Basil Butcher reminisces
by Frank Birbalsingh
July 21, 2002
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Q: You were first selected for the West Indian team in 1958 and went on the tour toIndia in 1958-59. The Jamaican fast bowler Roy Gilchrist was sent home from that tour and never played Test cricket again. How did that happen?
A: I had twisted my knee in the first Test match at Bombay and had to pass a fitness test to play in the second Test match at Kanpur. During one of our practice sessions, Captain Gerry Alexander was hitting the ball, and one hit came near to me causing me to jump out of the way. Someone chased the ball and Gilly, who was next to me, said: "Butch, if that f--ball had hit your leg we would have had a big laugh." Alexander asked him to apologise for using a four-letter word and he refused. So Gilly was to be sent home. It is only after the manager (Berkeley Gaskin) came and spoke to us - the young brigade of new players - that we formed a delegation led by Conrad Hunte to ask that Gilly should be spared. A meeting was held and Gilly was warned that if anything else happened on the tour, he would be sent home. Later on, in our match at Amritsar against East Zone, two East Zone wickets fell early, and Swaranjit Singh came in to bat. In trying to york him Gilly bowled Singh a half volley which he hit for four. Singh then walked up to Gilly and tauntingly asked him if he liked the stroke. Gilly next bowled him two bumpers. Meanwhile, Singh was laughing and clowning around, deliberately aggravating Gilly. Then Gilly bowled him a beamer, and Alexander said if he bowled another one he would take the ball away. Gilly then bowled Singh another one, and Alexander took the ball away and Gilly was sent home.
Q: Swaranjit Singh and Alexander were friends?
A: They were students together at Cambridge University.
Q: Was this the old Jamaican class system at work? Alexander, by virtue of his urban background, university education, and light skin colour belonged to a higher social class than Gilchrist who was black and came from the Jamaican countryside.
A: I would say it was, although Alexander has brothers dark as I am.
Q: But in the West Indies, colour is only one indication of class. Other factors are money, education, speech and social contacts.
A: That's right. I think that was part of it. But we were hurt because, at the time, we all regarded Gilly as the best fast bowler in the world. For someone regarded as the best in the world to be belittled for what I thought was no reason at all was inexcusable. Alexander said if Gilchrist stayed, he would leave. And remember that this was the first time a non-white West Indian was captain or manager of the West Indies team for an entire tour. We didn't want something like that to happen.
Q: No, for then it would be said: "Look, you see, they West Indians' can't get along without a white boss."
Q: Frank Worrell succeeded Alexander as captain of West Indies in 1960. How do you rate Worrell as a captain?
A: Frank was a great binder of people, for want of a better term. He said the right things at the right time, and he didn't keep anything back. I was going out to a function once, and he said: "Remember that your West Indian brothers are your worst enemies, because they are the ones who are going to want you to do things." On the 1963 tour to England, on the day before the fourth Test at Headingley, Garry Sobers said his finger was bad and he couldn't play. Frank told him that since he was on the tour committee which would make the final decision the next day, he would include him in the team; then he (Sobers) could decide the next day. As you know, Garry not only played but made 102 in that Test. That's how effective Frank's captaincy was. If you had a problem, he would take you to the nets himself and try to iron it out.
Q: He was a good leader, one who could get people to express themselves.
A: Yes. You looked to him for advice, and on the field he spoke to everybody at every opportunity to get your opinion, and get you more involved in the game.
Q: How does Worrell compare with the white West Indian captains who preceded him? After all, he glued the team together in a way that none of the white captains were able to do previously.
A: I don't think the white captains ever regarded that as their objective. I spoke with earlier West Indian players like K.H. Weekes, Manny Martindale and others, and their situation was very different from mine in the West Indian team. They didn't even stay in the same hotels as their captain. Frank was quite different. He would have carried Gilchrist to Australia in 1960, but he was prevented from doing so. He didn't care about colour, class or ethnic background. He cared about West Indian cricket. I don't think that any of the players who were not of African background felt that Frank was not with them. He was everybody's friend.
Q: Frank was your partner during your magnificent innings of 133 in the second Test against England, at Lord's, in 1963. Do you remember how it happened?
A: In the first Test at Old Trafford I had made 22 and got out 1bw trying to hook Trueman. In the first innings of the second Test, I was caught for 14 on the square leg boundary again hooking Trueman. So Frank said sometime during the second innings: "Butch, if you want to beat the bowling it's not one ball you have to hit: you have to beat the ball the whole day." Most people knew that in 1960 during the English tour of West Indies Trueman had a lot of negative things to say about some West Indian players, including myself, and Frank understood that I wanted to punish Trueman. But Trueman had got me out twice already on the 1963 tour, so Frank said if I wanted to beat Trueman it had to be for hours. When I was on 92 Shackleton bowled me a half volley and I hit it straight over his head first bounce for four. Frank said: "You lucky son of a bitch. I've known that man for twenty years, and he has never bowled me a half volley." When I got to a hundred he said: "You've just finished batting for Butcher. Look at the score. Now you have to bat for West Indies."
Q: So the consensus 'that Worrell played a wonderful, supporting, psychological role in perhaps the greatest of all your innings' is correct?
A: Yes, yes. He made sure of that by letting me know that the game was in my hands.
Q: Garry Sobers succeeded Worrell as captain of West Indies in 1964 . No one will deny that he is probably the greatest all round cricketer who ever lived, but how does Sobers measure up as captain?
A: Although Garry was an outstanding cricketer, he looked to all of us - the other players - as equals.
The only time you might notice him claiming that he could do a little bit more than us would be when a partnership needed to be broken; for Garry would take the ball himself and bowl orthodox spin, finger spin or seam; and as soon as a wicket fell, he would call back regular bowlers like Gibbs to come and get their wickets, as if it was their department and he was intruding. I always say that if there's a nicer human being on earth than Garry Sobers, I have not met him yet. But this sense of equality that he had with us was one of the weakest links in our armoury. It did not get players to understand their responsibility for the job they had to do. It took Clive Lloyd to bring back that sense of responsibility into our game in the 1980s.
Q: Sobers did not give the encouragement or constructive criticism that Worrell did?
A: He did not have it. He did not have Worrell's psychological grasp.
Q: England came to West Indies in 1968, and in the fourth Test in Trinidad, you took five wickets for 34 runs in the English first innings. Yet West Indies lost the match.
A: The Trinidad authorities influenced Garry Sobers to declare and give England 215 to win, confident that Willie Rodriguez would trouble the English batsmen with his leg breaks in their second innings. I had gone with Charlie Griffith to the doctor because we never thought we were going to field again. When we came back, we were told we would have to field after the session, and we couldn't understand it.
Q: Did the manager, Everton Weekes, not play a role?
A: They buttonholed Everton first and he kept himself very quiet after that. These were Trinidadian, not West Indian authorities. Garry agreed because he is too amiable to refuse, but this time his amiability hurt us. The next day crowds hung him in effigy on a tree.
Q: All right, but why didnĂt you repeat your first innings performance in bowling?
A: In the first innings, the captain did not ask me to bowl. At the end of one over, the ball came to me while I was fielding at forward square leg, so I picked it up and was moving to my new position at mid off when I passed Garry and said: "Man, let me bowl. I can't do worse than you all." Garry said nothing. And I started bowling.
Q: Why was your bowling never developed?
A: You must look back at our cricket history during that period. A bowler was a bowler. I never used to get to bowl, even for Guyana. Similarly, once you got into the team as a batsman, that was what you did.
Q: But although he was a batsman Joe Solomon was also accepted as an occasional, slow, right arm leg spin bowler.
A: You see, Joe had established that he could bowl by bowling in inter-county cricket. I didn't bowl at Port Mourant until I became captain.
Q: What happened on the 1968 tour to Australia? Why was West Indies beaten so badly?
A: Berkeley Gaskin was our best manager in England and India, but he was our worst manager on the 1968 tour. I think indiscipline caused us to lose. Although Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith were not at their best, we dropped, on average, about five catches per innings. You cannot drop catches so frequently and win matches.
Q: Your last tour was with West Indies in England in 1969. Only three Tests were played, and you made 91 in the third¨your last Test match. There was a dispute over the catch that Alan Knott, the English wicket-keeper, took to dismiss you off Underwood. West Indies were set 303 to win, and were poised to get them when you were out at 219 for four.
A: Colour television came in for the first time in that match, and you could follow the ball from delivery, through each stage of its movement, until it touched my shoulder. It passed nowhere near my hands. I was shocked when Alan Knott appealed. Philip Sharpe who was fielding at slip disagreed. If you keep in mind that Sharpe and Knott were notorious for their dubious appeals, this must have been glaringly unfair if Sharpe disagreed.
Q: So West Indies could have won the match?
A: We needed only about 80 more runs with six wickets standing. I didn't believe we could have lost with Sobers and Lloyd still to come. But that's how it goes.
Q: Critics conclude that although you were a steady, reliable batsman, you were not a spectacular stroke maker like Sobers and Kanhai. Is that unfair?
A: I would never say that I was as good as Sobers or Kanhai, because they were the best batsmen I ever played with. I tried to compete whenever I played with them, to make sure that I was not left too far behind. I was really competing against myself so that I could stay at the top, and not fall back too far. But I cannot assess what I did because I didn't see it: only my results can show that. (Recorded in Toronto on 24th May, 1998)