The Pride of PreysalMartin Chandler |
Author: Ali-Motilal, Shafeeza
Rating: 4 stars
When I was growing up the greatest cricketer in the game, bar none, was Garry Sobers. I am a little too young to have seen much of him, but I do recall the visit to these shores of the 1973 West Indians. Sobers wasn’t part of the touring party, but Nottinghamshire released him for all three Tests and he averaged 76.50 with the bat to leave his English supporters with wonderful memories of their hero. He took a few wickets as well, although as I recall only bowled his seamers. My Playfair Annual told me he bowled spin as well, both finger spin and wrist spin, but I don’t ever remember seeing him bowl the orthodox stuff, let alone his chinamen and googlies.
That didn’t much matter in ’73 however as, to my great delight, I saw that the main touring party contained a specialist chinaman bowler, Inshan Ali from Trinidad. In the end Inshan played in just the first Test, and took but a single wicket, but disappointing as his figures were he was he was still fascinating to watch. He didn’t much look like a cricketer, wasn’t a tall man, and was slight of build, but he demonstrated some new skills that I had not seen before.
That Test at the Oval was the only time I saw Inshan play. From afar I kept in touch with England’s series in the Caribbean a few months later, but that was only on the radio, so I saw nothing of his appearances in the two Tests for which he was selected. By the time the West Indians came back to England in 1976 spin was an afterthought and Inshan had long since disappeared from my radar. I knew he was finished once I learned, or so I thought, that he had been one of the three West Indian spinners who had failed to prevent the 1976 Indian tourists chasing down a fourth innings target of 403, a match which led Clive Lloyd deciding to thereafter stick to a policy of pace, pace and more pace.
In the fateful match against India ‘I Ali’ returned figures of 0-52 in the fourth innings, and bowled many fewer overs than the other two whirlymen in the West Indies team, Albert Padmore and Raphick Jumadeen, not that their figures were too much better. It was only years later that I realised that on that occasion ‘I Ali’ wasn’t Inshan, but Imtiaz, another Trinidadian wrist spinner albeit this time of the right arm variety. The West Indies selection looked all the odder once I realised that in the colony game against the Indians, three weeks beforehand, Inshan had taken six wickets as against Imtiaz’ one. Selectors have their whims of course, but that is an odd one and, a little frustratingly, The Pride of Preysal does not mention either that colony match or the series that followed it.
Until a few weeks ago I had no idea that anyone had written a biography of Inshan Ali but, incomplete as it is in some respects, The Pride of Preysal is a fascinating and moving account of a life that was stalked by tragedy. Inshan was just 19 and yet to begin his brief Test career when his younger brother died of cancer. In the years that followed Inshan’s first son died as a baby, and then so did his second. He did then have a daughter, but his marriage ended, and he drank too much and he lost contact with his daughter. At least that relationship was re-established before, at 45, the family were hit again by an aggressive cancer, the disease claiming Inshan as well in 1995. What he did not therefore survive to see was his beloved daughter go on to marry a Test cricketer, Narsingh Deonarine.
The Pride of Preysal is written by Inshan’s sister and derives its power from that family relationship. The book is not a long one, and the chapters are short and to the point, but they paint a vivid picture of a man who created plenty of interest in a First Class career that was over at the age of 30. Personal issues must have affected his cricket, and one wonders what he might have achieved had he not suffered those grievous losses.
The book has a foreword from Deryck Murray, who kept wicket to Inshan for Trinidad and West Indies. Others from the cricket community contribute their thoughts at the end of the book and, fittingly, the narrative closes with a short tribute from Sir Garfield himself. The reproduction of the images in the book is a little less than perfect, but they are an excellent selection nonetheless and whilst there are no statistics as such the scorecards of the twelve Tests in which Inshan played are reproduced, or at least they were intended to be. In the event one has been duplicated and the Oval Test of 1973 omitted, so English readers of a certain age might like to have their 1974 Wisden at their side when reading the book.
Inshan Ali and his story deserve a much wider readership than they have had until now, and The Pride of Preysal is highly recommended