In May 2014, cricketing circles in the West Indies were buzzing with news of Kirstan Kallicharan, a 14-year-old, smashing an unbeaten 404 in a 35-over game in Port-of-Spain.
“The next Brian Lara?” wondered media houses, predicting the rise of another star from Trinidad to take over the mantle from the legendary left-hand batsman. The hype was easy headline, but also with a little bit of reason – just a year earlier, Kallicharan had broken Lara’s record for the highest individual score in Trinidad and Tobago’s Secondary School Cricket League, scoring 194. The then 13-year-old followed it up with a double-century in an Under-16 game.
Kallicharan, though, couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about. When journalists called him up after the game, he wondered why they did, as it was ‘nothing big’. When television cameras arrived at his home the following day, he preferred to sleep and didn’t want to come out.
But surely, breaking Lara’s record should have got him excited?
“No,” he says, with a sheepish smile.
What about getting selected for the Under-19 World Cup in 2016?
“I was 14 then and just getting the call, I was more surprised than excited.”
That, in essence, is the near-paradoxical character of Kallicharan. He struggles for names when asked who his childhood cricketing heroes were. There’s none, because Kallicharan hardly watches cricket.
He says he loves playing cricket, but can’t get himself to watch the game. According to his mother, he didn’t even like cricket.
“Do I watch cricket on a daily basis? Not really. Because I have school, and if I’m not doing anything, I’ll be sleeping,” he explains. “It’s an individual thing. I train hard so the results to me is like – if some good happens, I know I trained hard for it. I work for it, so it won’t get to my head, it won’t really bother me. It never did and if it didn’t happen yet, I don’t think it will happen.”
Ironically, Kallicharan’s family is the exact opposite in its thinking. David, his father, proudly says he has a TV near his bed on which he watches every cricket match around the world, and sometimes even school cricket. Yet, the father and son hardly talk cricket at home.
In fact, Kallicharan has an entire contingent of family members travelling with him at the Under-19 World Cup, including his father, mother (Sally) and brother (Hance). The trio was also present in Bangladesh two years back, when Kallicharan was part of the successful Windies Under-19 squad.
How then did he get interested in playing the sport?
“They had a programme for kids aged six to 11 in Trinidad, and he went at the age of five to accompany his brother,” explains David. “A particular coach saw him and insisted that he stay although he was rather small. He stayed for two weeks, and then they asked him to come for the next session for ages 11-17 also.”
Being a gardener, David could not afford the cricketing expenses of both his sons. But around the same time, Hance lost interest in the sport and pursued studies, paving the way for Kirstan to continue.
Since then, the junior Kallicharan’s rise has been gradual, headlined by the big centuries. Spotlight, comparisons with Lara and the accompanying pressures ensued, but he handled them with maturity – a trait evident in the conversation.
“It’ll begin with four-day cricket in Trinidad. If I do well, they’ll pick me for the Test side, hopefully. The cricket that’ll come to me first, which is reality, is T20, the CPL, more opportunities… I’ll be around that team faster than playing for the Windies Test team.”
“It was not really difficult but people around me trying to take advantage on me, using me as a product basically,” he says. “They’d want to give me gears, wanna do this, wanna do that, they’d say they’re a part of my life. I didn’t accept anything from anybody. They worry about the past, they don’t really worry about the future and that really bothered me. It didn’t really get to my head because to me, it’s nothing much. It’s just the start.”
David chips in, “Everybody wanted a showcase for themselves. It was all about themselves and not him.”
One person who genuinely helped Kirstan, according to the Kallicharans, was Teddy Mohammed, a 75-year-old who ran a book store in Trinidad.
Mohammed paid for his gear without expecting anything in return, and according to David, “Without him, we wouldn’t have built Kirstan”.
At 16, Kallicharan was part of the Windies squad that won the Under-19 World Cup in 2016. It is the only achievement that has managed to ‘excite’ him.
Kallicharan managed only one innings in the campaign, but it was an important step. He earned a sponsor in Spartan after the tournament, and two years later, he returned to the Under-19 World Cup as Windies’ vice-captain.
The campaign didn’t go too well – for Windies and Kallicharan. Windies finished runner-up in the Plate League, and Kallicharan only managed the 30s and 40s, partially down to batting at No. 6.
From here, his ambitions are practical and he sees himself playing plenty of limited-overs cricket, keeping in line with changing times.
“Probably play for Trinidad and the Caribbean Premier League,” he says. “I think it’s more of T20 and 50-over cricket that will be played in future. But we have a good bit of players who want to play Test cricket as well, especially in Trinidad.”
His father interrupts, “He has to play Test cricket. That’s one demand I’ll make. That’s the first time I’ll be telling him anything. I generally don’t tell him anything but I really think Test cricket is the cricket to be playing to be bringing in the true sense of the game. His career can start where it wants but he must be a part of Test cricket.”
“Time would tell,” responds the son. “If I do get picked, I’ll want to do my best. It’ll begin with four-day cricket in Trinidad. If I do well, they’ll pick me, hopefully. The cricket that’ll come to me first, which is reality, is T20, the CPL, more opportunities… I’ll be around that team faster than playing for the Windies Test team. If I perform in the four-day competitions and if they see me play for Windies one day, I’ll accept it happily.”