairman and Vice President - Corporate Resources, Guardian Life, respectively, Mr. Ramadhin's representative made his speech. After his address, Justice Narine made way for famed West Indian journalist Tony Cozier, the feature speaker for the night. At the end of his speech Mr. Cozier fielded questions from the audience and was then awarded a plaque by the organisers.
Justice Ralph Narine, a long time friend of Sonny's, spoke on his behalf. He began with an apology from Ramadhin for not attending a ceremony honouring him. Sonny himself did not feel 'fit' for travel to attend the function as he suffers from Angina when travelling. A letter from Ramadhin to the committee, which was printed in the booklet given out entailing Sonny's mythical cricketing career, also pointed this out.
Ramadhin's professional career was kick-started in 1949 when Sonny Beaky, a then South team member, saw him playing and was so impressed by his skill that he informed the South captain of his find. Boy Ramadhin was selected to play in the most anticipated cricket game on the Trinidadian calendar, the North-South game. In the game he toiled as Stollmeyer and Gantaume put on over 200 runs for the first wicket batting for North and Sonny eventually got figures of 3-193 in that innings.
On a visit to Jamaica later that year, both national teams played two games with Sonny claiming 12 wickets in the game at just about 20 a piece. In contrast another unknown spinner by the name of Alfred Valentine took only 2 wickets in the two games.
These turned out to be the only two games Sonny would play for Trinidad, as he was selected, on a hunch, for the following tour of England in 1950. This tour was where Ramadhin teamed up with another West Indian spinner, Alfred Valentine, to terrorize the English batsmen. Sonny took 26 wickets at 23.23 in the four test series.
Narine spoke of his first meeting with Ramadhin during this 1950 tour. Sonny was not yet 21 at the time, a newcomer to the team, on his first tour of England, and Narine was a friend of Ramadhin's brother. Narine was asked to meet Sonny at the train station, and upon arrival he saw a small East Indian boy in a brown overcoat shivering on a cold April morning. He took Sonny, who knew nobody in England, to his home in a gesture that was the beginning of a great friendship that continues to this day. Cozier spoke of first seeing Ramadhin, saw the spinning magician as he tormented and mesmerized the English, during his infamous tour of England in 1950, as a ten-year-old schoolboy.
Sonny was the first player of East Indian descent to represent West Indies, this at a time when East Indians were new to the region, only arriving during the previous century. Sonny was a third generation descendant. Seeing him do so well offered a psychological boost to the East Indians of the region, giving them a feeling of belonging.
Ramadhin and Valentine tore apart the English side, bowling a number of overs unthinkable in modern cricket. In that series they had 200 overs per test between them and some 367 maidens in the series. At the Lords test, the one about which the calypso 'Cricket Lovely Cricket' was written, Ramadhin and Valentine found fame. Ramadhin returned figures of 43-27-66-5 and 72-43-86-6 and Valentine 45-28-48-4 and 7-47-79-3. West Indies crushed England by some 326 runs to level the 4 match series 1-1 and went on to win the series 3-1, filling West Indians with pride. This was especially so for the West Indians living in England having servant-like jobs and yet to make an impact on English society.
Upon seeing their success in England, the West Indies were invited to play in Australia the following year, 1951, where the grassy pitches prepared for the Aussie Lindwall and Miller combination blunted the effectiveness of those 'two pals'. Nonetheless, the rest of Ramadhin's career was history, as he bagged 158 test scalps at 28.98 a piece, with best figures of 7-49 on the 1957 tour of England. In 1951 Ramadhin was awarded a spot as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year.
It should be noted that whilst Ramadhin played just 3 first class games for Trinidad, his first class career ended after 184 games, with figures of 758 wickets at an average of 20.24. Even though he retiring from professional first class cricket in 1965, Sonny continued to play the sport he loved until 1982, finishing up playing for Lever in the Bolton League.
Since retiring Ramadhin has been living in Lancashire with his wife, June, running the White Lion Pub. He suffers from arthritis in the wrist/hand and hip, something that could be referred to as 'war wounds'. The Ramadhin blood will remain in cricket for years to come as his grandson Kyle Hogg is a fast bowling all rounder for Lancashire, who gets his chance to represent the club this season as Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff is away on international duty.
Here's to Sonny Ramadhin, a legendary West Indian pioneer whose story should never be forgotten and told for years to come.