Exemplary cricketers they were

Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar are the recipients of the C. K. Nayudu Award for Lifetime Achievement in cricket. Shantha Rangaswamy, Ramakant Desai and V. V. Kumar also received special awards. They were all absolutely wonderful cricketers.

Bombay’s Padmakar Shivalkar in action. Photo: Hindu Photo Archives   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Steve O’Keefe, who sensationally bowled India out in the first Test of the on-going series, must have been surprised by the ease with which he got his wickets. To say that the Aussie spun India out may be a bit of an exaggeration, for he got his wickets by being accurate, as the Indian batsmen played for the turn and were trapped in front of the stumps to the straight ones and had to walk back to the pavilion shaking their heads.

What O’Keefe did was the toughest thing to do for a spinner on a pitch where the ball was gripping and spitting — that is, to bowl straight. Ravichandran Ashwin got it right at the start of the Australian second innings, when he dismissed both left-handed openers with deliveries that went straight through. But he was bowling with the new ball and that doesn’t always break even on a pitch where there is plenty of turn.

Before the Pune Test, O’Keefe was not rated very high by many Australians, who thought that Ashton Agar should be picked ahead of him in the playing XI. Be that as it may, O’Keefe showed that in cricket you can never under-rate anybody. He grew in confidence with every wicket, and especially in the second innings, O’Keefe preyed on the Indian batsmen’s uncertainty and tentativeness to snare another six wickets to set up a record for bowling in the India versus Australia Test series.

There were many Indians who were a bit nostalgic and suggested that if Rajinder Goel, Padmakar Shivalkar and Dilip Doshi were bowling on that surface the Australians would have struggled to get to 150 runs in both the innings. There was also Ravi Shastri, who before he started focussing on his role as an opening batsman, was a terrific left-arm spinner. He too would have troubled the batsmen no end with the bounce he would have got on the Pune surface with his high-arm action.

Rajinder Goel in action during a Ranji Trophy match between Bombay and Haryana.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Mr. Bishan Singh Bedi’s name was deliberately not mentioned because he was an absolute master at bowling on good batting surfaces, where he deceived the batsmen in the air and off the pitch with his flight, variety and balls that skidded off the pitch. On pitches where the ball turned, his flight did give the batsmen some time to get down the pitch and score some runs. This, the other spinners mentioned above would have hardly allowed, as they bowled a flatter trajectory and were deadly accurate. So the batsmen could rarely take chances by stepping down the pitch to them.

Hardly had this nostalgic discussion ended when the news came in that Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar had been named for the C. K. Nayudu Award for Lifetime Achievement in Indian Cricket. There were also special awards for Shantha Rangaswamy, the first captain of the Indian women’s cricket team and in whose footsteps so many brilliant woman players have followed. There was recognition too for Ramakant Desai and V. V. Kumar. That made the eyes moist, for all the award winners have been absolutely wonderful cricketers and even better human beings loved by all. The one thing that you remember of these award-winning bowlers is their wonderful action that didn’t seem to put any strain on their bodies, and they could wheel away over after over even in hot and humid conditions. Bowling 30-plus overs in a day was standard for these bowlers, and at the end of the day’s play they still looked good for a dozen or more overs.

The Indian team’s first serious training camp was held in Chennai just before the tour of Australia in 1977-78. Until then, each player trained in his own way and had his own methods of getting ready for a long overseas tour. At the training camp in Chennai, we had a trainer from the NIS and he started off by making the whole lot of players, about 30, run several laps of the ground. He then made the players do some stretching exercises, followed by some short sprints and so on. Apart from players from the North Zone, who regularly ran long distances, nobody else had experienced such a strenuous training day. For most of us it was more like athletes training for the Olympics than for cricket. Goel saab and Paddy Shivalkar were among those who suffered the next morning, as their bodies stiffened up and they struggled to walk straight.

When they barely made it to the next morning’s session there were a few giggles. It took Gundappa Viswanath, no great fan of endless running himself, to put things in perspective by saying that give them the ball and they will bowl 30-plus overs in a day, and that is more important than running a dozen laps of the ground in the hot Chennai sun.

Goel and Shivalkar may not have played for India, but make no mistake, their contribution to Indian cricket is second to none.

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