the man who would not be run out
by Veersen Bhoolai (January 1996)
With his dashing good looks, charming smile and ability to play shots all around the wicket, Charlie Davis was one of Trinidad & Tobago's , most popular and prolific batsmen during the nineteen sixties and 'seventies.
A child prodigy in every sense of the word, he came in to national prominence in 1960, when as a sixteen-year old, he scored 115 for North Trinidad vs. South Trinidad.
In late '61, Davis was amongst 23 names called by the West Indies Cricket Board of Control to prepare for India's visit in 1962. "Do you know that was the headline in the (Trinidad) newspapers: 'CHARLIE DAVIS CALLED FOR WI 23,' I thought that was irrelevant, I knew I had no chance of getting picked." Perhaps if he had known how good his chances really were, he would have performed better against the Indians. Playing for Trinidad Colts and Trinidad vs. the Indians, he scored 20 odd and 30 odd respectively. "Later Gary Sobers came up to me and said: "'"Charlie" do you know that if you had made just 50 you would have been selected for the W.I.. That's all Frank Worrel was looking for, to see that you were in good nick.'"
Finally given the nod for the 1968/69 tour of Australia, Davis proved a failure with the bat. He however, topped the bowling averages with 24 wickets, including 7/106 against South Australia at Adelaide - a career best. Ironically, he believes that it is because of that bowling analysis that his batting suffered. "They picked me as a batsman who could bowl. I have no right to be bowling in a Test match. I'm a good bowler for Queen's Park (Cricket Club) - Club Cricket - that's my level."
The circumstances leading up to Davis's 7/106 are interesting indeed: "Lester King, a Jamaican was bowling and we dropped 17 catches in three overs." King was furious "'Keep the bombaclot(sp) ball, I'm not bowling.’” he said throwing the ball down in disgust. "Rohan (Kanhai )," continues Davis, "who was Captain for that match threw the ball at him, he threw it back shouting 'I'm not bowling, put me off the field, send me home if you want, West Indies is pure shit.' Rohan say '"Charlie" help me out?'" Davis bowled from 11:30 a.m. that day until after tea the next, bowling from end to end.
He had the distinction of capturing Ian Chappell’s wicket, which he modestly admits was "pure luck." "Ian Chappell was on 180 something and he was killing us. Seymore Nurse is in the slips and he's asleep and I'm not talking about a drowsy sleep, he's in a dream sleep. (at this point Charlie gets up and demonstrates in a semi crouch, hands placed just above his knees and his eyes closed), Chappell leggo a shot ...which surely would have hit Seymour in his head. We shouted 'CATCH!!!' Seymour jump up in a panic and put his hand in front his face and the ball just stuck there. So the scoreboard read I. Chappell c. Nurse b. Davis., but I had no right to get that wicket." Davis continues "The fella who batted at number 11 (he forgets the name), had scored a century against us in the previous First Class game. He made a big deal, saying how he should be opening the batting for Australia. So as he came to the wicket, Wes Hall and the other fellas told me, 'well Charlie if anybody supposed to get out first ball, is this fella'". Charlie did not disappoint, "I bowled the perfect ball, ...the unplayable ball ...an out swinger that dropped in line with middle and leg stump and hit the off stump."
Although a disappointment on the Australian tour, Davis was included for the 1969 visit to England. "They picked me figuring I would be an asset ... due to my bowling. ...I did not like to make excuses for myself, but my friend Joey Carew, would make them for me." Carew intimated to Gary Sobers, the then W.I. Captain, the adverse affect that using Charlie as a bowler had on his batting. Given a chance to tour England, Davis did not disappoint their faith in him.
In England he bowled a total of 10 overs and his batting flourished. He finished the tour with an aggregate 848 runs (42.4) and scored his maiden Test century at Lord's. It was the only West Indian century of the series. Davis admits that he had a problem dealing with the swing on the English pitches early on. Kenneth Higgs, the English medium-pacer gave him problems in particular. "I swear Higgs had a string under the ball, where ever he puts the ball, he pulls it." Charlie was a loss as to how anyone could make runs in England. However, noting the success of Colin Cowdrey, he decided to borrow a leaf from his book. He began stepping forward and using his pad. Playing primarily for leg cutters, he would either swing to the mid-wicket boundary or nip 1s and 2s. "I found out at that stage that in England the umpires give you out according to the shot that you play," says Davis. Playing in a First Class fixture, Davis was facing a spin-bowler. "I played a ball down the leg side and hit it with my pad, there was an appeal and the Umpire said 'not out.' I figured if I put my foot there I can't get out. So the next ball, I put my foot there and swept, the ball hit the pad and again there was an appeal, 'Out,' said the Umpire, 'wrong shot.' I told him you can't be the Umpire, you must be the Coach."
Although Davis's century at Lords must have been a crowning moment for him, it wasn't without incident. There had been a mix-up in the middle with his idol Sir Gary, who was unceremoniously run out for 29. "Charlie" explains what happened: "Gary had just started to open up and England was definitely scared of him. The ball hit his pad and ran to mid wicket, everybody was three quarters way down to the boundary, because they were scared to death of him. I looked at him and said 'Skip what happen, that's a sureity run but he turned his back. So I turned my back, all of a sudden, I hear running. I turn around and he right by me, I say 'what happen, I call you already and you say 'no.' I eh going nowhere now." Sobers wasn't too pleased. "He let off a few choice words," before heading to the Pavilion. "So I'm a little boy, I scared to death. I then told myself, it's better to stay outside than to go back inside and face him. I happened to make a century, I hadn't planned on it." Charlie is quick to add however, "I later found out that Gary wasn't the kind of guy to hold a grudge, but I didn't know that at the time - I was scared."
Davis says that after the Sobers incident at 'Lord's, he was branded "a bad runner and the man who got Gary Sobers out." Although he believes this to be untrue, he emphasizes that he was not one to needlessly sacrifice his wicket. This perspective originated during the 68/69 tour of Australia. "I played as twelfth man in every Test match in Australia, I fielded every ball, if Australia scored 500 runs, which they did in almost every innings, I fielded just about every one." The reason being "Rohan Kanhai did not like to field." Davis continues "...Rohan would always point to his toe or his knee and complain about something, and if he scored a half-century, he'd just say he's not fielding." Towards the end of the tour, Davis addressed his compatriots in the dressing room. "Gentlemen, I've paid my dues," he said. "...I've fielded too many balls, therefore, when I go out to bat, you'll have to get me out with a chisel. ...From now on I don't consider run out, to be out. So any time there's a mix up at the wicket, it's someone else who will be out, not me. I'll be running back in my crease very fast."
"Run out is not (an) out." says Davis. "You run out yourself."
Clive Lloyd was one individual who was not pleased with Davis' "Run out ," philosophy.
Forbes Burnham, the then Guyanese Prime Minister, had brought down Lloyd from Australia, just for that series. Davis describes the out-field at Bourda as flat and very fast. Whilst both men were at the wicket together, Lloyd hit a powerful shot to mid-off. Lloyd shouted "Yes!" calling Davis for the run. Davis taking into consideration the power of the shot and the quickness of the out-field, decided the run wasn't on. Lloyd repeated - "'Yes!'" This time Davis responded: "Hell NO!!" Lloyd ran down the wicket anyway and was consequently run out. Davis explains that at the time, Burnham had a great influence over what was read in the Guyanese press. Thus, there was a lot of hype about the Guyanese P.M. bringing down one of their own, to play in the series, "and Charlie Davis got him run out," adds Davis. Naturally the crowd was incensed. A female spectator with a broken bottle, invaded the pitch to communicate her discontent to the Trinidadian batsman. "Everything started to flash through my mind," says Davis. He wasn't too worried because he was armed with a bat and pads, however: "I knew if I hit her with the bat, the crowd would kill me for sure. So I ran putting the wicket between her and I." A mounted officer came on to the field "and in true John Wayne fashion," dove off the horses and apprehended her. When Davis returned to the pavilion, Lloyd was more than a little upset with him. However, Sobers quickly came to his defence: "'We heard Charlie saying no quite in here (the pavilion), you couldn't hear out there.'"
Such was the concern for Davis' safety after the game, that he was escorted out of the pavilion by eight police officers as well as the Commissioner of Police. A police guard was also posted for his protection at the team's hotel that night.
Davis is unrepentant about the Lloyd incident. "In Cricket, 'No' overrules everything else. One run is not worth a run out."
When India visited the W.I. in 1971, they came with a feared and mysterious spin quartet of Bishen Bedi; Erapalli Prasanna; Salim Durani and Venkataraghavan. Whilst many of the other West Indian batsman seemed to be confused and stifled at the wicket, Davis on the other hand, never looked like getting out. He topped the batting averages with 529 runs from four Test, with an average of 132.5. In the first Test at Port of Spain, the only one the W.I. lost, he scored 71 not out and 74 no out. In the next Test at Bourda, he picked up where he had left off, scoring 125 n.o.. At Kensington he scored 71 out of a W.I. total of 501 for five declared. He rounded off the series with 105 in the final Test at Port of Spain. In seven innings batted he managed to reach 50 five times.
Davis believes the reason that he was so successful against the Indians was based on the way he was taught to play spinners. "'Pa' Aleong my Cricket Coach at St. Mary's College, didn't believe a spinner should get anybody out." Davis says he was taught to play a good ball on its merit and bad balls were to be dispatched to the boundary. It didn't matter how it got there, once it got there. Every time 'Venkat,' and Bedi ran down the wicket, I think they were shocked because I was the first West Indian (batsman) coming down the wicket (to meet them). and this upset their line. Davis adds that he "also developed a cut shot," so that anything slightly short was put away. I was lapping 'Venkat,' and every time he bite it (the ball), I would put my foot outside the off -stump and swing to mid-wicket." If they put a man out at the boundary, Davis would simply "tuck" the ball and take singles. "The W.I. had six left-handers, so 'Venkat' had a field day."
Naturally, Davis holds Bedi, "Venkat" and Prasanna in tremendous regard. "Because of my lapping and running down the wicket, Bedi, the Captain, was totally frustrated. He was supposed to get me out every time - he was that good. ...He was the best I ever saw in my life. He could bowl the ball however he wanted, it would always land in the same place. Bedi was able to turn the ball three ways: he could give it a little turn, bigger turn and then bounce and turn."
Davis describes Prasanna as a total mystery. "Prasanna was short and because of this he was able to bowl the ball at a nice angle and get some bounce and turn.. Also when Prasanna bowled, he spun it heavy, and the ball would hit the seam and go the other way - I couldn't understand that at all."
Davis gave an example of exactly how frustrating Prasanna was to some of the W.I. batsman: "In the Guyana Test we were in trouble as usual. We needed to bat all day the next day, just to save the game. I explained to Roy Fredricks, who was my room-mate throughout my entire Test career, and who I love to death, that if all the batmen batted for half-an hour, and two of them could occupy the crease for a full hour, we could save the game. "'Freddo' say "Charlie" I cah handle Prasanna and dem (the other spinners), they just give me a headache. So 'Fredo' went out, he pelt swipe and make about 16 runs. I end up battling, made a century and we saved the match. Do you know he got a thousand dollars for the match and I got a hundred? Because he was a professional and I was an amateur. But the attitude was just the reverse, I was thinking more for the W.I. than he was."
In the final Test at Port of Spain, Prasanna was again at his frustrating best. This time Davis was at the wicket with the Jamaican batsman/wicket-keeper, Desmond Lewis. Batting with Charlie during the morning session, Lewis approached him and said "' Charlie I can't handle this, I 'm going to pelt a swipe.' "Dessie,"" Davis responded. "bat overrule ball. Do you know we scored just 12 runs during the morning session. At lunch time, Prasanna had spun the ball so much, that he had spun the skin off his fingers. I ended up scoring a century and 'Dessie' scored 72."
Davis says that during his time with the W.I., there was no insularity on the team. "The first time I became aware of insularity in W.I. Cricket, was when we played India, at the 'Queen's Park, in 1971. Davis had scored two undefeated half-centuries, however the W. I. still lost. "I was back in the Pavilion and I saw a huge crowd jumping up on the street. I thought they must be going to a Carnival fete. But the crowd was shouting 'the West Indies lose, but Charlie Davis score runs, so f...k the West Indies.' I couldn't believe it."
In 1972 when New Zealand visited, Davis totaled 466 runs (58.25) from five Tests. He scored a career high of 183 at Kensington Oval, sharing in a partnership of 254 with his idol, Sir Gary.
Prior to the West Indies second innings, there seemed a possibility that they might actually lose the match. Seymour Nurse approached Davis and explained to him, that he (Davis) had to "'save the W.I.. We're up against it," said Nurse. "'We can't afford to lose to New Zealand here (in the W.I.) because there's nowhere else we can beat them.'" It was believed that Davis had the technique to bat for a long period and not get out. "That was etched in my brain," says Davis. "I didn't have to worry about making runs, I just had to bat, there's nothing I love better."
Davis considers the 183 at Kensington to be his greatest innings, because not only was it his highest Test score but, also because he "had to farm Gary Sobers." Davis explains that the left- arm spinner Hedley Howarth, was bowling in the rough and giving Sobers problems. "...and Gary does not play dead, he plays through all the time, even defensively he does strike the ball." Davis as a right-hander simply used his pad outside the leg stump, to negate Howarth's delivery.
Davis says he later discovered that Sobers wasn't the kind of person to let anyone shield him.
"If the ball was flying in your face, he would come down and say 'it's alright, I'll take it.'"
Although the 183 was one of his greatest innings, it was also one of his biggest disappointments. "After the match had already been saved," says Davis. "David Holford came in and entertained the crowd, hitting 6s and 4s. When the day was done, he was on 50. The next day the headlines read: 'Sobers, Holford save WI, also good score by Charlie Davis, 183.' He thought the headline unfair because " I battled for 183 runs,and batted for two days to save the match."
Playing against Davis in the Kensington Test, was an off-spin bowler by the name of Ross Morgan.Davis admits that he didn't think he was very good, "...and it was because of him I got out. I was facing one of the pace-bowlers, it was the last ball. I thought I would hit it for a single wide at mid-on, which would put me on 184. I would then face Morgan at the other end, hit him for four 4s and make my double century. Being young at the time and perhaps not realizing that I had been batting for more than two days, ...I was a little tired ...I was run out by about three yards."
Amazingly Charlie Davis was not selected for the first Test against the visiting Australians in Jamaica in 1973. During the T&T Test, Davis spoke to the Chairman of Selectors, Clyde Walcott. "Do you know that if you (the W.I.) went on tour now, I wouldn't be selected.?" "And I thought that would be unfair," said Davis, due to his form exhibited in the last three series he had played. Walcott explained to him not to look at it like that. Davis responded, "You tell me how to look at it and that's how I'll look at it." 'Charlie, I can't answer that.' "I didn't expect you to answer that," said Davis. "You're the Chairman of Selectors, something went wrong, you all made a mistake and now you can't admit it."
He did play in the final two Tests vs Australia; however, with a best of 25 and the likes of Alvin Kallicharan, Lawrence Rowe and Viv Richards making their presence felt, his Test career came to an abrupt but impressive end.
In 15 Tests, Davis scored 1, 301 runs, including four centuries and four half-centuries. His average of 54.2 is one of the best by any West Indian batsmen. In his first-class career (1960-1976) he scored 5, 538 runs (41.32), including 14 centuries, and managed 63 wickets (39.36) with his medium-pacers.
An all-round sportsman, he played football for the Trinidad Schoolboys’ team and was a decent Table Tennis player. During the England tour of ’69, he was asked by a member of the Oxford Table Tennis team if West Indians could play any other sport besides cricket. “Sure, any sport,” was Davis’ reply. He was then challenged to a match, the WI vs Oxford. Roy Fredericks had played for Guyana and Maurice Foster for Jamaica. David and Deryck Murray were capable club players and so was Jackie Hendricks.
“The bet was a case of beer for every game won. Let’s just say we won a lot of beer and those fellas drank a lot.” Davis, who does not drink alcohol allowed his teammates to revel in the moment.
In 1983 Charlie Davis was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Davis is now a frail version of his former self and walks with a pronounced limp. However, his memory and wit are still intact. He and his wife run their own advertising company, garnering ads, for the Queen's Park Cricket Club. Due to his illness, he works only half-days. Today, he battles the illness with the same dogged determination, that he faced India's mysterious spin quartet with 25 years ago.
Charlie Davis, scores his maiden Test Century at Lord's.
"...Rohan Kanhai did not like to field." Davis continues "...Rohan would always point to his toe or his knee and complain about something, and if he scored a half-century, he'd just say he's not fielding."
"In Cricket, 'No' overrules everything else. One run is not worth a run out."
Charlie Davis was practically unbowlable against the Indians in 1971.