Rajinder Goel: A spin wizard with a big heart

Goel saab, as he was fondly referred to, bowled 39,781 balls and finished with a fabulous haul of 750 wickets in first-class cricket.

Rajinder Goel in action during the Ranji Trophy semifinal between Haryana and Bombay at Wankhede Stadium on March 17, 1984.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

He did not play for India but was as good as any who did. Rajinder Goel, who passed away on Sunday at 77 at his home in Rohtak, was a giant in Indian cricket with his stifling style of spin. “He was a gem who deserved much greater accolades,” said former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi.

Goel saab, as he was fondly referred to, bowled 39,781 balls and finished with a fabulous haul of 750 wickets in first-class cricket. Not playing for India was never a “regret” for him. “There were bowlers better than me,” he would smile. “What humility,” remembered Kapil Dev.

According to his son Nitin, a first-class batsman, Goel was “ailing for some time. He was in pain and seemed to have recovered. I was at his bedside today when he stopped breathing. He passed away peacefully in sleep around 7 p.m.”

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There was no bitterness in his voice whenever Goel, a classy left-arm spinner, discussed his career. “I was lucky to have played the amount of cricket I did. For me, the greatest joy was to play a match. It did not matter what level the match was. If I did not bowl (in nets or a match) I could not sleep,” he would say.

Beginning his career in 1958, Goel signed off in 1985. “He started his career before me and finished well after me,” remarked Bedi. “I am shell shocked. He was one of the most selfless students of the game and a great contributor to cricket in Delhi, Haryana, North Zone. No team he played for would forget his loyalty, dedication and discipline.”

Haryana bowler Rajinder Goel seen in action during the Ranji Trophy Cricket match between Bombay and Haryana in Bombay on March 19.   -  THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY


What distinguished Goel from the rest was his confidence. “He and BS (Chandrasekhar) were the only two bowlers who never bothered what field the captain set for them. Goel saab never asked for a field and I was always astounded by his eagerness to bowl. `I just want to bowl’ was all he would say and he could bowl without a break the entire day.”

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Bedi emphasised Goel’s character to give his best to the team. “I used to envy his passion to bowl. He took pride in his performance and I don’t think he was ever dissatisfied with his work. He gave his best in all conditions. I am sure he must have died a contented man. He did not gain the India cap but he never blamed anyone.”

Simple man

For Kapil, the best memory of Goel was a man young at heart. “He loved the company of juniors and encouraged them all the time. I was fortunate to have made my debut when he was winning matches on his own. You could rely on him. I have seen his finger bleed from bowling but he would not back away. He would never complain. Never say no to the captain. He was a rhythm bowler and on a slightly helpful pitch, was just unplayable. Had he been playing in these times, Goel saab would have fetched a very high price in the Indian Premier League. I will remember him as a great cricketer and a very simple man at heart,” said Kapil. 

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Goel’s long-term bowling partner Sarkar Talwar was at a loss of words. “What can I say. I spoke to him a few days ago and he sounded fine. I have lost an elder brother. He was a fantastic teacher and set examples on the field. Old ball, new ball, he was the bowler any captain would go to. He would protect us against the top batsmen by taking over the responsibility. He bore the burden of bowling especially when the conditions were unhelpful. I am indebted to him for shaping my career. Goel saab will be remembered as a great human being because of his nature to help the youngsters.”

As Bedi remembered, “Goel saab was a very difficult bowler to put away. He was a lovely side-arm bowler who commanded respect from the first ball. His accuracy was incredible and he bowled with a very powerful shoulder. He had a very deceptive arm-ball. He was not a big spinner with the ball but never allowed the batsman to relax. He bowled a lot flatter but bowled dangerously on all pitches. I have lost a dear friend.”

Rajinder Goel bowls on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy match between Delhi and Haryana on December 27, 1979.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES


Goel’s career clashed with the careers of the great Indian quartet. He and Padmakar Shilvalkar were, according to Sunil Gavaskar, two of the country's finest bowlers never to have represented India. Goel was one of Gavaskar’s idols of Indian cricket and the soft-spoken Haryana bowler was ever grateful for that recognition. “Praise from Sunil is no less than India cap for me,” Goel, who had the most number of five-wicket hauls (53) and 10-wicket match hauls (17) in Ranji Trophy, had told this reporter once.

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Batting great G. R. Viswanath, who played lot of domestic cricket with Goel, rated him as a “great” spinner. “What if he did not play for India? He was a champion bowler and to me, he was as good as any spinner I have faced and watched. I always marveled at his endurance from one end as he bowled on and on. He was one rare cricketer who never bothered about the state of the pitch. He was sure of his skills and loved to bowl against the best of batsmen. I am very saddened to hear of his passing away. I last met him at the CK Nayudu award function (in 2017) and he richly deserved that honour. He was in the playing XI in the Bangalore Test against West Indies (in 1974-75) but it will remain a mystery how he got left out. Believe me, he showed no trace of disappointment and continued to bowl in the nets. He was a true servant of the game,” Viswanath told Sportstar.

Gentleman cricketer

An incident from a function in Delhi is worth recalling here. At a gathering organised by Delhi opener Venkat Sundaram to get all the former cricketers together, Goel was sitting next to this reporter in the last row. When Tiger Pataudi took the mike to address the gathering, everyone in the front row stood up to get a view of the former India captain. Goel also rose even though one could hear Pataudi’s voice loud and clear. When I pointed out to Goel saab that he was hardly visible to Pataudi and could take his seat and listen to his speech: “No, no. That would be a sin. How can I sit when my kaptaan (captain) is standing,” his reply floored some of us.


In 2017, the Board of Control for Cricket in India honoured Rajinder Goel (R) with the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award.   -  K MURALI KUMAR


Residents of Rohtak remember Goel as the gentleman who would move around on his scooter even at an advanced age. “I am happy with my two-wheeler,” he told Bedi, who reminded him of the car parked at his house. “He was a God sent man. A true sportsman. May his soul Rest in Peace.”

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