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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Farewell to an unsung hero

This morning, with great sorrow, I read the news of Eknath Solkar's death. He was only 57.

I thought I would write a post about him as a show of respect for the man.

Many of you here may not even have heard of him. The easiest thing to do is to check his statistics and to conclude that he was just average. After all, a batting average of 25 in 27 Tests and taking just 18 wickets in these games could hardly be considered as anything but average.

I had the good fortune to follow the game during his playing days and will try to give my perspective on Solkar from my memories of those days.

His batting was certainly not exceptional - I would be lying if I said it was. But he did pull India out of trouble on more than one occasion and I know that I was always glad in the knowledge that he was still to come in to bat.

I remember his only Test hundred. It was the last Test of the 1974-75 series against the West Indies. The series was tied at 2-2 and the Windies had rattled up a huge score of 604-6 declared in their first innings. Engineer went without a run on the board, bringing local heroes Solkar and Gavaskar (himself returning from injury) together. They played like champions, battling it out against Andy Roberts, Bernard Julien, Vanburn Holder and the wiles of Lance Gibbs. Much against the run of play and just before the end of the day, Gavaskar was bowled for 86 by a beauty from Gibbs. Solkar closed the day on 76 and I remember all of us, young boys then, hoping against hope, that he would get his hundred.

The next day, he duly obliged us and we were very happy for him. Solkar was a very popular man and we felt nobody deserved a hundred as much as he did.

My other memory of his batting is when India were all out for 42 at Lord's in 1974. I was listening to the commentary of that innings with a sinking feeling. Wickets were falling like dry leaves in autumn. Seeing that he was running out of partners, Solkar began hitting out. He was left last man standing - 18 not out - but if he had also thrown in the towel, India would have been even worse off, maybe looking at the lowest score ever in Test cricket.

His bowling was also not very remarkable - but we must remember that we are talking of a time when most of the bowling for India was done by the spin quartet of Bedi, Chandra, Pras and Venkat. In those days, Solkar and Abid Ali used to open the bowling mainly to get the shine off the ball.

Inspite of this, Solkar took 18 wickets - and among his wickets, we can count players like Ian Redpath, Gary Sobers, Charlie Davis, Roy Fredericks, Rohan Kanhai, Brian Luckhurst, Alan Knott, Geoff Boycott, Deryck Murray and Clive Lloyd. Many of these wickets were either bowled or lbw.

From a quality point of view, not a bad haul, I would say !

He is of course best remembered for his fielding. 53 catches in 27 Tests is already a very impressive statistic - it does not however tell you the courage of the man and the quality of those catches.

He used to stand at forward short-leg, just an arm's length from the batsman. The ball would be played down by the batsman to stub the spin - and Solkar would scoop it up in one hand. He created many such catches - he would pluck them out of thin air leaving everybody, especially the batsman, in disbelief.

Unfortunately, there was not very good TV coverage in those days, if at all. I do remember however seeing one catch of his on TV. The batsman went for an expansive shot, Solkar turned away taking precautionary action, the batsman did not connect properly and the ball was falling short in front of his feet. Solkar, watching this from the corner of his eye, turned around in a flash and grabbed the ball almost from the batsman's feet. I do not remember the details but that was a catch that I can never forget in my life.

Indeed Eknath Solkar leaves behind a fielding legacy that Indian cricket would do well to try to emulate.

With this post, I would like to convey my humble gratitude to a cricketer who gave me many fond memories of cricket in my childhood. From what I recollect, he was a very modest man and a total team player too.

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