By Clayton Goodwin
Sonny Ramadhin, who died on 26th February 2022 aged 92 years, was a man of mystery who taunted and tormented the best batsmen in the world the world throughout the 1950s. Small, slight, always wearing a cap while bowling, and with his shirt buttoned to his wrist the Trinidadian was an off-spinner who confused batsmen with his ability to produce a leg-break with no discernible change of action. The first player of East Indian heritage to represent West Indies he confused reporters too with his name. Born at St Charles Village on 1st May 1929, and, on the death of his parents, raised at Esperance Village, he was known simply as Ramadhin, he was given the initials “K.T.” for no other reason, apparently, than it was thought that he had to have something.
Ramadhin won his inclusion the 1950 team to tour England with some impressive performances in two trial games. The selection of himself and fellow-youngster Alfred Valentine of Jamaica in place of Wilfred Ferguson, the Trinidadian who was considered to be the best spin bowler in the world at the time, was a massive gamble by the selectors. It had the advantage that the spin bowling was now unknown to their opponents. The youngsters wrote themselves into history with Ramadhin taking 26 wickets in the four-match Test series (Valentine 33 wickets) and 135 wickets on the tour overall (Valentine 123 wickets), and initiated an age in which spin, not pace, defined West Indian bowling. That season Valentine set the scene by taking the first eight wickets to fall in the first Test at Manchester which was ultimately lost.
Ramadhin’s turn came in the second Test at Lord’s. He destroyed England’s batting with figures of 5-66 and 8-66. The Trinidadian and his partner (7-127 in the match) spun the home country to perdition and defeat by 326 runs. It was West Indies’ first victory in England, an historic event which inspired Lord Beginner to create the “cricket calypso” dedicated to “those two (little) pals of mine …Ramadhin and Valentine”. The lyricist was absolutely accurate with the observation that “the bowling was superfine”. Sonny also brought about an England batting collapse by taking 5-135 where, on a pitch made for run-scoring, the hosts collapsed from 326-2 to 436 all out and defeat by 10 wickets, and returned 3-38 as Valentine touted the Englishmen at The Oval.
The one-sided 4-1 West Indies defeat to Australia “Down Under” in 1951-52 owed much to the “neutralisation” of Ramadhin. The result was a surprise, as commentators were divided in their opinion as to who would win – the celebrated reporter John Arlott tipped West Indies to defeat the post-Bradman Australians and the tourists were the popular favourites. Yet after taking 5-90 in the first Test at Brisbane, Ramadhin’s spin was mastered on the harder pitches and, it is said, he wilted under the pressure. Nevertheless, Sonny regained some of his confidence in returning 5-86 and 4-39 at Christchurch in the following two-match rubber in New Zealand. After that, however, Ramadhin became a winner of matches rather than of series.
With 5-26 the Trinidadian won the Test at Bridgetown against India in 1952-53, the only one of the five in the series to be decided, and gave West Indies a grip on the next rubber against England with 4-65 at Kingston and 4-40 and 3-71 at Bridgetown, both of which were won, and 6-113 at the draw in Georgetown in the first three encounters – only for the visitors to hit back and share the honours of the series. After missing the home debacle against Australia in 1955, Sonny inspired a young West Indies side touring New Zealand the next year by taking 6-23 and 3-58 at Dunedin and 5-46 at Christchurch. The revelation, however, was his batting, which was considered to be negligible. In these two matches he followed his top Test score of 44 with 33.
Sonny Ramadhin’s greatest achievement was probably the 7-49 by which he overwhelmed a very strong England batting series at Birmingham on the first day of the 1957 series. In the second innings Peter May and Colin Cowdrey nullified his spin with excessive use of their pads in their 411 runs partnership for the fourth-wicket. Numerous l.b.w. appeals, especially against Cowdrey, were turned down as Sonny bowled a record 98 overs for 2-179. West Indians were not alone in being outraged by the tactics, but in those days English umpires were reluctant to give batsmen out l.b.w. when they were playing forward. With former partner Valentine less than a shadow of his former self, Ramadhin, too, faded in the summer before taking 4-107 in England’s run-glut in their final innings of the summer at The Oval.
The Trinidadian missed out on the following home series against Pakistan, and struggled to keep his place on the Indian part of the duo-tour to the sub-continent, where all-rounders Garry Sobers and Collie Smith took more of the spinner’s role. Ramadhin was back to form when the team moved on to Pakistan and he took 17 wickets against England at home in 1959-60. Although he went on the following tour to Australia, Sonny lost out to off-spinner Lance Gibbs and played his last Test match at Melbourne on the penultimate day of 1960.
Ramadhin, who had settled in Lancashire for some time, played for several years more with Lincolnshire in the minor counties and in Lancashire league competition. His daughter Sharon married Lancashire cricketer Willie Hogg and his son Kyle Hogg, a seam bowler, also played for that county. Trinidad & Tobago awarded him the Hummingbird Gold Medal, the country’s highest honour.