Herbert Chang. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.
Herbert Chang. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.

Herbert Chang, born July 2, 1952, was an eye-catching Jamaican southpaw. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a life that went wasted following a rebel tour of South Africa.

Nothing about Herbert Samuel Chang suggested what was to happen to him in his later years. An attractive left-handed batsman of small frame and nimble feet, Chang played a crucial role for Jamaica through the 1970s, though he found it difficult to break through to the top echelons given the standards of the West Indian side.

Chang’s First-Class career record of 3,273 runs at 35.19 from 58 matches with 5 hundreds was not impressive, but was decent. He rose temporarily — especially during Kerry Packer’s World Series — but disappeared from international limelight soon afterwards. Then came the rebel tour to South Africa, which left him wrecked for life.

Early days

Born in Jamaica, Chang made his First-Class debut in a Shell Shield encounter against Barbados. The 20-year-old opened the batting against Vanburn Holder and Keith Boyce, and impressed everyone with 35 and 24*. When the Australians toured West Indies that season, Chang top-scored with 64 against Dennis Lillee, Max Walker, Kerry O’Keeffe, and Terry Jenner, and added 39 in the second innings for good measure.

It took him three seasons to register his first hundred when he scored 108 not out (and 21 not out) against Trinidad and Tobago. The next season saw him score an outstanding hundred: from 43 for 3 Chang (145) and Jeff Dujon (113) added 235 against Joel Garner and Wayne Daniel.

Chang did a competent job in the Shell Shield, but he did not really stand a chance to break through. That opportunity came when Packer lured the West Indian stars: Chang was picked for the tour of 1978-79 to India and Sri Lanka with Alvin Kallicharran’s team.

At the big stage

Chang started the tour on a high with 26 and an unbeaten 87 against India Under-22s. With fellow Jamaican Basil Williams having pulled a hamstring in the previous Test at Eden Gardens, Chang made his Test debut in the fourth Test at Chepauk, thereby becoming the second man of Chinese descent to play Tests after Ellis Achong.

It was not an auspicious debut. Kallicharran chose to bat and top-scored with 98 as Kapil Dev and Srinivas Venkataraghavan bowled out the tourists for 228. Batting at five Chang was caught by Chetan Chauhan off Kapil for 6. Gundappa Viswanath chiselled out 124 after that, but some hostile bowling from Norbert Phillip and Sylvester Clarke restricted India to a 27-run lead.

This time Larry Gomes came to rescue with 91, but Kapil, Karsan Ghavri, and Venkat ran through West Indies. Chang scored a mere 2 before he was hit wicket off Ghavri. India were reduced to 17 for 3, and later 84 for 6 by Clarke, Phillip, and Holder, but cameos from Viswanath, Anshuman Gaekwad, and Kapil saw India through to a 3-wicket victory.

India won the series based on that solitary Test. Chang never played another international match. He finished the tour with 358 runs at 27.54.

Back to the islands, and a blunder

Chang continued to deliver for Jamaica on his return from the subcontinent. In back-to-back matches, both at Sabina Park, Chang scored 46 and 126 against Barbados and 99 against Trinidad and Tobago. His form continued as he crossed 35 in 11 consecutive First-Class innings, scoring 529 runs at 59.36.

His highest score came against Guyana at Sabina Park in 1981-82 when his 155 helped Jamaica to a 52-run victory. He started the next season with 64 and 22 against Trinidad and Tobago at home. It would remain his final First-Class match.

First-Class cricket was not one of the most-paid circuits in West Indies. Additionally, the West Indies outfit was so strong that the likes of Lawrence Rowe, Collis King, Colin Croft, Bernard Julien, Clarke, Franklyn Stephenson, David Murray, and Ezra Moseley could not break through. The stars, who would probably have made it to any contemporary cricket side, were offered amounts between $100,000 to $120,000 to tour South Africa in 1982-83 and 1983-84.

Rowe led both teams to South Africa. Along with the champions there were a few “lesser” players. The players were dished out life bans for these tours. Chang was one of these. There is an interesting story mentioned in West Indies Cricket and Anti-Apartheid Struggles (edited by Hilary Beckles) regarding a conversation between Alan Rae, President of West Indies Cricket Board, and Chang:

Rae: Mr Chang, there is a rumour that you are going to South Africa to play cricket. If this is not true, let us know, and we will assist you in scotching it.
Chang: Mr Rae, I have no contract to play in South Africa.
Rae: I did not ask you if you have a contract. Are you going to South Africa?
Chang: Me? Going to South Africa? No, Sir!

Chang left for South Africa next day. He was not picked for the “Tests,” but played five List A matches. He had at least two good performances: against Natal at Kingsmead he scored 30 out of his team’s 118; and chasing 141 against South Africa at New Wanderers he played a match-winning 33.

Where is Chang?

On his return from South Africa Chang could not come to terms with his ban. The ban was lifted in 1989, but Chang could not return anywhere close to the cricket circuit. He was reduced to extreme poverty in Greenwich Town, Kingston, after the money was spent. There are rumours that he had lost his money to a woman he loved. Some sources suggest that he had worked as a coal bunker for some years. Some say he is mentally deranged.

Chang was not seen in public for several years. Robert Craddock of The Courier Mail, in an article on the rebel cricketers, had interviewed an official, who had apparently seen Chang “standing listlessly in the middle of the road.” Craddock wrote: “He (the official) wound down his window and Chang, clearly out of it, put his head through the window and moved to within a few centimetres of the man’s face and said: ‘man, man, man, I just, I just wanna know which end I bowl from tomorrow’.”

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)