Milkha Singh didn't construct runs; he conjured them

An elegant left-handed batsman with the gift of timing, A. G. Milkha Singh figured in four Tests for India. Although his success at the international stage was limited with a highest score of 35, many believed Milkha would have blossomed in Test cricket had he been given a longer run.

A. G. Milkha Singh during the match between Combined Universities and Madras Cricket Club at Poona in October 1961.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

A fearless batsman, A. G. Milkha Singh’s batting, according to those who witnessed him at his peak, had the grace and flow of a natural. And there was a heart and feel to his cricket; he conjured runs rather than construct them.  

Sadly, Milkha, one of Tamil Nadu’s most charismatic cricketers, passed away following a cardiac arrest here on Friday morning. He was 75.

An elegant left-handed batsman with the gift of timing, Milkha figured in four Tests for India. Although his success at the international stage was limited with a highest score of 35, many believed Milkha would have blossomed in Test cricket had he been given a longer run.

Having made his Ranji debut at just 17, the precociously talented Milkha wore the India cap the next year. He matured with experience but did not receive another opportunity after the Tests between 1960 and ’61.

Milkha belonged to an illustrious cricketing family that embraced the city’s cricketing ethos and culture after emigrating here from Amristar in 1904.

His elder brother Kripal Singh, a technically accomplished batsman, notched up a century on Test debut while younger sibling, the fleet-footed Satwender Singh, was a fine stroke-maker for Tamil Nadu (then Madras).  

And their father A. G. Ram Singh was an outstanding left-arm spinning all-rounder for the State.

Although Milkha’s grandfather Jwala Singh set up an electrical wiring business here, the family went on to make cricketing history. Milkha, Kripal and Satwender played together in the Ranji Trophy. And Kripal’s son Arjan, too, turned out for Tamil Nadu and South Zone.

Milkha’s numbers in first class cricket – 4324 runs in 88 matches at 35.44 – are rather impressive but don’t tell the entire story.

“He had a rough exterior but would shed tears if he witnessed something that moved him. He was generous, helped the needy youngsters,” said Satwender Singh of his brother Milkha [in pic (taken at his residence in Chennai in 2013)].   -  K. PICHUMANI

 

This flamboyant batsman batted on days of spicy wickets and top-notch bowlers in domestic cricket. Milkha made runs when it mattered for his State and Zone.

He also found joy in his cricket. Milkha said to this writer once about his batting in the Sport and Pastime Trophy at the Marina ground. “I used to love hitting sixes that cleared the ground and landed on the road!”

Satwender said to Sportstar, “I was very close to Milkha as he was my immediate brother. He cared for me, would coach me. He was such a lovely batsman to watch with those cover drives. I remember him playing Prasanna and Chandrasekhar on turning tracks with such ease.”

Former India leg-spinner V. V. Kumar said, “He had this languid left-handed elegance, could play on the toughest of pitches, and batted according to the merit of the ball. He was the most stylish left-hander of his time.”

Milkha was a kind-hearted man too. Satwender said, “He had a rough exterior but would shed tears if he witnessed something that moved him. He was generous, helped the needy youngsters.”

Acknowledging his contribution, the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association condoled Milkha’s death.

Indeed, Milkha was one of a kind – a dashing, irrepressible batsman who travelled beyond numbers.

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