Last Wednesday, as the West Indies players adorned black arm bands for the Second ODI against India, in tribute to the passing of a member of the formidable 1960s’ West Indians, it is quite probable they asked themselves, ‘Who was this batsman from back-in-the-day the older folks are always talking about?’
Two days earlier, the life innings of Basil Butcher, had drawn to a close at 86. For the second time in seven months the West Indian cricket family is reflecting on the loss of another critical piece of the middle order of the Sixties’ side, as Butcher follows the late Seymour Nurse, off the field of play.
Born at Port Mourant, Berbice to a Barbadian father, who had come to then British Guiana to work on the sugar estate, and a Guyanese mother of Amerindian descent, Basil, the only boy of seven offspring, ascended to the top of the cricketing world.
Beginning in the Fifties and continuing throughout the Sixties, West Indian sides were led by very strong middle order batting line ups. Initially dominated by the three Ws – Worrell, Weekes, and Walcott – and later on, by Sobers and Kanhai, securing a place in those sides, indeed, was an onerous task. Bereft of coaching as a youth, Butcher rose from the humble beginnings at the Port Mourant Cricket Club, along with Kanhai and Joe Solomon, to establishing themselves as regular members of the West Indies side.
Butcher’s hallmarks of solidity and dependability as a batsman were on display from his debut in the First Test of the 1958/59 tour of India and Pakistan. Such was Butcher’s consistency that he became only the third batsman to reel off six fifties in his first six Tests. A strong onside player, whose solid defence was coupled with a steely determination, Butcher, at Worrell’s behest, adopted the role of second fiddle and quite often held the batting together, notably during several crises. No less an opponent than the late Australian Captain Richie Benaud, a fierce competitor if there was one, considered Butcher’s wicket the hardest one of the West Indians to capture.
Appearing fourth or fifth in the batting order, between the rampaging greats of Kanhai and Sobers, Butcher’s Test scores do not reflect the true value of his impact on the game. Middle order batsmen of Butcher’s ilk – read Solomon, Larry Gomes –more times than not, sacrifice the pursuit of personal statistics for the betterment of the team. Yet, Butcher’s numbers are impressive, to say the least. In 44 Test matches, Butcher accumulated 3,104 runs whilst averaging 43.11 per innings, with seven centuries, six of which were scored abroad, where his average per innings was 46.41 In a first class career which extended from 1955 to 1971, Butcher averaged 49.90 per innings whilst scoring 11,628 runs, with 31 hundreds, in 169 matches.
Career highlights include a fine century at Lord’s, 133 out of a total of 229, salvaging a draw in the process, and an unbeaten double century at Nottingham when he took the West Indies to an unexpected victory. In Auckland, New Zealand, in February, 1969, whilst Nurse plundered a swashbuckling innings of 168, as the West Indies successfully completed the then second highest run chase in the Test history of 345 runs in five and a quarter hours, Butcher’s unbeaten innings of 78, is often overlooked in the five-wicket victory. His final Test innings of 91 at Headingley in 1969 had set the stage for a West Indian victory, only for a late order collapse to see the win escape their grasp.
Butcher, who had moved to the bauxite town of Mackenzie in the 1960s, remained active in the game after his retirement from first class cricket. He captained the Mackenzie Sports Club team for many a year whilst coaching and overseeing the development of young cricketers in the mining town. Later on, he served as a West Indian selector. The community-minded Butcher, who taught for several years in early life, was also actively involved in the planning of the initial Mashramani celebrations, a spinoff of the Independence celebrations held in the Upper Demerara community.
A regular attendee at Test matches in Georgetown in later life, the affable and always approachable Butcher in his trademark dashiki or shirt jac, was quite willing to discuss cricket or offer advice to anyone who sought him out, at any time. Basil Fitzherbert Butcher will be surely missed.
We have lost a true son of the soil.