Cricketer whose prodigiously talented spin bowling helped West Indies to their first ever Test match win in England
Sonny Ramadhin, the West Indies cricketer, who has died aged 92, was immortalised as one of “those two little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine” in a calypso by his fellow Trinidadian, Lord Beginner. With the left-handed Jamaican Alf Valentine, Ramadhin, a right-hander, was one part of the most famous West Indian spin bowling duo – perhaps the most famous in all cricket.
He made his Test debut at Old Trafford in 1950, the year when West Indies first beat England at Lord’s, and also won their first ever away series against the “mother country”.
Prior to the trip, Ramadhin had only played two first-class matches, and to select both him and that pal of his, Valentine, also a complete novice, for a full Test tour was a daring gamble. But it paid off: they dominated the series as dramatically with the ball as the Three Ws – Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell – did with the bat, Ramadhin playing a pivotal role in the second Test at Lord’s which turned the tide of the game and the series towards West Indies. After his first year of first class cricket Ramadhin was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1951, and he went on to have a highly successful career across 43 Tests, with 158 wickets at an average of 28.98. In all first-class matches he took 758 wickets at an average of 20.24.
Even more significantly for the development of the game, Ramadhin was the first East Indian – a West Indian of Indian extraction, so called to distinguish them from Indians native to the Caribbean – to play for West Indies, and for close to 10 years he was the only one. Alvin Kallicharran (66 Tests), Rohan Kanhai (79 Tests) and the Trinidadian spin bowlers Inshan Ali and Raphick Jumadeen (12 Tests each) followed.
Ramadhin’s grandparents had emigrated to Trinidad from India to work as indentured labourers. He was born in St Charles village, about 15 miles south of the capital, Port of Spain, but after both his parents died when he was young, he was raised by his Uncle Rock in Esperance village in the south of the island. Cricket was the one benefit he derived from attending – or
more frequently, not attending – a Canadian mission school, where he was called Sonny to go along with the one name with which he arrived there, Ramadhin. His birth had not been registered, and he adopted the initials KT only when told that a cricketer could not tour without them.
Although spin bowlers generally need years of first-class exposure to mature, Ramadhin bowled spectacularly from his first game, for Trinidad against Jamaica, at the end of January 1950, taking five wickets for 39 runs in his first innings and three for 67 in his second. That match was also Valentine’s first class debut, though he did not take a wicket and conceded 111 runs. Ramadhin had never left Trinidad before the 1950 tour to England, and though awed by the novelty of his experience – he was delighted by the “upstairs” buses, for instance – he was not entirely unsophisticated. Called upon to order dinner for other players at a London Indian restaurant, he not only assured them of a fine spread, but quietly left the table unobserved during dessert and settled the bill, successfully fending off all attempted contributions from West Indian gentlemen players substantially more wealthy than himself.
Before leaving Trinidad he had bowled only on the island’s makeshift matting wickets. Yet on that first tour he took 135 first- class wickets at an average of 14.88 from more than 1,000 overs bowled. He took 26 of the 80 wickets available in the four Tests at an average of 23.23, bowling 377 overs in total. In the critical Lord’s game he took 11 for 152 from 115 overs, 70 of them maidens. It was he who made the breakthrough on the final day, bowling Cyril Washbrook after he had spent more than five hours at the crease, and finishing with six for 86 off a staggering 72 overs.
Ramadhin’s early statistics bear out how impossible he was to play. Even his usual wicketkeeper, Walcott, looking down at Ramadhin’s tiny, 5ft 4in frame from his formidable 6ft 2in, 15-stone vantage point, confessed to being unable to predict which way Sonny would turn the ball. With his cap on and long sleeves buttoned at the wrist, he turned the ball either way without a perceptible change in delivery, either by a conventional flick of the fingers or a barely perceptible turn of the wrist. His skills bewitched most teams he played against, particularly the first time they had to face him.
After seven years of dominance in international cricket, however, Ramadhin’s ability to bamboozle batsmen ended in dramatic and rather unseemly circumstances. During the 1957 West Indies tour of England, in the first innings of the first Test at Edgbaston, he was as mesmerising as ever, taking seven for 49. But in the second innings he was first neutralised and then devastated by an approach still regarded in the West Indies as being as unsporting as Bodyline.
After Ramadhin had taken Peter Richardson’s wicket to have England struggling on 113, still 175 runs behind with only seven second innings wickets remaining, Peter May and Colin Cowdrey, facing mainly Ramadhin, took the score to 524. Playing Ramadhin as an off-spinner, they simply planted their left feet well down the wicket, padding away any ball too short to drive. At the time the leg before wicket law stated that if a batsman was hit on the pads outside the line of the stumps then he could not be given out by the umpire, even if he was not playing a shot.
Ramadhin sent down a record 98 overs in that soul-destroying encounter, and had countless lbw appeals turned down, most of them against Cowdrey, who was the chief perpetrator with his pads. The West Indies drew the game and lost the series, fortunes turning on the fulcrum of Ramadhin and Valentine just as surely as they had seven years earlier – but negatively this time. The lbw rule was later changed to prevent the spirit and spectacle of the game from being ruined in such a manner, but it came too late to protect a discouraged and exhausted Ramadhin. CLR James described him as being “singularly innocuous” for the remainder of the England series.
Though he had a good season against England at home in 1959-60, taking 17 Test wickets at 28.88, and he continued playing until the end of 1960 (his last Test was against Australia at Melbourne on 30 December of that year), his era had effectively ended at Edgbaston, not at the hands, but at the feet, of Cowdrey.
Ramadhin played for Trinidad and Tobago from 1950 until 1953, and enjoyed some success for Lancashire in 1964. He played minor counties cricket with Lincolnshire from 1968 to 1972, and Lancashire league cricket at various times, first signing for Crompton in the Central Lancashire League in 1951 and ending his league career by taking a hat-trick in his last match for Daisy Hill, in the Bolton & District association, at the age of 50. He was awarded Trinidad and Tobago’s highest honour, the Hummingbird Gold Medal, in 1972.
From 1965 to 1990 he and his English wife, June (nee Austerberry), ran the White Lion pub in Delph, Saddleworth, north east of Manchester, until forced to retire when brewery monopoly rules would have made it necessary for them to buy the pub outright. Their daughter Sharon married the Lancashire fast bowler Willie Hogg, and grandson Kyle Hogg, a seam bowler, played for the county from 2001 to 2014.
June and Sharon predeceased Ramadhin. He is survived by their son, Craig, two grandchildren, Natalie and Kyle, and two great-grandchildren, Nancy and Fifi.
Sonny (KT) Ramadhin, cricketer, born 1 May 1929; died 26 February 2022