The list of West Indies batsmen with a 50-plus batting averages in Tests looks like this: George Headley, Everton Weekes, Gary Sobers, Clyde Walcott, Charlie Davis, Brian Lara, Shiv Chanderpaul and Viv Richards.
Here I have only considered batsmen who have played 20 or more Test innings, otherwise Andy Ganteaume and Vic Stollmeyer would top the list.
Anyone with minimum knowledge of West Indies cricket history would easily pick the odd man in the list: Charlie Davis from Trinidad.
In 15 Tests between 1968 and 1973, the right hander scored 1301 runs at an average of 54.20. Now, we all know over a short period a batsman’s average can be inflated by different factors. Before analysing Davis’ Test stats more critically, I would first like to look back at his career.
Although his first class debut was in 1960-61, he made his Test debut in the Boxing Day Test at the MCG in 1968. Windies cricket was starting a transition period at the time, and Davis was picked as a useful all-rounder in the team. He was also a right-arm medium pacer.
In his debut Test, he batted at number eight, scoring 18 and ten as the Windies suffered an innings defeat. In the only Aussie innings, he bowled 24 overs, taking 1-94. He dismissed Bill Lawry but not before the Australian captain had scored a double ton.
In England, during the northern summer of 1969, Davis was given the proper job of a top-order bat and he didn’t disappoint. At Lord’s, in only his third Test, he scored his maiden Test ton and hence got his name in the Lord’s honour board. Perhaps he got a bit too excited, because in the second innings he got his only duck in Test cricket.
In early 1971, Davis had a memorable series against the touring Indians, scoring 529 runs in four Tests with an average of 132.25. Unfortunately, his efforts were overshadowed by those of a young Sunil Gavaskar.
Davis scored hundreds in the third and fifth Test of the series, but his best effort came in front of his home fans at Port-of-Spain in the second Test for a losing cause. He scored 71* and 74* in the match, showing excellent technique against the Indian spinners, but couldn’t stop a historic seven-wicket win for the Indians.
In the first innings he came to the wicket at 3-62, and it immediately became 4-62 as Clive Lloyd was bowled by Abid Ali. Skipper Sobers contributed 29, but after his departure India was right on top. There was some help from the tail-enders for Davis, and the Windies ended with 214. India replied with 352.
WI needed a change of batting line-up in their second innings. With opener Steve Camacho injured, Rohan Kanhai opened the innings, while Davis came at number three. The change certainly worked. The West Indies finished the third day at 1-150 and was right back in the match.
But things started to go wrong for the home side even before a ball was bowled on the fourth morning. At the nets, Davis was hit over the eye and went to the hospital for stitches. When he returned to the crease, the West Indies had slumped from 1-150 to 5-169.
Roy Fredericks was run out without adding to his overnight score of 80, and Sobers was out for a duck. Davis did his best, taking his score from 33 to 74, but the Indian spinners were on top and there was no support for him. Later in the day, India completed a memorable victory.
The next season, he enjoyed another successful home series, this time against NZ. He amassed 466 runs in five Tests, and at Bridgetown he produced his Test best score of 183. He looked set for a double ton but was run out after batting for ten hours.
Surprisingly, Davis only featured in the last two Tests of the 1973 home series against Australia. He failed in both and was permanently dumped. He wasn’t even 30 at the time.
As a critical analysis, most critics consider averages over a short Test career with a bit of skepticism. One factor can heavily inflate the stats: in the case of Adam Voges, it is his extra-ordinary record against the Windies. In the case of Vinod Kambli it is the two double hundreds early in his Test career.
Davis’ average certainly got boosted by his five not-out innings out of 29. In the list of top averages, Voges (seven in 31) and Eddie Paynter (five from 31) has similar not out rate. Marnus Labuschagne in fact has none in 31 innings. Brian Lara only had only six in 232.
Still, while his average is a bit inflated, there is no doubt that he performed admirably given his limited opportunities. His record while batting in the top order (third, fourth or fifth position) is especially impressive. In 23 innings, his average is 63.74.
In terms of the selectors’ whims, after a disappointing end to the 1960s, there were signs that West Indies cricket was gradually coming back on the right track. There were fine emerging talents in the batting department like Lawrence Rowe, Alvin Kallicharan, Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge. Roy Fredericks and Lloyd were already regular members of the side. In this scenario, Davis became the victim.
The selectors’ plan was to build for the future. And eventually, this certainly brought excellent rewards. Still, Davis was hard done by, especially given his excellent Test records.
In conclusion, Charles Allan Davis is an easy name to remember, and a nice one for the commentators. As a writer you don’t have to check the spelling three times before submission. But he never seemed to the selectors’ favourite.
Maybe they considered him unlucky. The West Indies didn’t win a single Test with him playing. They lost five and drew ten of the 15 Tests that he played.
He did the best of the limited opportunity that he got. He got his chance when the team was on a transition period. As so often happens with such teams, the players’ role often change rapidly. Davis batted in six different positions in his short Test career.
There is an aura of un-fulfilment about his career. He played Tests under Sobers and Kanhai. It would have been nice if he had played under Lloyd as well as the West Indies started a new era in their cricket history.
Interestingly, even his Wikipedia page seems to be an incomplete one. That, for me, pretty much sums up the story of Charlie Davis.