Ganesh Mahabir, an invaluable contribution
By Veersen Bhoolai,
January 12, 2020
Ranjy Nanan may have been the definitive spinner for TT for most of the latter
twentieth century; however, what most may have forgotten was that his spin
twin for most of the eighties was Ganesh Mahabir, a wily leg spin/googly bowler
who contained and beguiled some of the Caribbean’s and world’s best during that decade.
Together, he and Nanan did yeoman service for TT in the regional tournament, however, both were victims of the WI pace policy at the time.
Mahabir’s highlights would have been his career best nine wicket haul vs Barbados in 1983 and representing the Shell Shield and President’s XI vs New Zealand in 1985 in addition to winning the regional title that same year with TT.
Surprisingly, as a young boy growing up in Tunapuna, he had no formal upbringing or mentor in the game.
“I came from a family of seven boys. We used to plant garden at the back of the house.” Mahabir explains that they would sow seeds into a bed. “Then for height, we would roll a coconut trunk and make a pitch. We would then use the extra space in the yard to run up and bowl.
“We had no big time cricketers in our area. I played school and marble cricket and that branched off to fielding for the senior clubs. I had nobody to look up to.” He adds, “I grew up liking the game. I looked up to fellahs like Basil Butcher; Lance Gibbs, Rohan Kanhai and Wes Hall. We hardly had anybody from the East except for Chiki Sampath.”
Attending St. Benedict’s Vocational College in 1972, he was introduced to “white clothes” Cricket, playing in the Secondary School’s League. “I wasn’t even 100 pounds.”
His Coach, Francis Pereira, “noticed me” and sent him to Crompton in 1976.”
That very year he was called up to the TT Youth Team for the WI Youth Championships in Jamaica. There were two groups of three teams and Mahabir went wicketless on “the hard pitches.”
The following year he represented TT at the Championships again in St. Lucia. “They refused to give me a game. I took the most wickets at the Trials, including 4/8 in the first match. I was the only leg break bowler. They used four left arm orthodox bowlers.” He explains that Kenny Furlonge was the Manager and his nephew David, was the Captain. He adds that no changes were made in the tournament because the team had already been chosen by the Selectors in TT. The spin attack was Sham Jumadeen; Satesh Rampersad, Ravi Deonarine and Rudy Persad. “I didn’t have a problem with Jumadeen and Persad because they could bowl. They were specialist spinners. But the others were batsmen who could bowl.”
He concludes that he was left out because he was from the East and no in the Selectors’ favour. He adds that Malcolm Marshall was the highlight of that series.
After the tournament, David Furlonge invited him to the Queen’s Park Cricket Club. “I don’t know if he was feeling shame or what.”
Invited to the National Trials in 1978, “I took more than 12 wickets in the first four matches. But then the senior bowlers came, Inshan Ali, Ranjy, Raphick Jumadeen and Imtiaz Ali. I was left out. I didn’t get called back until 1982. Four years went to waste.”
He explains, “I was playing in the National League and getting wickets. Everybody knew me but with so much spin bowlers, there was no chance.” He had to contend with bowlers the likes of Arnold Oliver, Roland Sampath and Harold Joseph. He adds, “Sampath did not really have the ability to win matches, he was a good stock bowler.”
However, Mahabir refused to be pushed to the side. He took 33 wickets in four zonal matches in 1982. “However, I could not play in the Final. It was Christmas. My father had a supermarket he needed help. He was vex. I was like a jumbie working that business.”
Available for the North vs South encounter in January, he took nine wickets.
Making his regional debut that same month vs Jamaica in Kingston, he continued his vein of good form by taking 5/113 in the match. However, it was against the vaunted Bajans that he shone the best at POS, taking a career best of 9/126 (5/58, 6/68). He took the wicket of Gordon Greenidge twice, lbw.
It is the wicket of Thelston Payne that stands out in his mind. “Zainool Maccum, the Umpire, said he had never witnessed such a delivery in his life.” The ball was flighted outside the leg stump. Payne was undecided how to come, if to go forward. When he did come forward, the ball clipped his off stump bail. It was perfect flight.”
When TT played the visiting Indians in March, they were soundly beaten by an innings and 69 runs. However, Mahabir managed 4/71 in the Indian innings.
TT used three spinners in that encounter, Premnath Ramnath being the third option to Mahabir and Nanan.
“I don’t know how Ramnath play that match. He was a great spinner but he lacked belly and confidence.” He goes on to explain, “If you are not successful early on, the batsmen attack you. You tend to lose concentration and start to flag. You lose control. You can’t set your own field. … so the Captain takes over. You have to be able to set your own field.”
Although he took four wickets in the Indian encounter, he believes that he was not used properly. “(Theo) Cuffy (the Captain) and dem deadly you know.” He continues, “I took 23 wickets in 1983. I should have been the first change bowler after Ranjy Nanan. I standing there like jumbie. I was the last bowler to get a spell. I came in later after lunch. I got 4/71.” He makes it clear, “I go to play cricket. I eh come to make friends.”
A Young WI team was selected to tour Zimbabwe that year. Mahabir, despite his success was left out because he was “slightly over 25. “Yet they picked Timur Mohamed to Captain the team and he was over 26.” Javan Etienne a left arm spinner from Dominica was chosen instead in addition to Clyde Butts.
Consistently among the wickets for TT, his zenith was probably in 1985, taking 30 wickets in the Shell Shield and starring against the touring Kiwis. He also played an integral part in TT winning the regional title for the first time in 14 years.
He explains that a key part of his bowling success was due to Charlie Giffith, the ex WI fastbowler and the Umpire of the TT-Barbados match in 1984. Griffith pulled aside Mahabir and advised him on a no ball problem he seemed to be having. “My foot was slinging across. He told me how to correct it. He said I should get up on the ball of my foot.” Mahabir listened and the result was that he was the most successful TT bowler for 1985 with 18 wickets. Ranjy Nannan took 15 and Harold Joseph, 15 as well.
His selection for the Shell XI vs New Zealand was a given. His match figures of 6/137 were impressive. However, the Guyanese, Clyde Butts, took seven wickets in the First Innings which propelled him to this Test debut vs NZ in Georgetown. “If it had been a Four Day game, we would have beaten NZ.”
Mahabir also represented the President’s XI against the Kiwis and went wicketless in a match that was largely dominated by the pace trio of Courtney Walsh, Tony Gray and Tony Skerrit.
The highlight for the TT fans would have been the Shell Shield Crown, culminating with a victory over Barbados by an innings and 54 runs in POS. He was the pick of the bowlers taking 8/108, four wickets in each innings.
He explains that a large reason for TT’s ascension that year had to do with finally having some fast bowlers of class.
“In the past we had fast bowlers who were not making headway. The spinners had to bowl to openers. This was the biggest problem in TT (cricket).
“In 1985 we had Tony Gray, Kelvin Willliams and to a lesser extent Giles Antoine. They started to out openers and this allowed the spinners to get to the heart of the opposition. This allowed TT to win the Shell Shield.” He adds, “We were bowling out teams for less than 200. This had not happened in years.”
On more than one occasion he was offered a Minor County contract whilst touring the UK with the Queen’s Park Cricket Club during the early and mid eighties.. The first offer came in 1980. “But you see my father had just opened the supermarket. He needed help. If I had had my way, I would’ve stayed right there. That ball was spinning like peas.”
From 1987 onward, he seemed to be slowly phased out of the TT team in preference for the prodigious Rajindra Dhanraj. He took 16 wickets in the 85/86 season. TT played only two matches in a truncated season in 1986/87; Mahabir was selected for one game vs Guyana, taking three wickets.
Ignored for the first three matches 1987/88 in preference for Dhanraj and Harold Joseph, he was brought in for the final two. He took six wickets vs the Windwards Islands and two vs Jamaica. Ironically his regional tally had been 92 at the beginning of the season and he was able to hit the 100 mark.
Mahabir retired from the TT team later that year. At just 30 and a lot of cricket left in him, it seemed a curious decision. He explains, “The Gods of Cricket (Joey Carew and the other Selectors) said I was bowling ‘stereotype.’”
When asked to define what this meant, he responds, “I and all don’t know understand what was ‘stereotype.’ I had taken over a hundred (First Class wickets) over the years. So what is ‘stereotype.’? … I think they meant I was bowling only one way but this is not true.”
Mahabir gives the distinct impression that the Selectors had been a bit less than fair to him. “Harold Joseph is my best friend. Larry (Gomes) and I are friends. Larry and Harold … are friends. They bring in Harold after four years. Throw me out and bring in Rajindra Dhanraj.”
Joseph took two wickets in three matches and Dhanraj left with a young Brian Lara to represent the WI at the first ever World Youth Cup. Brought in to fill the void, his “stereotype’ bowling was good enough to garner eight wickets in two away matches.
“I retired after the Jamaica game. I knew that when Dhanraj came back (from the WC), I would get ‘stereotype’ again. I didn’t wait for it.”
Today, Mahabir, runs an electrical shop in Tunapuna. Surprisingly he has not had any requests for his coaching expertise.
“I tried to encourage (Devindra) Bishoo. I asked the Board to fly me to Jamaica or Guyana to talk to him.
“The problem is he wants to out batsmen with every ball he bowls. You have to take your time.” He continues, “You have to catch a line and length, keep quiet, work on different balls. They (spinners) have a defensive field and bowl all their balls in one over.”
He emphasizes, “You cah show a batsman everything you have in the first over. They go kill you! You think you could bowl to the Australians like that. You dead!”
His coaching endeavours have been limited to helping out ex player and present Judge, Justice Prakash Moosai with the WI Lawyers team and his old club, Aranguez.
He admits, “Nobody ever asked me to coach. I don’t know what the reason is. They call all kinda people. Nobody ever approach me. I didn’t do any coaching exams. I don’t think I have to do them. The amount of people I played with, I don’t need [them]. You have to have love for the game and share your experiences across the board. Not everybody might be able to do this. I can do it well.”
He believes one of the reasons WI spinners are not doing that well in the Test arena “is because we prepare on good wickets and play on bad wickets.” In his opinion the WI wickets for Test matches are being prepared for batsmen to score runs. “The wickets are being prepared differently for Tests in comparison to regional matches.”
“We need to bowl on better wickets to out batsmen. When I played for Queen’s Park, we had two concrete strips, one for spin and one for no spin.
“Charlie Davis and Richard De Souza always wanted to bat on the smooth concrete in the early part of the session. I used to enjoy bowling on (this surface) against them. It was so easy to bat on, you realized if you could keep them quiet, you were bowling a good line.”
The Zigger … the Flipper
Shane Warne may have been famous for the Flipper but Mahabir explains that he was bowling the delivery in 1982.
“I was bowling to (the late) Shirvan Pragg at El Dorado Sr. Comprehensive. Rohan Kanhai was the Coach. He was driving me too early. I decided to tip toe on the balls of my feet and let the ball fly out. He was mesmerized – bowled.
“I was amazed. I eh tell nobody. I say ‘I will try this again.’ I did and he was bowled again.”
Mahabir took 33 wickets in the Zonal Trials that year. “That delivery was important. It had no name but Aneal Rajaj called it ‘the Zigger.’”
At the end of the season Kanahai went on to coach Jamaica for the 1982/83 Shell Shield. He warned the Jamaicans “not to cut or play on the back foot.
“I was the only bowler who used to bowl over the wicket and end up in front of the non striker. The batsmen used to lose sight.
“The Umpire’s Association wanted to call me for no balling. They wrote to the ICC asking if it was illegal. They wrote back saying John Emburey was bowling in a similar way and when he retired, they would change the rule.”
He adds, “When Shane Warne was playing cricket, I heard Richie Benaud calling it the Flipper.”
Tony Gray, the former WI pacer, was Mahabir’s teammate on TT’s 1985 Championship team. He says, “He was a very good right arm wrist spinner who wasn’t afraid to try different things. He was an astute player of the game tactically, recognizing weaknesses of batsmen very early in the piece.” Gray adds, “He was a situational bowler, he was always attacking but was willing to try different things according to the situation.”
Gray believes that Mahabir was the best WI leg break/googly bowler of the eighties but adds, “There weren’t a lot.”
Was Mahabir unfortunate not to make the WI Test team? Gray responds, “Not unfortunate if you consider the great WI fast bowlers that we had. However, we must dissect his contribution in a more profound way. Gray goes on, “He prepared our batsmen for international competition against teams like Pakistan and India. He made an invaluable contribution. Players like him and Ranjy Nanan prepared our batsmen to play the best in the world.”
Gus Logie, admits he didn’t get to see a lot of Mahabir as he was usually away with the WI. However, “he had notable performances, his economy rate was great.”
Logie remembers him as someone “always having fun and liked to crack jokes. He would say, “Nah, I can’t get behind the line, the
bowlers bowling too fast.’ He would have us laughing in the Dressing Room.”
Regarding him cracking the WI team, Logie says, “But you have to remember even in Trinidad, he had to contend with Harold Joseph,
Rangy Nanan and later Rajindra Dhanraj. It was a difficult time for him”
Some of TT’s greats
Having played with some of TT’s greats, he gives his opinion on some of them:
Ranjy Nanan – “An excellent bowler. He didn’t like to get too much runs in an over.”
Larry Gomes – “I didn’t play too much with him. He was a quiet batsman, very difficult to dislodge if he settled himself.”
Phil Simmons – “Excellent human being. Good cricketer. If he had listened to the advice I had given him over the years, he would have been more popular regarding his performance.” Mahabir explains, He could have scored even more runs. “He had the ability to hit a four any time he wanted to. He didn’t have to square cut or slap outside the off stump.” He continues, “He had one of the most powerful drives in cricket. I told him to wait and have patience. If every over he hit a four, in 25 overs he would have a hundred instead of opting to square cut and get out.”
Rajindra Dhanraj – “I think he is a big spinner with some control but not enough variety to be a match winning bowler. But let me stop speaking before people say I don’t like him.”
Inshan Ali – “Excellent Chinaman. Could deliver it whenever he wanted. A great person to be around. I learnt a lot talking with him at club games.”
Robin Singh – “He had trials and played with the TT team in 1983. He was a medium pacer. He was the best fieldsman we had and could hit the ball hard. His cricket had to develop in India.” The structure “was not at a top level in TT.”
Brian Lara – “I know that Lara is and will always be the best batsman to pass through the cricketing fraternity. People could say what they want.”
Harold Joseph – “I always say that Harold Joseph was the best spinner to pass through Trinidad & Tobago. He could have bypassed Sunil Narine and Sonny Ramadhin. However, he never got a chance when he toured Australia in 1981.”
Mahabir continues,”The WI batsmen didn’t want him to bowl spin at them in the nets. They couldn’t read him. So he had to bowl medium pace. That killed him. He lost a couple of balls after he came back from Australia. He was there for three months. He was a front finger/wrist/orthodox spinner.”
He reminisces, “I tried to bowl like him. My fingers were not strong or long enough. He was amazing.” He laments, “They did not manage him well in WI cricket.”
Gus Logie was on tour with Joseph and has a different version. “I don’t think the batsmen asked him not to bowl spin. Harold recognized he was not going to make the (Test) team. He figured he was being used in the nets so the batsmen could figure him out for the Shell Shield.” He explains, “Harold Jo decided that they would not see his full repertoire. He bowled spin but not too many varieties.
“Back in TT, he lost a bit of his mystery because of a lack of practicing in bowling it.”
Logie makes it clear, “If he had toured India, Pakistan or another country, he would have probably been played and would have had a longer career. However, in Australia, the pitches offered no assistance, there was a lack of turn. I think even Harold Jo would admit if he had toured the subcontinent or if even had there been a tour in the Caribbean his career would have been different.”
Mahabir says that if cricket is to go forward the Ministry of Sport
must put coaches in every single school in TT.
Ganesh Mahabir’s name will be forever linked with TT and WI spin bowling
during the nineteen eighties. Had he emerged just ten years later, chances
are the Test Selectors would have been kinder to him.
TT Red Stripe Champs, 1985: Front Row, l-r, Richard Gabriel, Ganesh Mhabir, David Mohamed, David Williams, Prakash Moosai, Ranjy Nanan (Capt) and Mahadoe Bodoe. Back Row, l-r, Aneal Rajah, Phil Simmons, Tony Gray, Kelvin Williams, Giles Antoine and Noel Robinson (Mngr.).
Harold Joseph: "They did not manage him well in WI cricket."
I would like to thank Ganesh Mahabir for giving me a solid two hours of his time and buying the beers. ;-) VB
Ganesh Mahabir Biofile:
Favourite Cricketer: Gary Sobers, Viv Richards,
Brian Lara, Gordon Greenidge, Malcolm Marshall and Raul Dravid.
Favourite meal: Roti and any vegetable.
Teams: TT, Crompton (1976-’77), Queens Park Oval (1978-’87), Moosai Sports (1988-2000), Aranguez (200-2003)
QPCC, tour of Holland,1980, Back Row, l-r, Shirvan Pragg (deceased), R. Duprey, Colin Murray, Ganesh Mahabir, G. Gomez, Aneal Rajah, N. Mouttet, G. Ramourtarsingh, B. Malcolm (Mixer). Sitting: l-r, D. Saddler, Chris Galt, G. Almandoz, Randal Lyon, S. Almandoz (Mngr.), Anthony Dharson