CRICKET: ‘Slow bowling prince’ Sonny Ramadhin turns 92 – oldest living West Indian

Sonny Ramadhin in action

  By Reza Abasali of Trinidad and Tobago

“The prince of slow bowlers” – Sir Len Hutton

To appreciate this royal description of Sonny Ramadhin by Sir Len Hutton, one must understand the background of Len Hutton.

Sir Len (1916-1990) was one of the greatest ever batsmen in international cricket. Between 1937 to 1955, he played 79 Tests, amassed 6,971 runs with 19 hundreds at an average of 56.7 per innings.

He scored over 40,000 First-Class runs and hit 129 centuries. Hutton first encountered the wily spinner from Trinidad on the West Indies tour of England in the summer of 1950.   

Sonny Ramadhin (left) and Alf Valentine formed a formidable spin bowling partnership for the West Indies in the 1950s

Ramadhin became the first cricketer of East Indian descent to represent the West Indies in Test cricket when he made his debut on June 8, 1950, versus England at Old Trafford, Manchester.

The West Indies lost the first Test at Manchester by 202 runs. Sonny was unsure whether he would be selected for the second Test at Lord’s cricket ground on June 24, 1950, after an average performance in the first Test.

He gained the nod, and it was this Test at Lord’s that the then 21-year-old announced himself on the world cricket stage.

In partnership with the crafty 20-year-old Jamaican left-arm-spinner Alfred Valentine (7-127 in the match), Sonny captured match figures of 11-152 to catapult West Indies to their first-ever victory on English soil.

That West Indies team included the three great Barbadian cricketers, Worrell, Weekes and Walcott – famously known as the 3Ws.

The 326-run victory sparked off massive West Indian celebrations on the famous ground. Trinidadian calypsonians Lord Kitchener and Lord Beginner glorified the two spinners in song with their rendition of “Victory Calypso.”

Amidst the huge celebrations and popping of vintage bottles of liquor in the dressing room, his close friend Ralph Narine (1922-2017), who was studying law in England at that time, picked up Sonny and the new hero celebrated elsewhere with ginger beer and curry.

Sonny Ramadhin’s career numbers (Source: ESPNCricinfo)

Born in St. Charles Village, near the city of San Fernando, Trinidad on May 1, 1929, Sonny Ramadhin was the son of East Indian sugar workers. His parents, who were born in Trinidad, died when he was still a boy.

A grandparent was born in India. He and his elder brother Ramsamooj went to live with his father’s uncle, Soodhai Rock, and Aunt Sumintra in the nearby village of Esperance, two miles south of San Fernando.

Young Sonny played his cricket with a bat made from a coconut branch and a rubber ball squeezed from a rubber tree. He once told his uncle that he would make a living playing cricket.

He left school at 16 and got to practice at the local Palmiste Club, located on Palmiste agricultural estate near to his home village of Esperance.

Ramadhin at 92 with his grandchildren

Sonny hardly got to bat, so he started to bowl. In my interview with him from his home in North West, England, last October, Sonny disclosed that he naturally turned the ball both ways with the same action at a young age.

He added that a man called “Yo Yo” used to place coins on the stumps to encourage him to bowl wicket to wicket. A Barbadian-born inter-colonial cricketer by the name of Clarence Skinner (1900-1969), who worked for the oil company, Trinidad Leaseholds Limited, discovered his fledging skill and talent.

Skinner got a job for Sonny at the oil company and he was selected to play for Leaseholds. Skinner pushed the gifted spinner through the ranks of local club cricket at the youth and senior levels.

His performances were certainly noticed by cricket aficionados, which enabled him to be selected to two trial matches versus Jamaica (his friend Valentine was also selected for the two trials) in early 1950 to pick the squad to tour England in April/May 1950.

In the trial matches, he captured 12 wickets at 19.25 runs per wicket.

The West Indies captain Barbadian John Goddard (1919-1987) witnessed one of the trial matches and was impressed by Sonny’s exploits.

The rest was history – the orphaned boy, who bowled with his cap on and sleeves buttoned down, was on the 1950 boat (5.5 Golfito) to England.

Sonny Ramadhin, recipient of the Humming Bird Medal in 1972 by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, became the oldest living West Indian Test cricketer in July 2020 when Sir Everton Weekes died at the age of 95.

  • The writer Reza Abasali is a West Indies cricket historian from El Socorro, Trinidad. He is passionate about the game, especially West Indies cricket.

Victory Calypso- Cricket Lovely Cricket

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Comments

  • Mike Persaud  On 05/07/2021 at 2:05 am

    Sonny Ramadhin-

    He played Test cricket long before many of us were born, myself included. For a diminutive fella at 5’4”, bowling with his cap on and sleeves buttoned all the way down, must have been quite a spectacle in front of packed stadiums around the world.

    For an orphan who dropped out of school to play cricket with the firm belief that he could earn a living doing so personified a rare conviction and genuine commitment. Using a bat made from the branch of a coconut tree and a ball made from the rubber tree is the stuff of legend and not unlike how ex-slaves invented steelband music from discarded metals.

    Many of us can identify with such a humble beginning. As kids, we used bats made from coconut branches and an assortment of wooden bats to play in the open fields till sunset.

    Interestingly, Ramadhin had no first name written on his birth certificate. Just the word “boy” was written. Sonny is a nickname used to fill in the gap. It is remarkable that he only participated in two trial matches for Trinidad against Jamaica before he was selected to play for the West Indies on the 1950 tour of England- and becoming the first player of East Indian descent to do so.

    It’s amazing to think that the players in those days travelled to England across the Atlantic by sea. Air travel was not yet a luxury. Certainly, the world has come a long way since. On that tour, West achieved their first Test victory on English soil at lord’s, thanks to Sonny Ramadhin and his pal Alfred Valentine, the spin-twin.

    The duo mesmerized England. Sonny could turn the ball both ways with no discernible difference in action. It was magical. Trinidad has produced another player who could also spin the ball both ways. His name is Sunil Narine who currently plays in the recently-aborted IPL. Narine has a suspect bowling action and was called and suspended for chucking and was ordered to take remedial and corrective training before he was allowed to continue to play.

    Sonny, now nearing the end of life’s journey, recently revealed that he would occasionally chuck the ball without anyone knowing. Of course, the cameras and technology were not as sophisticated then as now. Nonetheless, it’s a remarkable confession.

    Sonny also revealed that he bowled so much in Tests that his fingers would bleed. He often played with severe pain. That ultimately led to his rapid decline as a top world-class spinner. At the same time, another great West Indian spinner, Lance Gibbs, was knocking on the door. Lance would eventually replace Sonny in the team — after the 1960/61 tour of Australia. Sonny’s Test career ended after 10 years and 43 Tests.

    Happy birthday, Sonny.

    MP.

  • wally n  On 05/07/2021 at 9:56 am

    Very nice..enjoyed the article…brought back some pleasant memories of my youth…thanks.

  • Lennox  On 05/10/2021 at 2:38 pm

    I remember singing the calypso “put him on the ball and another wicket will fall” when I was 8 years old.

  • Rodrigues, Ronald  On 05/10/2021 at 2:39 pm

    Unfortunately I never did get to see Sunny play the game but I did see his partner Alfred Valentine bowl at Bourda.

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