One of the most famous sporting "finds" of all time was Sonny Ramadhin, who along with Alf Valentine of Jamaica, brought England to their cricketing knees in June 1950 at the famous Lord's cricket ground. This significant victory heralded a new era, the coming of age of West Indies cricket, as no one had expected us to so soundly trounce our British colonists in their
own back yard. Sonny Ramadhin, "Ram," is the greatest spin bowler ever to be produced by Trinidad and Tobago, and along with that pal of his, Valentine, is immortally heralded in at least three calypsoes recorded around that time: Victory Test Match/Cricket Lovely Cricket by Lord Beginner ("With those little pals of mine, Ramadhin and Valentine"); Ramadhin on the Ball by King Radio ("We want Ramadhin on the ball"); Cricket Calypso by Lord Kitchener ("Ramadhin, you deserve a title, Sir Ramadhin, followed by a medal").
Like the famed trio, the three Ws (Worrell, Weekes, Walcott) so became famous Ramadhin and Valentine, inextricably linked in the annals of cricketing history. Befuddling, baffling, cunning, wily, match-winning, destructive, mysterious, bewitching, tantalising, unplayable, ambiguous and unflagging, such was the nature of his reputation at the Test level from 1950 to 1961. Colin Cowdrey and Denis Compton, both famous English batsmen, described Ramadhin as "a mean spinner who demolished England on a number of occasions" and "the best match winning bowler in the world" respectively.
The Houdini of mesmerising spin, slightly built, sheer wizardry spinning a web of mystery, cap on, long sleeved shirt buttoned at the wrist...Sonny Ramadhin was the original 'Doosra' bowler and first player of East Indian descent to represent the West Indies. He could make the ball turn in either direction by a flick of his fingers and an imperceptible turn of the wrist; his unorthodox attack was the off break spun with the middle finger down the seam; he ran, delivered and followed through in one quick whippy motion, an all-in-one type of action combined with accurate length, unerring direction and crafty variations of flight and pace.
According to Wisden 1951: "No blame could be attached to the pitch...Ramadhin bowled with the guile of a veteran. He pitched a tantalising length, bowled straight at the wicket and spun enough to beat the bat. No English batsman showed evidence of having mastered the problem of deciding which way Ramadhin would spin."
His match winning figures of 11 for 152 (5-66 and 6-86) in that famous victory at Lord's in 1950, volumes on which have been written, remains the best match analysis by a West Indian versus England at that venue.
Sonny the man
But who was Sonny Ramadhin before the start of his meteoric, almost overnight rise to stardom on the world cricket stage in 1950?
He was born on May 1, 1929 in St Charles Village (very close to the more well known Esperance Village) described as a most rural of villages, in south Trinidad (south of San Fernando). He was orphaned at the very early age and was raised along with his brother Ramsamooj, by their grandmother an uncle and an aunt. Theirs was a modest wooden house (see Sunday Guardian July 1950 clipping) in a largely agricultural village, hardly a place with any cricketing facilities or cricketing history, yet cricket flourished albeit of the variety with the lime or orange, coconut bat and asphalt or dirt road, bowlers pelting their hearts out and batsmen determined to protect whatever served as the wicket.
An article in the Sunday Guardian July 1950 (courtesy the files of the late Eustace Ward): "Ramadhin appears to have been a well liked fellow in the village. Quiet and sly before elders, he was swift and spell-breaking before his friends; a little daring and a breaker of rules, mostly cricket rules." Consistent with this, Andy Ganteaume, fellow Trinidadian Test cricketer describes him as "a very quiet man who didn't say much." Young Ramadhin, slimly built at just 5'4", a right hander with both ball and bat who also played volleyball, was introduced to organised cricket at the Canadian Mission School, Duncan Village and after leaving school at the age of 16, practiced with the district's Palmiste Club. He played his first representative game for them in 2nd division cricket at the age of 17, after mesmerising the batsmen in the nets.
The very next year they emerged as victors winning the Callender Cup trophy and cricket observers began to take note of the mystery bowler, Sonny Ramadhin. At the age of 19 he was employed by the Trinidad Leaseholds Oil Company as a store keeper and under the tutelage and encouragement of Clarence Skinner of the company became the star of the Leaseholds Team, playing against some of the best players in the country. His 22 wickets for 264 in the trials saw him trust into the Trinidad team on January 26, 1950 versus Jamaica where he took 5-39 and 3-67, news of the mystery bowler spreading rapidly. Interestingly, he played only three times for Trinidad and Tobago notwithstanding the irregularity of first-class cricket in the Caribbean.
So suddenly, here we are in early 1950, and the raw inexperienced Sonny Ramadhin is on the boat S S Golfito to England, raising many eyebrows throughout the region. He made an immediate impact and had the opponents groping and groveling as he spun his web of mystery, bowling with his characteristic cap on, shirt sleeves buttoned down at the wrist. The Houdini of spin had arrived on the world cricketing stage. Up until then the West Indies had never won in nine previous tests on three previous tours of England, so when England won the first Test at Manchester by 202 runs there was little evidence of what was to follow: his historic match winning figures of 11-152 (5-66 and 6-86) in June of 1950 at Lords, along with his "spin twin" Alfred Valentine and the batting exploits of Rae, Worrell, Weekes, Walcott and Gomez had taken the West Indies to a resounding victory.
The West Indian people had fallen for the mesmerising charms of Sonny Ramadhin. Such was his bowling dominance of that tour of 1950 that in leading the bowling averages he sent down an amazing 1043.4 overs (398 maidens, 2009 runs, 135 wickets, average 14.88 with a best bowling of 8-15). Charlie Davis, known for his spin bowling playing skill, recalls that at a benefit game at the Queen's Park Oval in the early 70s: "I couldn't read the man and this was Ramadhin in his 40s and I had not retired as yet!"
Some of his awards and honours:
Wisden Cricketer of the year 1951;
Honorary member of the MCC; Life member of the QPCC;
Humming Bird Gold Medal 1972;
Chaconia Gold Medal 1995;
Inductee Witco Sports Hall of Fame 1985;
Honoree, 150th Anniversary, 1995 of Indian Arrival in T&T; Millenium Award, 2000,
Ministry of Sports; Annual "Sonny Ramadhin" lecture series inaugurated 2004 UWI, Trinidad;
Hall of Fame inductee 1985;
Benefit, along with Valentine, 1995;
Road named in his honour at Balmain, Couva;
Featured on Trinidad & Tobago postage stamp 1988.
As a tail ender he worked hard to develop the batting aspect of his game and became difficult at times to remove; like his defiant 44 versus New Zealand, at Dunedin February 1956.
Sadly, in spite of his wishes, his desire and offer to serve cricket in his homeland during and after his playing days in England, went unheeded and today nearing 81 years old he continues to reside in Oldham, Lancashire, England having retired from running his White Lion Pub in Lancashire with his wife June. They have two children, a son and a daughter. Their grandson, Kyle Hogg, is a player with much promise. One of his most loyal fans and friends in Trinidad is Justice Ralph Narine.
Some of the major English teams he played for were:
Crompton, Central Lancashire League (1951-1956),
Commonwealth XI (to India and Ceylon and later in England),
Ashcombe Park (1958-61),
International XI (1961/2),
E W Swanton's Commonwealth XI (1964, tour of the Far East), Radcliffe (1963) Central Lancashire League,
Liversedge (1966): Yorks,
Wakefield (1967-8): Yorks,
Natwich (1970-1): NSL,
Littlelever (1972-3): Bolton League,
Heaton (1974-5): Bolton League,
Lever (1980-62): Bolton League.
Through the years Sonny Ramadhin enjoyed cycling, dabbled in mechanics and developed a love for the game of golf like many an ex-cricketer. He finished his 43rd Test career on January 3, 1961, after the second Test at Melbourne Australia. His second-to-last Test match was in the famous Tied Test at Brisbane December 4-9, 1960.
Highest number of balls bowled
The highest number of balls bowled by one player in a Test is 774 by Sonny Ramadhin, West Indies versus England at Edgbaston 1957 including the highest in one innings of 588 as Peter Mary and Colin Cowdrey, most unsportingly, padded England to safety. Match figures: 31-16-49-7; 98-35-179-2