Guyanese Cricketer: Basil Butcher – (1933-2019) Obituary

Batsman whose determined character and solid defence held together many West Indies Test innings

Basil Butcher – 1963

Peter Mason | The Guardian UK

In the dashing era of 1960s Caribbean cricket, Basil Butcher was the sturdy backbone around which many a fine West Indies score or victory was built. Although a stellar batsman in his own right, the unassuming Butcher, who has died aged 86, was generally content to play second fiddle in the middle order to whoever was at the crease – confident in the expectation that when the big guns were gone he would still be there, pushing the total to respectability and beyond.

In this vein he was at the very heart of the Frank Worrell-led West Indies team that established the Caribbean as a premier cricketing force and captivated the Commonwealth with the vibrancy of its play. 

While not technically as correct as some of his colleagues, he possessed a tremendously solid defence as well as a good eye and an ability to punish the bad ball – qualities that allowed him to build many substantial innings. In his 44 Test matches from 1958 to 1969 he scored 3,104 runs at an average of 43.11, including seven centuries.

Usually appearing at No 4, Butcher’s most important asset was his ability to glue together an innings and to act as a calming buffer – at the behest of Worrell – between the belligerent figures of Rohan Kanhai at No 3 and Garfield Sobers at No 5. A modest and intelligent man, he had no difficulty adapting to what some might have seen as this diminished role, which he rightly viewed both as a privilege and as of great value to the team.

Along with Kanhai and Joe Solomon, Butcher was one of a triumvirate of outstanding batsmen to emerge in the late 50s from the remarkable, progressively run sugar plantation of Port Mourant, remotely situated in the low-lying, backwater fields of what was then British Guiana (now Guyana). Under the watchful eye of the great Barbadian batsman Clyde Walcott, who was employed by the local Sugar Producers’ Association as a cricket organiser at Port Mourant and other estates, he blossomed into a prodigious if slightly unorthodox talent.

The only son of seven children born to Matilda, a Guyanese of Amerindian descent, and Ethelbert, a Barbadian who had migrated to British Guiana, Butcher was born in Port Mourant and went to Corentyne High School, where he harboured ideas of attending university. In fact, Butcher was the first cricketer of Amerindian descent on the West Indies Team. After high school, he came to the conclusion that he might gain a wider education, and perhaps a better living, through cricket. Biding his time variously as a schoolteacher, a public works clerk, an insurance salesman and a welfare officer, he honed his game at Port Mourant Sports Club and made his debut for British Guiana against Barbados in 1955.

His first game for the West Indies came three years later at the age of 25 in late 1958, when he scored 64 not out against India in Bombay (now Mumbai), despite sustaining a leg injury that prevented him from running properly. He finished the tour of India and Pakistan with two centuries and 619 runs at an average of 56.27. After three poor scores in two home Tests against England in 1960, he spent a difficult period in the wilderness until re-selected for the 1963 trip to England, where he picked up on his earlier form.

In the second Test at Lord’s that year he made a memorably gritty 133 in his team’s second innings total of 229, securing an against-the-odds draw in the process and, arguably, laying the foundation for a West Indies series win.

That towering display, which he rated as the best of his life, was all the more remarkable for the fact that a few minutes before walking out to bat he had received the distressing news that his wife, Pam, had suffered a miscarriage.

Averaging 47.87 in the series, Butcher thereafter became a fixture in the side. Rated by the Australian captain Richie Benaud as the most difficult of all West Indians to dismiss, Butcher was a sometimes-grim counterpoint to the stereotype of carefree “calypso cricket”, and was a fiercely determined fighter for the team cause. Wisden noted wryly that “he has been known to smile during an innings, but rarely before the 400th run”.

His highest score, 209 not out against England at Trent Bridge in the third Test in 1966, typified Butcher’s obdurate, resilient approach; it was a seven-and-a-half-hour marathon that brought West Indies a surprise victory when defeat had seemed more likely. Even in his last Test match, against England at Headingley in 1969, he had looked poised to engineer another remarkable turnaround, until he perished on 91. During that tour he had the misfortune to be acting captain in the absence of an injured Sobers when West Indies were bowled out by Ireland for 25 on a rain-sodden pitch in Sion Mills, County Tyrone.

Aged 37, Butcher called a voluntary halt to his Test career at that stage, and as a valedictory gesture was chosen as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1970. In his first-class career he had played 169 matches with a batting average of 49.90, and had taken 40 wickets with his occasional leg-spin, producing a best return of five for 34 against England in the fourth Test at Trinidad in 1968. Although he never played for an English county, he had appeared with distinction as a professional in Lancashire league cricket with Lowerhouse and Bacup during the 60s.

Back in Guyana after his cricketing career, Butcher worked in public relations for a bauxite company in the town of Linden, where he also ran a sports goods shop. Although his children later set up home in the US and he died in Florida, for a number of years he remained committed to his homeland when others migrated during tough economic times.

Always interested in politics, for a period he was part of a Guyanese civic movement that attempted to bridge the divide in the country between those of Indian and African descent, a schism he had experienced painfully in 1964 when a racially motivated arson attempt on the family home led him to leave Port Mourant. He also became involved in cricket administration as a West Indies selector, and personally funded a trust fund bearing his name that helped young players in the Berbice region, which contains Port Mourant.

He is survived by Pam (nee Liverpool), whom he married in 1962, and by his children, Brian, Bruce, Basil Jnr and Blossom.

  • Basil Fitzherbert Butcher, cricketer, born 3 September 1933, died 16 December 2019

BASIL BUTCHER – CAREER STATISTICS:  http://www.espncricinfo.com/westindies/content/player/51239.html

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Basil Butcher was regarded as a stylish yet reliable right-handed middle-order batsman

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Basil Butcher 1970

BASIL BUTCHER – CRICKETER OF THE YEAR 1970 –  Wisden – John Wisden & Co

Basil Fitzherbert Butcher was born on September 3, 1933 on a sugar estate near Port Mourant, Berbice in what was then British Guiana, the only English-speaking and cricket-playing country of the South American continent. Cricket has always had a special place everywhere in the British West Indies, but in Guyana, as it is now, and possibly because Guyana lacks, among other things, even such basic tropical distractions as sea-bathing and beaches, that place is very special indeed.

West Indies cricket began in Guyana. It was in Georgetown, the capital, that the first inter-Colonial tour and the first tour of England were organised. But Guyana has only recently organised its own cricket. In a country where distance is still measured in time, not miles, Port Mourant was farther away from Georgetown than Georgetown from London and half a century elapsed between that first England tour and Guyana’s first inter-County tournament.           

After leaving Corentyne High School, and between jobs as a school-teacher, a Public Works Department clerk, insurance salesman and Welfare Officer, Butcher joined the Port Mourant Sports Club. Joe Solomon welcomed him and two other new members and future internationals– Rohan Kanhai and Ivan Madray. All four played for Berbice, under Robert Christiani’s captaincy, in the inter-County Tournament of 1954. In 1955 Butcher made 64 and 32 in his debut for Guyana, against Barbados, but did not win a place for West Indies (that was the Weekes-Worrell-Walcott era) until 1958, when he made 28 and 64 not out against India in his Test debut at Bombay. He was the most notable omission from the great tour of Australia under Sir Frank Worrell and in 1962 joined Lowerhouse as a professional. (In 1964 he joined Bacup as a professional and now he is a public relations officer at Mackenzie, Demerara.)

He returned to the West Indies side for the memorable tour of England in 1963, and his 1,294 runs at an average of 44.6 and his average of 47.8 in Tests made him a fixture. And since Butcher has informed the West Indies Cricket Board that he will not be available for future tours we may perhaps note that he has career figures of 10,940 runs made in 248 first-class innings at an average of 49.72 and including 29 centuries. In his 44 Test matches he made 3,104 runs, seven centuries, average 43.11. The highest innings of Butcher’s career was his 209 not out at Trent Bridge in the third Test in 1966. And thereby hangs a tale.

Richie Benaud rated Butcher as the most difficult of all West Indians to get out and, in fact, 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.

At Trent Bridge in 1966 West Indies were 65 for two, still 25 runs behind England’s first innings total, when Butcher joined his fellow-Berbician, Kanhai. 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. Butcher went on to the highest innings of his career; he shared in three successive century partnerships, reached 209 not out (twenty-two fours) and effectively won a match that had the appearance of being lost when he faced his first ball seven and a half hours earlier.

At Headingley in 1969, when West Indies needed 303 to win and square the series, Butcher went in at 69 for two to play the last Test innings of his career. A little more than two hours later West Indies were 224 for three, Butcher 91 not out, seemingly irremoveable, and, with Sobers and Lloyd, among others, still to come, the match was as good as won. Butcher played forward to Underwood, the ball lifted and turned and Butcher was adjudged caught behind. West Indies, all out for 272, lost the match and the rubber by 30 runs. (And Butcher blames nobody but himself: “Anybody who brings his bat down as I do is liable to get his shoulder in the way.”)

Butcher himself rates the best innings of his life as his 133 (out of 226) at Lord’s in 1963, in the second innings of what was perhaps the greatest Test match of all. And with good reason. It was the third day of the match and just before leaving the hotel Butcher was handed a letter from his wife, the first letter from her since leaving a Guyana still smouldering with the threat of civil war. His wife expecting their first baby. For one reason and another Butcher did not open the letter until lunch — by which time, Trueman having dismissed McMorris in the last over, West Indies were 15 for two and Butcher was next man in. He opened the letter. The first paragraph told him his wife had had a miscarriage, and that was as far as he got. “I was” said Basil, as much a master of understatement as any Englishman, “very upset.” In the next seventy minutes Butcher and Kanhai put on 49 runs. One twenty-minute spell produced exactly one run. A twenty-five minute spell with Sobers brought another. Sobers reached eight, Solomon five and when Worrell joined Butcher shortly after tea West Indies were 104 for five. Such was the quality of the bowling. Then in what remained of the day’s play Butcher and Worrell added 110, of which Worrell made 33. Butcher reached his 100, made out of 154, and at the close West Indies were 214 for five, Butcher 129. Typically, only four of Butcher’s seventeen boundaries were made on the off-side. Equally typically, he was eventually out leg before.

It would surprise nobody, least of all Basil, to learn that he had been dismissed l.b.w. more often than not during his career. He attributes this, in his own sardonic fashion, to lack of coaching. “My bat comes down from somewhere about mid-off,” he says, without a smile “so probably I am playing across a lot of the time. Maybe if I’d had a coach I’d only have been clean bowled.”

Butcher has always been a batsman who bowled a bit. At fourteen, with Port Mourant C.C., he was an off-spinner. He changed into a bit of a leg-spinner. Perhaps more than a bit in view of his five England wickets for 34 (in a total of 414) in the first innings of the fourth Test match of 1968 in Port of Spain.

There must be a moral somewhere in the fact that Butcher is yet another in a seemingly endless line of great West Indian cricketers whose rich and infinite variety owes virtually nothing to coaching, however well meant and however dedicated. The record suggests that first-class coaches at all levels are no substitute for first-class pitches at any level. – J.S.B.

© John Wisden & Co
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Comments

  • geoffburrowes  On December 18, 2019 at 12:42 am

    Always a joy to watch – the consumate West Indian batsman!

  • guyaneseonline  On December 19, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    A Slice Of Basil Butcher’s Grit

    Updated: Dec 19, 2019, 08:11 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai
    Recently-departed West Indies batsman of the 1950s and 1960s once scored a Test ton while coping with the news of his wife’s miscarriage.


    Basil Butcher turns one on the leg side against Rest of the World during the Rothmans series at Lord’s Cricket Ground in London. Wicketkeeper Deryck Murray was his West Indies teammate on the 1963 tour of England. Pic/ Getty Images

    That was before former West Indian Basil Butcher, 86, bid goodbye on Monday, succumbing to a prolonged illness in Florida.

    Like his teammate Seymour Nurse, who passed away in May, Butcher was an integral part of the West Indies batting line-up even as Garfield Sobers and Rohan Kanhai spent a lot of time in the spotlight during the 1960s. Butcher represented West Indies in 44 Tests, scored 3104 runs at 43.11 and hit seven centuries. His first-class run tally reads an impressive 11,628.

    If Barbados is famous for its pace bowling power, Guyana produced the kind of batsmen who have contributed to West Indies cricket in no small measure — Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Roy Fredericks, Carl Hooper, Alvin Kallicharran, Kanhai, Clive Lloyd, Ramnaresh Sarwan and Joe Solomon.

    Three Guyanese batsmen were part of the Gerry Alexander-led West Indies team to India in 1958-59 — Butcher on his maiden tour, Kanhai and Solomon. Butcher made his Test debut at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. He struggled to cope with the leg-spin of Subhash Gupte, who trapped him leg before wicket for 28 in the first innings but stayed unbeaten with 64 in the second opportunity. A second-innings 60 in the next Test at Kanpur was followed by hundreds in consecutive innings across the Kolkata and Chennai Tests. He ended the series with 71 at New Delhi. Nari Contractor, who figured in that series, told me on Tuesday that Butcher was a very fine sweep shot player and tackled leg-spin well while scoring 486 runs in the series.

    India 1958-59 was not the last time Butcher constructed two hundred in a series. He did so in Australia 1968-69 as well, but that was a very forgettable tour which was lost due to some brilliant cricket from Australia, reported team disharmony and plenty of dropped catches.

    His second and last Test visit to India was in 1966-67 and after a successful English summer, he was naturally expected to be one of the stars of the tour. “A Butcher for whom any bowling is easy meat is Basil,” said one of the tour brochures for that India series. Sure, he could tear apart bowling attacks with his wristy strokeplay, but he could also play grind it out. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t get past 35 in the three-Test series.

    Coping with personal issues is some sort of a litmus test for a player on tour, many miles away from home and Butcher’s example, revealed to me by West Indian radio commentator Joseph ‘Reds’ Perreira must be highlighted and hailed. “Basil was padded up to bat at No. 4 at Lord’s 1963. The West Indies were in early trouble and just before Basil walked out to bat, he was handed a telegram by his manager Berkeley Gaskin. Basil opened it, only to discover that it was a message from his wife who delivered the news of her miscarriage,” Perreira said on Tuesday. Another version of this story says it was a letter, but Perreira insisted it was a telegram since Butcher spoke to him about it later on. The grieving Butcher batted for more than four hours to score 133 out his side’s total of 229; skipper Frank Worrell being the second-highest scorer with 33.

    It was a dramatic Test with England needing eight to win off the last over. The ninth-wicket pair of David Allen and Derek Shackleton was broken with Shackleton getting run out off the fourth ball. The last man to walk in was an accomplished batsman — Colin Cowdrey — but it was with a plastered left arm courtesy a Wes Hall delivery in the first innings. Cowdrey had been practising batting with one hand in the dressing room, but he was not needed at the striker’s end as Allen negotiated the Hall threat in the last two balls to draw the Test.

    Celebrated writer Ian Wooldridge wrote in Cricket, Lovely Cricket that the Test, “produced neither victor nor vanquished.” Doubtless, Cowdrey gave courage a great name, but the real hero was Butcher and of course Fred Trueman too for his 11 wickets in the match. Perreira, who was at the Test as a spectator, reminded me that Hall bowled 40 overs in the second innings unchanged.

    Butcher’s 133 at Lord’s in 1963 didn’t eventuate in a West Indies victory, but his highest score of 209 not out against the Englishmen at Nottingham in 1966 did.

    Kanhai and he were booed by the crowd for not scoring swiftly, but there was a Test match to be won and skipper Sobers’s strategy was vindicated with a 139-run triumph. Butcher was a useful leg spinner and took five first-innings wickets against England at Trinidad in 1968 to help Sobers revive a boring Test match. England were set 215 to win and they did it with three minutes and seven wickets to spare. Butcher could not repeat his first-innings bowling heroics and went wicketless before which Sobers was roasted in the media for his adventurous captaincy.

    Sobers said in his autobiography that Butcher was an under-rated player for all his fine qualities as a cricketer. And Perreira, who felt his hundred at Lord’s in 1963 was the finest exhibition of batting in the 200 odd Tests witnessed by him, deserves to have a stand named after him at the new Providence Stadium in Guyana, an honour which also should be bestowed on other greats from that region. “Basil was a good bloke and a happy chatter,” said Perreira.

    He was also the kind of player his peers loved talking about. Hopefully, Basil Fitzherbert Butcher is the last international cricketer to retire to that eternal pavilion for the year.

    mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance.
    He tweets @ClaytonMurzello
    Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

    The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper

  • Ron Saywack  On December 19, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    Basil Butcher’s great innings closed just 14 shy of the century. Those who are old enough to remember when he was part of that dominant, dazzling, exciting West Indian team of the ’60s can appreciate his invaluable contribution to its greatness.

    RIP, Great son of Guyana.

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