The West Indies cricketer Joe Solomon, who has died aged 93, was the man whose run-out of Australia’s Ian Meckiff brought about the first ever tied Test match – in Brisbane in 1960.
Solomon’s contribution to one of the most celebrated cricket matches in history was especially impressive given the nerve-jangling circumstances of its finale. With the scores level and one wicket remaining, Australia needed just one run from the last two balls for victory. When Lindsay Kline pushed into the infield off the penultimate delivery from Wes Hall he looked to have done enough for the win. But Solomon hared in, picked up the ball perfectly and, with just one stump to aim at, knocked down the wicket with a direct throw before Kline’s batting partner, Meckiff, could get over the line.
Wild scenes of celebration followed, including among some Australia fans who, though stung by the result, appreciated the thrill of witnessing such a rare event. It was the first tied match in 84 years of Test history, and there has only been one more since – India v Australia in 1986 at Madras (now Chennai).
As Solomon’s team-mate Garfield Sobers said after the match, Australia might have had a chance of getting that final run had anyone but the brilliant Solomon fielded the ball. “They picked the wrong man – there was no one better than Joe,” he said. Before his telling last-gasp intervention, Solomon had also run out Alan Davidson earlier in Australia’s second innings, again with a direct hit with one stump to aim at – described by Sobers as “a match-saving piece of fielding brilliance”.
Solomon’s batting talents, which earned him selection in 27 Tests for West Indies from 1958 to 1965, rarely touched the levels of his fielding excellence, but he was nonetheless very useful in the middle order for his side. Though naturally free-flowing in regional cricket, at Test level he adopted a more dependable, obdurate outlook as a counterpoint to the aggressive nature of stellar performers such as Sobers and Rohan Kanhai. Patient at the crease, he provided a steadying influence when the going got tough – something he showed to great effect in both innings of the tied Test, in which he made 65 and then 47 to hold things together for his team.
Born in Port Mourant in the Berbice region of British Guiana (now Guyana), Solomon was the third of five children of John, a butler to the general manager of the local sugar estate, and Marian. Both his parents were Catholics of Tamil origin, whose forebears had travelled to Guyana as indentured labourers to work on the sugar plantations.
Solomon was one of many Guyanese cricketers, including Kanhai and Basil Butcher, to benefit from an enlightened move by the local Sugar Producers Association (SPA) to appoint the West Indies Test player Clyde Walcott as a cricket organiser for the country’s sugar estates. While attending the local Corentyne high school, Solomon had developed his throwing accuracy through knocking down mangoes from trees, aiming flat stones at the stalks of the fruit to bring them to the ground without damage. After honing other skills under Walcott, he played first for Port Mourant and then for the East Indian cricket club (later renamed Everest) in the capital, Georgetown.
Representative matches for Berbice followed, and he made his first-class debut for British Guiana against Jamaica in 1956, compiling 114 not out in that match, followed by 108 against Barbados in the same season and 121 in his next match after that, versus the Pakistan touring team in 1958 – earning for himself the extraordinary, and exclusive, feat of scoring a hundred in his first three first-class innings. Selected for the 1958-59 West Indies tour to India and Pakistan, he proved his worth with a number of important innings in the middle order, not least with scores of 45 and 86 on debut in the second Test against India at Kanpur and a faultless 100 not out in the fifth match at Delhi.
Finishing top of the averages on that leg of the tour, he also fared well in Pakistan, but had less joy the following year in two Tests at home against England, in one of which he was asked to open the batting. Returned to the middle order for the 1960-61 series in Australia, he became one of the most popular of the visiting players – so much so that the Australian captain Richie Benaud was booed by his own fans at Melbourne when Solomon’s cap fell on to his stumps, prompting a successful Benaud appeal for hit wicket.
Solomon was an excellent team man and was particularly valued as a friend and confidant by his captain, Frank Worrell, whose spirited leadership helped to make that Australia series such a spectacle that the West Indies players were cheered through the streets of Melbourne at a ticker-tape parade to mark its conclusion.
Solomon played four Tests out of five at home against India in 1961-62 and appeared in all five on the tour to England in 1963 before his final series, at home against Australia in 1965. Having been more or less an ever-present since his debut, he signed off at the age of 34, but continued to play for Guyana until 1969. In his Test career he scored 1,326 runs at an average of 34, and in first-class cricket he averaged 41.54. As an occasional leg spinner he also took 51 wickets, four of them in Tests.
In parallel to his cricketing career Solomon had worked for a number of years in the accounts office of a sugar estate, often taking leave on half-pay when called on tour. In 1961 he was appointed by the SPA to be a cricket adviser, to help Walcott continue his coaching and organising of young talent on Guyana’s sugar plantations.
After retiring as a player he continued in that line of work while also holding various posts with the Guyana Cricket Board, including as president, honorary secretary and chair of selection. In addition he was Guyana’s representative on the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, for which he acted as a selector.
In 1978 he was appointed manager of the West Indies tour to India, just as the team had been denuded of most of its best players by defections to Kerry Packer’s breakaway tournament. Thanks partly to Solomon’s man-management skills, learned at the elbows of Worrell and Walcott, a young and largely untested squad came away with a creditable 1-0 series defeat.
In the mid-1980s Solomon moved to New York, although he continued to visit his homeland on a regular basis. His wife, Betty (nee Dharry), whom he married in 1959, predeceased him