Ramadhin Owns Up at Last: I Used to Chuck It
Byline: PETER JOHNSON
AT LAST the truth can be told. Forty-nine years after Sonny Ramadhin's sleight of hand first made fools of the world's finest batsmen, he is prepared to reveal the dark secret hidden beneath the shirt sleeve that always stayed discreetly buttoned down.
The West Indies spin bowler, immortalised in song and statistics, illegally chucked the delivery which brought him so many of his 158 Test wickets.
'I have never admitted it in public before, but I think it's about time I got it off my conscience,' he said with a grin which suggested that the burden of guilt had not cost him a wink of sleep over the years.
'There was no way somebody of my build - he was 5ft 4in and nine stone - could have produced my faster ball without throwing it.
'Nowadays, the television cameras would have picked it up immediately and they would have put a stop to it.
But I got away with it in every grade of cricket for 30 years. Many of the players knew it and some, like Tom Graveney, told me so. But the umpires just ignored it.' That, of course, was back in the gentlemanly Fifties when it was permissible to raise an eyebrow but essential to make sure that the English stiff upper lip remained as firmly buttoned as Ramadhin's shirt sleeve. So the uneducated orphan, who adopted the first name Sonny because he was never given one of his own, was allowed to become one of the game's legends rather than one of its outlaws.
He fears that Mut-tiah Muralitharan, the Sri Lankan off-spinner whose style is so reminiscent of his own, will not be so fortunate.
Muralitharan, who destroyed England in last summer's Oval Test, has long been under suspicion and was again called for throwing in the recent triangular one-day tournament in Australia.
Now he is threatened with renewed and intensified scrutiny during this summer's World Cup and, possibly, with public condemnation if, as planned, he plays county cricket for Lancashire later in the year.
'I sympathise with him,' said Ramadhin. 'I know how he must feel knowing that every time he goes on to bowl he is being examined. I have watched him and there's no doubt in my mind that he throws when he tries to give the off-break a bit of extra spin. Television shows it clearly, but I did not need the cameras to spot it.
'I don't believe he has any intention of cheating. I don't think he could change because, like me, he apparently has some abnormality of the elbow. In fact, if he tried to alter his action he would probably become innocuous. But if he starts bowling day in, day out in the English game most of the county captains are bound to object. That will not make life pleasant for him.
'But it's a bit late to try to drum him out of the game. He has had official clearance from the International Cricket Council and he has taken more than 200 Test wickets.
It's not as if he is physically dangerous. Bowling at that pace he is not going to knock somebody's block off.' One thing is certain. Notoriety will earn Muralitharan far more than fame ever brought Ramad-hin. The West Indian will be 70 in May and for the last eight years he and his wife, June, have lived in a rented, one-bedroom council flat in one of those communities built in the wind-raked creases of the Pennines above Oldham.
He could have found no spot in the cricketing world more distant in climate and temperament from his roots in Trinidad and blames the harsh weather for the arthritis that is beginning to stiffen and disfigure his hands.
He settled and eventually married in the area in 1951 when he signed for Cromp-ton, a local league club quick to recognise the drawing power of the little man who, the previous summer, had helped the West Indies to their first Test victory in England.
Ramadhin, immaculate in length and able to turn the ball both ways with an apparently identical action, took 135 wickets on the tour, 26 in four Tests.
His 11 for 152 in the win at Lord's was the inspiration for the still-familiar calypso glorifying 'Those two little pals of mine ' Ramadhin and his spin bowling partner, left-armer Alf Valentine.
Neither made money from what was, literally, the No.1 sporting hit. In those days the only agent with a house in the Caribbean was Ian Fleming.
Having overcome a century of racial prejudice to become the first Indian to play for the West Indies, Ramadhin saw no inequity in the West Indies big three, Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott, being the only players to be paid a wage. He was grateful enough to tour England for four months on bed, board and a fiver-a-week spending money.
'When I did become a pro, the average pay for a three-month tour was about [pounds sterling]400 and by 1960 it had risen to between [pounds sterling]600 and [pounds sterling]800,' he said. 'Now they earn good money. That's why it surprised me when the West Indies players refused to go to South Africa last November until they were paid more. I don't know exactly what they earn, but I do know they are not underpaid.
'There is a different attitude to the game now. To us it was a joy to play. Now, it seems, youngsters are just not taking up the game.
It is hard for me to believe that the West Indies team has sunk as low as it is at the moment.' He last went back to the Caribbean in 1995 for an anniversary dinner at which he and Valentine were honoured guests.
There was talk then of holding a joint testimonial for the pair in England. The idea foundered through lack of support. Now he never goes to a Test. Tickets are expensive and asking for a complimentary seems too much like begging.
With a barely basic education and no training for anything outside cricket, he followed the precarious path trod by so many sportsmen and took a series of pubs - among them the gloriously named Cloggers Arms - on the fringe of Saddleworth Moor, a spot that could be inhospitable long before the trial of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley made it gruesomely infamous.
'We were in the licensing trade for more than 30 years and never made any money,' he said. 'But what else could I do? I had been orphaned before I was old enough to know either of my parents. I was brought up by my grandmother and an uncle, and though he used to take me to school each morning I would run off to go fishing or play on the beach the moment his back was turned.'
Somehow, though, he was introduced to cricket at a Canadian mission school, took to it naturally and was chosen for the 1950 tour to England after just two trial games for Trinidad. Suddenly, the West Indies, still captained by a white man, found themselves with a player from a scorned race, whose birth had never been officially registered and who had no other name but Ramadhin.
'The kids at school had called me Sonny so I adopted that,' he said. 'But when I got to England they insisted that nobody could go through life without initials. The next time I picked up the paper I'd become K T Ramadhin. I never did find out what my new English names were supposed to be.' But the name climbed high in the record books. Ramadhin, K T bowled with subtlety, variety and until his fingers bled - in that historic victory at Lord's he delivered 115 overs. By the end of his first-class career in 1965 he had 758 wickets at 20.24 apiece.
He was the West Indies premier spinner for 11 years and would have figured among the greatest wicket-takers of all time but for a fateful meeting with the late Peter May and Colin (now Lord) Cow-drey at Edgbaston in 1957.
To most of the England batsmen, every Ramadhin delivery was still capable of going every which way but loose. He had taken seven for 49 in the first innings of that Test and England were threatened with defeat when May and Cowdrey began what is still a world record fourth-wicket partnership of 411.
They solved the insoluble by the simple and crude expedient of kicking away the off-spinner with their pads.
'The Glamorgan captain, Wilf Wooller, had tried something similar against us in a county match,' said Ramadhin.
'After his innings his leg was black and blue where he had been hit behind the pad. He should have been out leg-before a dozen times, but under the old lbw law the umpires never gave him.
'He recommended the ploy to England and from then on everybody started it.' Ramadhin was never quite the same destroyer of an innings. He had to work harder in every Test-playing country. His figures suffered and his fingers bled more profusely. He tried a couple of seasons of county cricket with Lancashire, then drifted around the local leagues until he bowled his last - and legitimate - delivery at the age of 55.
They eventually changed the lbw law, but it was too late to put the clock back. 'By then I'd had my day - and I'd enjoyed every minute of it,' he said.
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Ramadhin Owns Up at Last: I Used to Chuck It. Contributors: Not available. Newspaper title: Daily Mail (London). Publication date: March 1, 1999. Page number: 59. © 2007 Daily Mail. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.