1962-63
The Bombay side that won Ranji Trophy 1962-63.
Back, from left: AV Manohar, Farokh Engineer, Dilip Sardesai, Sharad Diwadkar, Ajay Divecha, Ajit Wadekar, Sudhakar Adhikari, Ramakant Desai, Vasu Paranjpe
Front, from left: Charlie Stayers, Baloo Gupte, Gulabrai Ramchand, Polly Umrigar (c), Bapu Nadkarni, HD Amroliwala, RG Gharat (Manager)

Born June 9, 1937, Sven Conrad ‘Charlie’ Stayers was a West Indian fast bowler who rose and crashed like a meteor. He was spearhead of the British Guiana (later Guyana attack), but his First-Class cricket was restricted to a mere 17 matches, 4 of which were for Indian teams. He later had a season for Enfield in Lancashire League. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a career that got over before it took off properly.

Sven Conrad Stayers’s first name probably suggests Scandinavian ancestry, but records do not have supporting evidence. It never mattered, for there were few who addressed him as Sven or Conrad: he was always Charlie.

Stayers played a mere 17 First-Class matches (mostly for British Guiana), 4 of which were Tests, all in the same series. He was the last Guyanese fast bowler to play for West Indies till Colin Croft, had a decent Test debut, but did little of note thereafter. However, his biggest — and probably oddest — claim to fame was being the only West Indian to be part of a Ranji Trophy winning team (Stayers played a major role in the final).

At his prime Stayers was genuinely quick. Dr Winston McGowan, the Guyanese cricket writer and historian, wrote of him: “A tall, elegant cricketer, he had a somewhat short and leisurely approach to the wicket, and delivered the ball from a high upright position. Fast and hostile, he usually employed an attacking field, which adversely affected his economy rate. He was also quite accurate, forcing the batsmen to play. Furthermore, he swung the ball both ways and had an effective bouncer, which he used judiciously.”

Unfortunately, his career did not quite take off for several reasons. It did not help that there was no real dearth of fast bowlers in West Indies at that time. Though Roy Gilchrist’s career had come to a premature end, Wes Hall had arrived, as had Chester Watson; Charlie Griffith and Lester King was lurking around the corners; and Garry Sobers and Frank Worrell, both certainties in the side, could both bowl seam.

That, however, does not explain why Stayers vanished from the domestic circuit by the time he was 25. While 68 wickets from 17 matches at 26 do not sound spectacular, it should be noted that outside Test cricket Stayers claimed 59 wickets at 24.

Add to that his 485 runs at 29 (427 at 31 outside Test cricket), and you are left with an impressive all-rounder. As batsman he put his height to great use, playing mostly through the V, bringing out the Calypso flavour with his clean strokes.

Early days

Born in Demerara, Stayers went to St Stanislaus College (after being remarkably successful at school cricket in Wight Cup). He soon played for British Guiana Cricket Club (BGCC). At this stage he was genuinely quick, and got the choice of ends for BGCC.

He made his debut for British Guiana against the touring Pakistanis in 1958-59, where he got the choice of ends over Pat Legall, another very quick bowler from Demerara. This was somewhat unusual, for British Guiana was not an island that boasted of two genuinely quick opening bowlers.

The hosts scored 441. Stayers sent down the first two balls outside off. The third struck took the edge of Hanif Mohammad and hit timber. The previous month Hanif had scored his famous 337. Soon afterwards he hit off-stump to send back Waqar Hasan, also for a duck.

The next day he got two more wickets, of Wazir Mohammad and Mohammad Munaf. He finished with 4 for 77. Pakistan followed-on and saved the match, but this time Stayers got Saeed Ahmed.

The next season he toiled hard against Barbados, taking 4 for 117 as the hosts piled up 539. Then British Guiana were reduced to 87 for 6 when Stayers joined Glendon Gibbs, who had played a Test four seasons back, and had no known relation with Lance.

Gibbs and Stayers added 198, the former scoring 123. Stayers continued before he fell for 120, his only First-Class hundred. Unfortunately, British Guiana lost by plenty.

Stayers continued to flourish at domestic level. Against Jamaica he had 6 for 78. He was included in the XII for the first Test when England toured West Indies that year, but did not make the cut. Wisden wrote that Stayers “did not play, possibly because of worries about his bowling action — he had been called for throwing in a domestic game in 1958-59.”

Test cricket

Then came 1961-62, the most prolific of Stayers’s short career: this included 7 of his 17 career matches (including his entire Test career), in which he scored 175 runs at 29 and took 31 wickets at 25.

The first 3 matches of the season, in the inter-island Pentangular Tournament, fetched Stayers 22 wickets at 18. He was easily the star of the tournament with nobody else taking more than 12 (he also scored 117 runs at 39).

He won the final virtually on his own. His 6 for 70 restricted Barbados to 268. Then, with the score on 202 for 6, he walked out to join Joe Solomon. The pair put on 86 before Solomon fell for 146.

Stayers carried on, adding 63 with Lance Gibbs and another 35 with Carlyle Miller. Then, in an effort to be on strike, he was run out for 83 as British Guiana secured a 119-run head. Calling him “one of the best all-rounders in the West Indies today”, Daily Chronicle insisted he be included for the Test series.

But Stayers was not done. While Legall was the star of the show with 5 for 24, Stayers had 3 for 64 to his name as well. Chasing 126, however, British Guiana became 12 for 2 against Griffith, who tormented the batsmen with a ferocious spell of fast bowling.

Solomon and Basil Butcher steadied ship, and the match should have been settled at 100 for 2. However, Griffith kept hitting the deck; and a triple-wicket burst left British Guiana reeling at 117 for 6, while Ivor Mendonca had to retire hurt and Edwin Mohamed unlikely to bat.

But as Miller hung on grimly, Stayers hit through cover off the back-foot to find the boundary twice. He then finished things off with a single past mid-on, remaining unbeaten on 10. It was as emphatic a single-handed performance as any.

The selectors relented. The performance earned him a Test cap against the touring Indians at Queen’s Park Oval. Debuting alongside Stayers was Jackie Hendriks, whose glovework would attain legendary status in the 1960s.

The Indians were no match for Hall, Watson, and Stayers, ably supported by Sobers and Gibbs. Stayers had 3 for 65 (Vijay Manjrekar, Polly Umrigar, and Chandu Borde) and 1 for 20 (Vijay Mehra); India were bowled out for 203 and 89, and lost by 10 wickets.

Stayers got ML Jaisimha in the second Test at Sabina Park, and slammed 35 in a 74-run stand with wicketkeeper Mendonca. This time India lost by an innings. The Test holds a special place in the history of the nation, for it was the first time that five Guyanese — Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Solomon, Mendonca, and Stayers — played in a single Test.

At Kensington Oval he had Bapu Nadkarni in the first innings, and Jaisimha and Rusi Surti in the second. In the second innings Gibbs had figures of 53.3-37-38-8; it was the first time Guyanese bowlers shared all 10 wickets in a Test innings.

The fourth Test was scheduled at Bourda, but political unrest led it to be moved to Queen’s Park Oval; this meant Stayers did not get a chance to play in front of his home crowd. He got Jaisimha for the third time.

India lost both Tests, and Stayers was dropped for the fifth Test at Sabina Park for King (who took 5 for 46 and 2 for 18 on debut). West Indies completed their 5-0 rout. Stayers never played another Test. In fact, he never played another First-Class match on West Indian soil.

Stayers’s 4 Tests fetched him only 9 wickets at 40 apiece, but a closer look would reveal that all were top-order batsmen. There were better bowlers in West Indies cricket at that time, but probably not many.

Indian adventures

In 1962-63, BCCI tried a novel move to help improve the skills of local batsmen against fast bowling. They got four fast bowlers to play Ranji Trophy, assigning one to each zone: thus, Gilchrist played for Hyderabad, King for Bengal, Watson for Delhi, and Stayers for Bombay.

All four fast bowlers started their campaigns in a Relief Fund match; Stayers was the only one to go wicketless. In his second match, another Relief Fund encounter, he bowled Ajit Wadekar. He got 1 for 24 and 2 for 42 in the Duleep Trophy final — a match where Subhash Gupte routed South Zone with 9 for 55 and 3 for 72.

Two more Relief Fund matches fetched him 3 more wickets. Then Stayers got his first taste of Ranji Trophy, in the semi-final against Bengal. It was slightly anticlimactic for Bengal after the high-intensity quarter-final encounter against Hyderabad, where Gilchrist (5 for 124 and 4 for 111) was thwarted by Pankaj Roy (112 and 118).

Roy top-scored again, this time with 81 as Stayers went wicketless. Engineer, Sudhakar Adhikari, and captain Gulabrai Ramchand then all slammed hundreds; Stayers, too, had his fun, throwing his bat around for 52 as Bombay secured a 230-run lead. He then took two quick wickets with his first burst, and Bengal lost by an innings.

The final against Rajasthan, however, saw Stayers at his best. Once again three Bombay batsmen scored hundreds — Nadkarni (a double-hundred), Ramchand, and of all people, Ramakant Desai.

With 551 for 6 on the board, Bombay launched an all-out attack on Rajasthan. Stayers led the rampage with 6 for 36 as Rajasthan were bowled out for 196. They followed-on, and by stumps he took 2 more wickets and sent Manjrekar back, retired hurt.

Rajasthan collapsed for 336 next day, giving Bombay their fifth Ranji title on a row. During his tenure he also conducted coaching camps in Bombay.

Then Stayers left for higher studies in the UK, and never played First-Class cricket again.

Later days

Stayers had a stint for Enfield in Lancashire League that summer. His tally of 582 runs at 31 and 48 wickets at 18 make impressive reading, but there is no record of his playing serious cricket after that season.

He found a career in health management, working in Uganda, Nigeria, USA, and England. He died in London on January 6, 2005. He was 67.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry and CricLife. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)