Any other 12 could be just as good!

How do you pick 12 of the best Ranji cricketers in India who have not played Test cricket? The author attempts this dicey task.

Saad Bin Jung, Tiger Pataudi’s nephew, once scored a century for South Zone against the Malcolm Marshall-led West Indian attack.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

It is far easier to choose an all-time Indian Test XI than to pick a team that hasn’t played Test cricket. For one, you cannot go by figures alone. The lower the grade of cricket, the more skewed statistics are likely to be. And for another, you have to rely on other sources. There can be no certainties in such an exercise, since an equally strong 12 can be picked from those not in this squad.

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Ten of the players in my 12 are players I have seen in action over a period of nearly half a century that I have been watching first class cricket in India. The two exceptions are B. B. Nimbalkar, maker of the highest score by an Indian, 443 not out. But this was not a one-off. He finished with a Ranji average of 56.72 and 11 centuries. Nimbalkar might have made the tour of Pakistan in 1954-55, but he twisted his ankle in a pre-tour game and missed out.

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The other exception is A. G. Ram Singh, an all-rounder who bowled in two styles and but for the presence of Vinoo Mankad would have been an India regular. In fact, “but for the presence of, ” could be the theme here. Rajinder Goel might have played but for the presence of Bishan Bedi, as might Ramnarayan (Prasanna, Venkataraghavan), Muzumdar (the Fabulous Five), Belliappa (Farokh Engineer) and so on.

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The rules are simple; in fact there is only one: No player who is currently playing is in this team. A cricketer is the most optimistic of individuals, convinced that a call-up for national service is just around the corner. In fact, it was only after I turned 40 that I was finally convinced I wouldn’t ever play for India myself (and could therefore afford to let my figure slip a bit).

Kailash Gattani or P. K. Belliappa (below) could have led the All-Time side.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Our openers are both all-rounders (in the pre-Gavaskar days when Indian openers were expected to do more than one job). P. K. Belliappa is also the wicketkeeper. A stylish batsman, he had a century against Mike Smith’s England team in 1963-64. V. S. Vijaykumar also opened Karnataka’s bowling, and once made identical scores of 94 in a match against Rajasthan.

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The least experienced player but perhaps the most likely to have played for India is at number three. Saad bin Jung played just 22 first class matches and finished with just under a 1000 runs. Not terribly impressive except that as a teenager he stunned everybody by scoring a century for South Zone against Malcolm Marshall and the West Indies team of the 1970s. He later made another century, this time on a Chepauk turner against Venkataraghavan and Vasudevan; there were only two other 50s in the whole match. Saad brings to our side some of the glamour and flair of the Hyderabad teams of the 70s where his uncle Tiger Pataudi, M. L. Jaisimha and Abbas Ali Baig were the leading lights.

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Sudhakar Rao made the twin tours to New Zealand and West Indies in 1975-76 but returned without playing a Test. For Karnataka he was a stylish batsman, often driving and cutting in the manner of teammate Gundappa Vishwanath, and played a key role in the early Ranji triumphs.

Sometimes you are just plain unlucky, as Amol Muzumdar was. He began with a 260 in his first match, and finished with over 10,000 first class runs. But the man who was coached by Ramakant Achrekar, Sachin Tendulkar’s coach and played in the same school team as Sachin, was up against India’s greatest middle order in the golden era.

The all-rounders at the top allow the team to bat till number six, before Ram Singh (3314 runs, six centuries, 265 wickets) provides greater cushioning and inspires greater expectations at number seven.

It is possible that the team might have had two brothers — off-spinner Ramnarayan and opening batsman, the left-handed Sivaramakrishnan. Ramnarayan, who played in the glory days of Hyderabad makes the cut as an intelligent spinner who had the mortification of watching lesser purveyors of the craft play for India after he himself had been kept out only by the world’s best.

Still, he wasn’t the most unfortunate spinner of his time. That has to be Rajinder Goel, whose 637 Ranji wickets remains a record. Goel might have played the Bangalore Test against the West Indies in 74-75 since Bedi had been dropped.

On a turner, he might have made the difference too.

His role, however, was reduced to running on to the field to tell the team that Sunil Gavaskar would lead after Tiger Pataudi had to retire following an injury while taking a catch.

The opening bowlers here operated during a period when spinners ruled and India had little time for the fast men. You had to be an all-rounder of sorts — like Abid Ali and Eknath Solkar were — to get a look in. Tiger Pataudi added to the problem by stating that he would pick the best bowlers rather than have nominal medium pacers just for the sake of having them. Thus he himself, Ajit Wadekar, Gavaskar, and even wicketkeeper Budhi Kunderan opened the bowling for India, their job merely to take some shine off the ball.

In another time and under another captain, both Kailash Gattani and Pandurang Salgaonkar might have played. The latter was the quickest of the lot in his time, went to Sri Lanka for an unofficial series, and is remembered as the man who broke Gavaskar’s thumb in a Ranji match causing him to miss out on captaincy for a while longer.

The choice for 12th man was between Amarjit Kaypee, Haryana’s batting hero (and maker of nearly 8000 runs in the tournament), and Hari Gidwani, a fine player who once scored five successive centuries in the Ranji Trophy. Either would fit into the middle order too.

Who would captain the side? India’s non-Test basket does not overflow with great all-rounders or captains. In this team the choice would be between Gattani, who led Rajasthan and Belliappa, captain of Tamil Nadu. Perhaps A. G. Ram Singh might come into the reckoning too.

The 12

P. K. Belliappa, V. S. Vijaykumar, Saad bin Jung, Sudhakar Rao, Amol Muzumdar, B. B. Nimbalkar, A. G. Ram Singh, Kailash Gattani, V. Ramnarayan, Pandurang Salgaonkar, Rajinder Goel and Hari Gidwani.

 

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