The stylish yet obdurate Basil Butcher was born on September 3, 1933. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the reliable yet patchy career of a Guyanese middle-order batsman.
Basil Fitzherbert Butcher would have played a lot more if his career had not coincided with some of the greatest batsmen of all time. Playing alongside the likes of the Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Seymour Nurse, and Conrad Hunte meant that Butcher had to bat consistently to keep his position in the side.
A batsman with supple wrists and tremendous concentration levels, Butcher was one of the most technically sound batsmen in the strong West Indian outfit, which was saying something. He was generally a crisis man, bailing his side out of trouble as frequently as any of his teammates.
Despite what Christopher Martin-Jenkins called “a chequered career”, Butcher’s numbers read 3,104 runs at 43.11 with seven hundreds from 44 Tests. The numbers, though not spectacular, are sound. In 169 First-Class matches, Butcher scored 11,628 runs at 49.90 with 31 hundreds. He also bowled some innocuous leg-breaks, but more of that later.
A general career overview will, however, never provide with a true picture of Butcher’s role: often sandwiched between the glamorous Sobers and Kanhai, Butcher managed to create a niche of his own and played the all-important role of holding the batting together — a role similar to Larry Gomes had played in the 1980s.
A proof of his ability to perform under the most adverse of conditions is the fact that Butcher averaged 35.09 at home and 46.41 overseas, crossing the 40-mark in Australia, England, India, and New Zealand.
Wisden wrote of him: “Butcher’s grim, resolute approach to the game is typically Guyanese — and even more typically Berbician. He has been known to smile during an innings, but rarely before the four-hundredth run.” Of the adventurous, destructive West Indians the trait has been replicated the best by another Guyanese who played his cricket decades after Butcher — Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
Basil was a son of Ethelbert Fitzherbert Butcher, a Barbadian who had moved to British Guiana (later Guyana) to take up a job in the Port Mourant Sugar Estate, and Mathilda Elizabeth Love, who ran a bakery. Basil studied at St Joseph Anglican and Corentyne High School. Cricket was his passion.
“Cricket was the main thing. Everybody played cricket. We played every day. There were 24 cricket teams on the estate. We made balls out of wood, we played with coconut and monkey apple bats, we played with soft and hard balls,” said Butcher in an interview for Kaieteur News. Twenty-four teams in a community of 5,000 people was indeed a high count.
It was difficult in those days for the country boys to play in the Shell Shield, let alone Test cricket. Butcher reminisces: “We never thought of cricket at any other level than at the Port Mourant cricket ground. When John Trim was selected to play for Guyana, we felt very excited that a man from Port Mourant had represented British Guiana, but we never thought of emulating him.”
But Butcher rose. He rose playing cricket on the rough countryside without any protection. He knew that if he missed the ball it would hit his shins, so he had to use his bat for self-defence more than anything. He began to middle the ball more, the technique improved, and a future star slowly made his way through the ranks of country cricket.
Once he quit school Butcher took up numerous jobs — as a school-teacher, as a Public Works Department clerk, as an insurance salesman, and as a Welfare Officer. More importantly, Butcher joined the Port Mourant Sports Club, a place where Joe Solomon ran supreme. Solomon recruited Butcher, Kanhai, and Ivan Madray — all future Test players.
In the inaugural Jones Cup Inter-County Tournament of 1954, all four men played for Berbice under Robert Christiani. Butcher impressed with the bat, and went on to make his debut against Barbados at Kensington Oval in 1954-55, scoring a duck and nine. A month later he scored 34 and 62 against the same place at the same ground. When the Australians played against British Guiana at Bourda the same season he got eight and 46, and was dropped for the next season.
The next level
Roughly about this time Clyde Walcott came to British Guiana as a coach. The facilities improved as a result, as did the number of matches; finally a structured championship came into existence. Butcher got his chance to play against future stars like Lance Gibbs and Colin Wiltshire. Berbice and Demerara developed as breeding grounds for British Guiana cricket under Walcott.
Determined to make it big Butcher made the most of his next opportunity, scoring 154 not out and adding an unbroken 281 with Solomon against Jamaica at Bourda. In the match against the touring Pakistanis Butcher scored 122, once again adding 217 with Solomon. With the Ws having retired and West Indies in search of new batsmen Butcher was selected for the subsequent twin tours of India and Pakistan.
Butcher began his tour well with 95 not out against Services at Khadakvasala: as the Services bowlers kept picking up wickets he top-scored in an innings of 308 for nine when Gerry Alexander declared the innings closed with Butcher on 95. A few days later he piled up 76 against Maharashtra at Solapur, and was rewarded with his Test cap.
Butcher made his debut in the first Test of the series at Bombay alongside Wes Hall. Coming out to bat at 118 for four he was all at sea against Subhash Gupte. He took off his gloves at lunch, sat dejectedly, and told the manager Berkeley Gaskin: “Mr. Manager, I don’t know what that man doing, I play to four balls and I miss all four.” Gaskin replied: “Butch, if you in doubt, push out.”
He eventually sorted out Gupte on his own and scored 28, helping Collie Smith add 54 for the sixth wicket. In pursuit of quick runs in the second innings, he matched Sobers stroke by stroke and remained unbeaten on 64 in an unbeaten 134-run partnership when Alexander brought things to a halt. India held on grimly to a draw.
After failing in the first innings Butcher scored 60 in the next Test at Kanpur in a 90-minute partnership of 163 with Sobers. In the next Test at Eden Gardens, however, Butcher finally delivered what he had been promised till then.
By the time Butcher had walked out to bat at 180 for three Kanhai had already scored an astonishing hundred. The two Guyanese batsmen scored at a breakneck pace, taking an attack comprising of Gupte, Ghulam Ahmed, and Dattu Phadkar to pieces.
Butcher eventually made his maiden Test hundred before Ghulam trapped him leg-before. His 103 had taken three hours, and he had added 217 with Kanhai for the fourth wicket. With Sobers also joining in the fun, Solomon contributing, and Kanhai scoring 256 — for several years a record on Indian soil — West Indies scored 614 for five before Roy Gilchrist bowled India out for 124 and 154.
He went a step ahead in the fourth Test at Madras: he lifted the West Indies from 248 for five to 500, added 101 with his old mate Solomon, and helped West Indies reach 500. West Indies won by 295 runs. India managed to save the final Test at Delhi by a whisker, but there was no escape from Butcher, who scored 71. He finished the series with 486 runs at 69.42 with two hundreds, and ended up scoring fifties in each of his first five Tests.
In the next Test at Karachi Butcher top-scored with 45 in the first innings and followed it with 61 in the second as West Indies slipped to a ten-wicket defeat. Butcher thus became the third batsman after Bert Sutcliffe and Saeed Ahmed to score fifties in each of his first six Tests (Sunil Gavaskar is the only other batsman to have achieved this feat).
After this Test Butcher’s runs dried up suddenly: he scored 68 runs in six innings at 11.33 and got dropped from the Test side, to be recalled after three-and-a-half years. He was not selected for the would-be-historic Australia tour. Not disheartened, Butcher enlisted himself as a professional for Lowerhouse. The experience in English conditions helped as he earned a spot for the England tour of 1963.
Butcher began the tour with a bang with 57 not out against Worcestershire at New Road, 82 against Cambridge University at Cambridge, and 55 against Lancashire in his first three matches. A week before the first Test he top-scored with 130 against Somerset and virtually gate-crashed into the First Test at Old Trafford.
He scored only 22 but West Indies won by 10 wickets (they required a single run in the fourth innings) thanks to Hunte’s 182 and Gibbs’ 11-wicket haul. Despite the failure he was selected for the second Test at Lord’s, probably because the selection committee did not want to mess with the winning combination.
Once again Butcher failed; he scored only 14, and it looked like a comeback gone all wrong. England conceded a four-run lead, and Butcher walked out after Fred Trueman and Derek Shackleton had West Indies reeling at 15 for two. Kanhai had just been in.
At lunch, Butcher received a letter from his wife in Berbice; she had had a miscarriage. It was going to be their first child. Butcher’s career, on the other hand, hinged on this performance. “I had not made many runs in the first Test or in the first innings, and this letter came at a time when I might have been dropped,” Butcher later said.
Take a moment to realise what went through the Berbician’s mind. His personal life had received a serious blow, and his passion, his profession was in jeopardy. He went back with the single-minded aim to bat on and on.
Butcher grafted. And grafted. And grafted. Time passed. Shackleton removed Kanhai after a 49-run partnership. Sobers fell for eight, Solomon for five. There were two 20-minute phases with a single run each, one involving Kanhai and Butcher and the other Butcher and Sobers. West Indies were 104 for five just after tea, only 108 runs ahead. The English, sensing blood, gathered around the bat.
Trueman was sending down one thunderbolt after another; Shackleton, making a comeback at 39, was determined to give it his all; with the pitch offering turn as well, David Allen and Fred Titmus joined the action.
It was attrition of the highest order. Worrell hung around to provide Butcher with some support, but it was the Guyanese who did the scoring with some excellent strokes all around the wicket. Butcher eventually reached a well-deserved hundred. The pair remained intact at stumps with Butcher on 129 and Worrell on 33; West Indies were 214 for five and the danger had been averted.
Butcher eventually fell for a 261-ball 133 the next morning. He had hit 17 fours and two sixes. West Indies had scored 229, which meant that Butcher had scored 58.08 per cent of the runs scored in a complete innings. This was a new record for West Indies, going past Walcott’s 57.44 per cent (220 out of 383 at The Oval in 1954). The record is currently held by Gordon Greenidge, whose 134 out of 211 at Old Trafford in 1976 accounted for 63.51 per cent of the team total.
The innings, however, was drowned by the intense excitement of the last day’s cricket when England finished at 228 for nine chasing 234 and Colin Cowdrey walked out at number eleven with a broken hand to save the Test.
Trueman blew out West Indies at Edgbaston with five for 75 and seven for 44, bowling out the tourists for 186 and 91, levelling the series. In the fourth Test at Headingley, West Indies were down to 20 for two after they led by 223. Butcher top-scored with a 110-minute 78 and West Indies won by 221 runs.
With the series at stake Butcher produced another obdurate innings of 53 at The Oval. West Indies trailed by 29 and needed to chase 253 for a victory. Butcher came out with 64 to win, scored 31, and West Indies pulled clinched the inaugural Wisden Trophy.
Butcher was back for good: he scored 383 runs at 47.87 in the Tests and 1,294 runs at 44.62 on the tour. In the last match of the tour at Scarborough he finished off TN Pearce’s XI with his first First-Class wicket when he had Keith Andrew caught by Nurse.
A permanent fixture in the side
The England tour made Butcher a permanent fixture in the Test side. He began the home series against Australia with 39 and 71 at Sabina Park and followed it with 117 and 47 at Queen’s Park Oval. With 405 runs at 40.50 he proved as obdurate as any West Indian with only Hunte and Kanhai scoring more than him in a series that West Indies clinched 2-1.
During the tour he also led a First-Class match for the first time and scored 157 out of 284 against the tourists for British Guiana at Bourda. It was after this series that Richie Benaud rated him as the most difficult of all West Indians to get out.
He toured England in 1966 and had picked up from where he had left three years back, scoring 137 and 56 against MCC at Lord’s. He scored 44 at Old Trafford and 49 at Lord’s, but innings of three and five did not do justice to his reputation.
After West Indies had scored 235 at Trent Bridge they were defied a lead by Tom Graveney, Cowdrey, and Basil D’Oliveira as England recovered to 325 from 18 for three. Butcher walked out to join Kanhai with West Indies still 25 behind and well over two days left in the Test.
“Two and a half hours later the score had been advanced by 73, England’s rosy prospects of victory had faded and the Sunday sports pages were filled with sarcastic obituaries on the death of calypso cricket,” wrote Wisden on the subsequent proceedings.
Butcher batted with grim determination: he lost Kanhai after a 110-run partnership, but it did not matter; he had Nurse for company. Sensing victory, Nurse stepped up the accelerator, and the duo added 107 in 106 minutes; the stage was set for Sobers now.
The West Indian captain took the matter in his own hands: he scored a 138-ball 94 as 173 were added in 127 minutes. He waited for Butcher’s first double-hundred and eventually declared at 482 for five. Butcher had batted for 461 minutes, had faced 416 balls, and had hit 22 boundaries in his unbeaten 209.
Not only had he batted England out of the Test, he had also paved the way for the bowlers to seal the Test. The Test was won on the fifth evening thanks to some hostile bowling, especially from Charlie Griffith. West Indies won the series 3-1, and Butcher finished with 420 runs at 60.00. On the tour Butcher scored 1,105 runs at 48.04 with three hundreds.
He did not do too well on the India tour but redeemed himself to some extent in the home series against England. He scored three fifties and finished with 301 runs at 37.62 as England claimed the Wisden Trophy with a solitary win at Queen’s Park Oval, thanks to a dubious declaration from Sobers and a breathtaking chase masterminded by Geoff Boycott.
It was in this Test that Butcher claimed five for 34 in the first innings, claiming the last five wickets (including Cowdrey’s, who scored 148); he took four wickets in three overs during the spell. Strangely, these remained his own Test wickets, which made him join a rather queer band of bowlers whose only Test wickets had come in a five-for.
|All Test wickets in a single five-for|
|Basil Butcher||44||5||18.00||5 for 34||England||Queen’s Park Oval||1967-68|
|Christopher Heseltine||2||5||16.80||5 for 38||South Africa||Old Wanderers||1895-96|
|Albert Rose-Innes||2||5||28.20||5 for 79||England||St George’s Park||1888-89|
|Vivek Razdan||2||5||17.80||5 for 59||Pakistan||Sialkot||1989-90|
|‘Gobo’ Ashley||1||7||13.57||7 for 95||England||Newlands||1888-89|
|Note: Among current cricketers, all of Rahat Ali’s six wickets have come in a spell of 6 for 127 against South Africa at Centurion in 2012-13|
Butcher eventually got to tour Australia and New Zealand, and proved his mettle on both tours. He began with 74 against Western Australia at WACA, and followed it with 115 and 172 in the next match against a Western Australia Combined XI at the same venue. A few days later he scored 106 against Queensland at The Gabba and prepared himself for the first Test at the same venue.
Butcher had a torrid time to begin with, scoring 93 from his first five innings. Then he came to his elements in the second innings at SCG after West Indies had conceded a lead of 283. He nursed the innings, scored a 233-ball 101 with 14 fours but could not save his side from defeat.
Continuing his impressive form to the next Test at Adelaide scoring an aggressive 191-minute 118 with 18 fours, almost winning the Test for his side to victory as Australia clung on for dear life, finishing at 339 for nine chasing 360. Australia eventually claimed the series 3-1, but Butcher finished the series with 405 runs at 40.50. He finished the tour with 1,191 runs at 54.13 with five hundreds. His fine form stretched to the New Zealand tour as well.
The final hurrah
West Indies toured England for a three-Test series in 1969. Butcher, now close to 36, was among the senior members of the side. He began the tour with 113 against DH Robins’ XI at Eastbourne and followed it with 109 against Minor Counties at Stoke-on-Trent. He started the Test series innocuously, not reaching scoring a fifty in the first two Tests as England went up 1-0.
He brought out his best in the last Test. He top-scored with 35 on a difficult wicket as West Indies were bowled out for 161 and had conceded a 62-run lead. Chasing 303 Butcher walked out to bat at 69 for two for what would be his last Test innings.
It was Butcher at his best. The wicket had deteriorated enough for Derek Underwood to take advantage, but Butcher carried on, adding 108 with Steve Camacho for the second wicket. Butcher looked absolutely immovable as he and Lloyd took West Indies closer to victory.
Then Butcher played forward to Underwood, the ball kicked and turned, took his edge, and flew to Alan Knott. Butcher walked back for the last time, shaking his head, and lamented later: “Anybody who brings his bat down as I do is liable to get his shoulder in the way.” Underwood picked up four for 55 and England won by 30 runs.
Despite Gibbs being Sobers’ deputy he got to lead the tourists thrice, and opening the batting against Glamorgan at Swansea, scored 151 and added 335 with Lloyd for the fourth wicket. He eventually finished with 984 runs at 61.50 with three hundreds and more surprisingly, six wickets at 17.16. As a result he was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year – one of those rare men to have been named so after their international career was over.
Humiliated by the Irish
Before they finished their tour West Indies did a short detour of Ireland. An injured Sobers stayed back in England while Butcher led the side for a one-day and a two-day match on three successive days (the first match was actually scheduled to be a two-day affair, but as per prior agreements, if a side had managed to acquire a first-innings lead on Day One they would be announced the winner).
West Indies were so relaxed that their manager Walcott played in the first match at Sion Mills. Butcher had arrived late, went for a toss in a suit, and decided to bat without inspecting the pitch. An agitated Joe Carew told Butcher: “You’d better get out of that suit quick and get your pads on because you’re going to be out there in a minute.”
Alec O’Riordian (four for 18) and Douglas Goodwin (five for six) bowled out West Indies for 25 in 25.3 overs. Even that had looked distant, but Grayson Shillingford (who top scored with an unbeaten nine) and Philbert Blair added 13 for the last wicket. Ireland added to the humiliation by declaring at 125 for eight.
Things looked terrible once again as Goodwin removed Camacho and Maurice Foster with two runs on the board. Butcher then remained unbeaten on 50, reaching the highest score of the match as the tourists finished with 78 for four, and lost the match as per the rules.
LD Roberts, reporting for Gleaner, had noticed that the West Indies flag in the ground was set upside-down. He wrote “Half-mast might have been more appropriate,” and added: “Nothing that the West Indians may do in this two-day match against Ireland can eradicate the awful memory of their frightening nightmare performance in the first match.”
A fuming West Indies tried to avenge their defeat in the next match at Belfast (Walcott played again), but Ireland hung on grimly, scoring 165 for nine after facing a deficit of 162. Butcher had top-scored with 61 but was not a happy man on return.
Butcher played in the Shell Shield in 1969-70, leading them towards the end of the season. Coming out to bat at 37 for two against Barbados at Bourda, he added 251 with Roy Fredericks and an unbeaten 156 with Lloyd. He eventually finished with 203 not out, his second double-hundred.
He played for another season, and quit cricket for good after scoring 162 against Trinidad and Tobago at Bourda in his last innings. However, he played a single match the next season, leading Berbice against arch-rivals Demerara; he scored 30 and picked up two for 30 in his last First-Class match. In the nine First-Class matches he led he scored 719 runs at 79.88 with three hundreds and picked up nine wickets at 25.11.
Butcher moved to Linden after retirement and became a coach at Mackenzie Sports Club. He shaped the careers of future First-Class cricketers like Vilbert Johashen and Keith Cameron, and later on coached Clayton Lambert as well.
He became a national selector and was subsequently elected to the Chairman of West Indies team selection committee. He was also the Vice-President and Assistant Secretary of the Guyana Cricket Board. In 2008 he was among the first group of cricketers to be inducted into the Berbice Hall of Fame, the others being Trim, Kanhai, Solomon, Roy Fredericks, and Alvin Kallicharran.
He is a father of seven, the most famous of whom is also called Basil. Basil jr currently coaches the USA Women’s team.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)