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From CK to VK. Indian Skippers in England- Part 4

Vijay Samuel Merchant
Vijay Samuel Hazare
Vijay Samuel Hazare had a curious cricketing career. He burst on the Indian Cricket horizon in the 1933-34 season as a promising allrounder from the nondescript cusbah of Jat in the Sangli district of the Bombay presidency (now Maharashtra). Yet despite of his birth in such a remote place, he was coached by none other than Clarrie Grimmet, one of the best legspinners the world has ever seen, and a key member of Bradman’s Australian team. The Maharajah of the Jat state had arranged for Grimmet to come and teach his offspring’s cricket, and since there were players needed to make a complete eleven a young Vijay Samuel Hazare was drafted in to the coaching programme. Hazare then made the most of this godsend opportunity, and how! Hazare had the most unorthodox stance and technique, but since he seemed to be batting well inspite of it, Grimmet advised him to stick to it.

He scored tonnes and tonnes of runs in the pentangulars and the Ranji Trophy and hit the first of his many purple patches. He scored 1,423 runs. He made scores of 248, 59, 309, 101, 223 and 87, reaching 1,000 runs in only four matches. As soon as the second world war was over, he was drafted in the 1946 touring party to England. He had won his place in the squad by the sheer weight of runs scored. In tests there, he scored a few 30s and 40s, but no big scores came.

It was the 1947-48 tour of Australia when Vijay Hazare actually arrived in International cricket. He became the first Indian batsman to score two hundreds in a test match. His maiden hundred (116) came in the first innings of the Adelaide test and he quickly followed it up with 145 in the second innings. He wasn’t very easy on the eye to watch, but was extremely difficult to dislodge once he got his eye in. After the twin hundreds at Adelaide, Hazare become the man for the crisis for the Indian cricket team. He bowled handy medium pace, good enough to get twenty international wickets.

And with this reputation behind him, Vijay Samuel Hazare set out on his voyage to England, as the leader of the Indian team. Barring the last- minute conferring of captaincy to CK Naidu in 1932, Hazare was the first Indian captain to be chosen on pure merit. He had just three months ago guided India to their first test match win after 20 years of being granted test match status: against the same opponents, albeit at home. And for his performance, he did not disappoint, but the team did not keep up the expectations of the fans. India had played nine lead-up matches going into the first Test. They had lost one game, won another and drew the rest. Most of their frontline batsmen were in form, especially Polly Umrigar; and GS Ramchand and Ghulam Ahmed were outstanding with the ball. Morale was reasonably high.

But, they had to face fire right from the first session of the first test. England had included a 21-year-old Yorkshire rookie in their team and captain Hutton wasted no time in unleashing him on the Indians. Fiery Fred Truman reduced India to 52 for 3 in no time, sending back Datta Gaekwad, Bespectacled Pankaj Roy and Polly Umrigar back to pavilion in quick succession. The onus of constructing the innings fell on the lean shoulders of Vijay Hazare. He found an able allay in namesake Vijay Manjrekar, and both the Vijays added 222 runs for the fourth wicket. The rest of the batsmen did nothing better than merely recording their attendance at the crease, and India was all out for 293. England too started shakily and lost Hutton, Richardson and May by the time they had reached 62. But then Graveny, Evans, Watkins and Jenkins batted responsibly to give England a first innings lead of 40 runs.

Again Fred Truman wreaked havoc, reducing India to the infamous score of four wickets down without a single run scored.At 26, Umrigar got out. Again, Captain courageous came to rescue and with Dattu Phadkar, steered India to a somewhat respectable total of 165. Hazare made 56 and Phadkar made 64. England got the required 126 runs to win the match losing 3 wickets, and the tradition of India losing their first test of the series was kept intact.
India lost the second test at Lords too, but this time they put up a very good fight, courtesy Vinoo Mankad. A man for all situations, Mankad was made to open the innings and he responded by scoring a polished 72 at the top. Hazare made 69 and India were all out for 235. England made 537, riding on centuries from Hutton and Godfrey Evans, supported by half centuries by May, Graveny and Simpson. In a mammoth bowling effort, Mankad took 5 for 196 in 73 overs. India was 302 runs behind and staring at an innings defeat. But not for nothing is this test called “Mankad’s test”. Mankad again opened the innings and scored 184. Hazare made 49 and Gulabrai Ramchand 42 to take India to 378. England needed a small matter of 76 runs to win, which they got easily to take an unbeatable lead of 2-0 in the series.

The next test at Manchester was nothing to write home about for the Indians. England made 347 for 8 and declared their first innings closed. Hutton made 104, Evans and May made half centuries. India were bowled out for 58 and 82 in their two innings. Indians just couldn’t handle the pace of Truman and the swing of Bedser. Their both innings put together were finished under 58 overs. India was completely outplayed. Hazare scored a pair of 16s.
The last test at Oval looked destined for a similar fate as Manchester, but for the rain gods saving the visitors. England made 326 for 6 and India were all down for 98. Hazare top scored with 38.

Hazare didn’t play long after this series. He retired after a couple of years and became a very good cricket administrator. He had risen to great heights from the ground level and he had sympathy for cricketers coming from small towns. It was he who had drafted a young 21-year-old parsee from the then small town of Godhra in the Indian team, and that man grew to be the best captain of India till his time. This boy was called Nariman Contractor. Hazare then retired into seclusion in his Baroda home. His brother, son, nephews and grandson played first class cricket too.

Hazare left the crease of life scoring 89 years, and towards the end fought a valiant battle with a very hostile and wily bowler called Cancer of the intestine who eventually claimed his wicket.

Special thanks to Sanjeev Sathe, who is an avid cricket fan and a dear friend of ours for contributing this wonderful article