When Eric Hollies dismissed the great Don in his last Test innings for a duck, he made the average 99.94 immortal in the annals of cricket. But even if the Don had got those four elusive runs that fateful day and retired with an incredible three-figure Test batting average, he would still not have earned the bragging rights of possessing the best batting average in the history of Test cricket.
That right rests inexorably and perhaps irremovably with the name of a West Indian batsman who walked off into the cricketing sunset with a staggering and unmatched average of 112. His name was Andy Ganteaume.
1948 – A Different West Indies
Post-war colonial West Indies was a place very different from the ones modern lovers of the game see today. Racial politics of the time (often with bizarre outcomes) determined team composition in a game run by the white establishment. The possibility that 12-years later a black man could captain the group of island nations would be laughed off or possibly even be considered treasonous. George Headley would be appointed captain of the side for a single Test that year in what was a clear case of political expediency rather than cricketing reality. Headley’s injury sustained in that Test would conveniently bring back a series of white captains for the next 12-years until Frank Worrell’s appointment would finally properly enfranchise black West Indian cricketers. One could in fact argue that the reason a few black cricketers were in the 1948 Test team was far more due to the lack of (and injury to) suitable white candidates rather than being a testimony to the fantastic cricketing talent that Trinidad, Barbados and the rest of the island possessed.
A Tale of Two Debuts
When the West Indies team took the field against Gubby Allen’s England in February 1948 at Port of Spain, in a series marking the resumption of Test cricket in the Caribbean after World War II, the team had two young black batsmen making their debuts.
As it often happens in cricket (the case of Shane Warne and Subroto Banerjee springs to mind), one of the two, Frank Worrell would go on to become the first black man to captain the West Indies before he passed on from Leukaemia at the age of 42, and Andy Ganteaume, the batsman with a century on debut, would live on to the age of 95 but would never again walk onto a Test ground bat in hand for his country.
The story of Andy Ganteaume, the man with a batting average of 112.00 is both tragic and unfathomable whichever way you look at it, but sadly representative of cricket politics of the time.
27-year old Andy Ganteaume was in the form of his life leading into the second Test, at Port-of-Spain. In the 1946 season, he had compiled the first two of his eventual five first-class hundreds, 112 against Barbados and 159 against Jamaica. In Trinidad’s two matches against the English team, his scores were 101, 47 not out, 5 and 90.
One would have thought he would be a cinch for the West Indies side. But the fact that he made it at all into the team on his home ground owed much more to the injury that white Trinidadian batsman Joseph Stollmeyer suffered than Ganteaume’s wonderful credentials and form.
Ganteaume later recalled that when he was summoned to hear the news of his selection at the Queen’s Park Oval cricket ground, he was confronted by the West Indies administrator Edgar Marsden who “could not disguise his resentment at having to announce something that he did not want to happen”.
This only stiffened Ganteaume’s resolve to do well on his debut to make himself undroppable.
England scored 362 in their first innings and Ganteaume strode out to open the innings with George Carew. The two put on a West Indies record opening partnership of 173 before Carew departed. Everton Weekes then joined Ganteaume and when Weekes was out at the West Indies score of 226, the other debutant Frank Worrell walked in.
The two debutants took the score past 300 when captain Gerry Gomez sent out a note to Ganteaume that read: “I want you to push on now, we are behind the clock and need to score more quickly.” Ganteaume was to preserve that note and use it for his autobiography later.
Before Gomez’s note, Ganteaume had spent four and three-quarter hours, with 13 fours, over his hundred; Worrell would finally take an hour less for his 97, which included six and nine fours. West Indies eventually gained a lead of 135 runs, but with two days being subsequently lost to rain, could not press for victory.
Years later, writing to his friend and noted Australian journalist Kersi Meher-Homji, Ganteaume was to say: “I was told that I had batted slowly, disregarding my captain’s orders. I disagree. When my captain Gerry Gomez sent a note to us to bat faster, Frank [Worrell] told me to ignore it and said, ‘Let’s “sun” them some more.’ The note was addressed to both me and Frank, not to me alone. In our partnership of 80, Frank had scored only seven runs more than I had done.”
The angst about Ganteaume emanated not from his slow batting (no one could have predicted two days would be rained off thereafter) but from the situation that his unexpected success put the white selectors and regular players in.
When the team for the next Test was to be selected, Stollmeyer was still injured, but the establishment chose not to endanger Stollmeyer’s position in the team any further and dropped Ganteaume to make way for a white batsman, John Goddard. Goddard was slated to captain the side next under the rotation policy in place at the time, and of course, the only available position was Ganteaume’s opening slot, though Goddard was out of form and had no experience at the position.
Goddard’s contributions were 1 and 3. They improved to 17 and 46 not out in the fourth Test when Stollmeyer came back into the team. Goddard would go on to play 24 more Tests without scoring a century. Worrell remained in the team.
Andy Ganteaume never again received a call from the selectors. His average and aggregate remained at 112.00
A Debut and an Exit that left Unanswered Questions
Ganteaume kept his silence for six decades before finally penning his autobiography, My Story: The Other Side of the Coin, where he said: “The aristocracy had to be kept up and the establishment boys had to have a share of the pie, the welfare of West Indies cricket was incidental, and continued to be so for quite some time.”
In his exchanges, Kersi Meher-Homji asked him the question that only Ganteaume could answer: “What about the statement by Gomez that had you scored 60 runs at a faster rate rather than a century, you could have retained your place?”
And Ganteaume gave the only answer that made any sense: “I ask anyone, could you imagine any player of the Establishment [the whites] being dropped immediately after making a century in his first Test for batting slow? Had I played the next Test and scored well, it would have been very difficult to bring back Stollmeyer with Geo Carew in brilliant form. It would have been embarrassing for them. Things got curious and curiouser. Them’s my sentiments.”
Despite the blatantly discriminatory move, Ganteaume kept playing first-class cricket for Trinidad, scoring 2785 runs at 34.81 hitting five centuries (highest score 159) and 17 fifties in 50 matches. As a wicket-keeper, he took 34 catches and stumped three. Ganteaume was also a regular member of Trinidad’s football team. After his playing career was over, he served as a cricket selector from 1974-85 and managed the West Indies team when Australia visited in 1984.
Just before he passed on, a gesture by the West Indies Cricket Board (albeit seven decades too late) recognising his contribution through the words “We salute Andy Ganteaume, one of the patriots of our great game”, while inadequate, would one imagine have been some recompense for the irreparable damage to the career of one who could perhaps have been spoken of in the same breath as his friends Frank Worrell and Everton Weekes in the decades to come.
Andy Ganteaume’s name would instead live on merely as a piece of cricket trivia for the curious.