Kirmani: In the pantheon of Indian cricket greats

Wicket-keeping can make harsh demands on mind and body. No other cricketer has to concentrate on all deliveries of a day or innings. kirmani made wicket-keeping – a difficult, demanding and complex art – appear effortless.

Syed Kirmani was pouched 160 catches and stumped 38 batsmen in 88 Tests.   -  The Hindu Archives

In his playing days, Syed Kirmani glided on his skills. He moved with the lightness of a ballet dancer, gathered the ball with the ease, and whipped the bails off with lightning speed.

He made wicket-keeping – a difficult, demanding and complex art – appear effortless.

The Col. C. K. Nayudu Lifetime Achivement award could not have gone to a more deserving candidate.

Wicket-keeping can make harsh demands on mind and body. No other cricketer has to concentrate on all deliveries of a day or innings. The sheer workload of a ‘keeper can be physically gruelling, mentally exhausting.

Kirmani donned the big gloves during times when ‘keeping was a specialist job. He had to be; for no batsman masquerading as ‘keeper – a concept that has gained popularity over the last few years – could have stood up to Bhagwat Chandrasekar’s wickedly spinning and bouncing leg-spinners, top-spinners or wrong ‘uns.

There were occasions when Kirmani collected the ball close to his chest and still managed to bring it down to stump the batsman before anyone in the ground realised what was happening. It used to be fast work from a champion wicket-keeper.

An anecdote involving Sir Viv

Kirmani recalled a nugget to this writer once. The year was 1976, and Kensington Oval, Barbados, the venue. Chandrasekar was bowling to the marauding Vivian Richards.

Richards groped forward, the ball whistled past the West Indian's nose, and Kirmani, standing up, collected the sphere above his shoulder. Viv, chewing gum, told the ‘keeper, “Wow, that was as fast as Thommo man.” Kirmani smiled.

Yet, the point here was not just about Chandra's speed - his quicker ball was faster than most – alone. It also highlighted Kirmani’s attributes as a ‘keeper.

Qualities of a wicket-keeper

Queried about the qualities needed for someone to be a competent wicket-keeper, Kirimani said to Sportstar some time ago, “Natural athleticism, vision, reflexes, anticipation, concentration, flexibility, temperament, the ability to dive.” He stayed low, rose with the sphere, and could pick the course of the ball a split second ahead of most ‘keepers.”

When he ‘kept to the legendary spin trio of Bishan Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna and Chandrasekar in the 70s and 80s, Kirmani displayed all his glowing virtues. Fine nicks, hard on the scale of difficulty, would be snaffled with glee by the man from Karnataka.

When Kapil Dev surfaced on the scene in the late 70s, Kirmani showed he was an outstanding ‘keeper against seam and swing bowling too. Some of his gravity-defying catches on either side of the wickets will be hard to forget.

Kirmani’s successful World Cup campaign

Rather strangely, Kirmani had problems ‘keeping wickets to S. Venkatraghavan’s off-spin. It’s just one of those things that even this ‘keeper extraordinaire finds it hard to explain.

Kirmani’s numbers in Tests reflect his ability. He pouched 160 catches and stumped 38 batsmen in 88 matches. He was a valuable lower middle-order batsman too with a penchant for slash-drives. Kirmani notched up 2,759 Test runs at 27.04, often contributing during times of distress.

During India’s triumphant ODI World Cup campaign in 1983, he did not grass a single catch as the ball seamed, swung and bounced.

Kirmani has his place in the pantheon of Indian cricketing greats.