Century-in-each-innings Hazare’s Centenary

Vijay Hazare in action.-PICS: THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Vijay Samuel Hazare was a stodgy bat, who had to drop anchor for India more often than not. He earned praise from the great Don Bradman himself, after scoring a century in each innings in Adelaide on India’s tour of Australia in 1947-48. HARESH PANDYA profiles the batting ace on the occasion of his 100th birth anniversary.

The contemporary six-pocket generation reared on a heavy diet of internet, cell phone and the IPL, may not think much of Vijay Samuel Hazare, who was feared as much for his rock-like defence as for his voracious appetite for runs in an era when India did not play many Tests. But so solid was his batting and so eventful his career that even Don Bradman described him as “great”.

Bradman led Australia when Hazare hit 116 and 145 against Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall in Adelaide in 1947-48, becoming the only other batsman after Denis Compton to score a century in each innings of a Test against the deadly duo.

“I was impressed by the soundness of Hazare and the correctness of his stroke production. I have no wish to be dogmatic on the point at this stage. I merely want to call attention to his skill and his right to be classed as a great player,” said Bradman, adding that lack of aggression was Hazare’s principal weakness.

Lean, of average height, lacking elegance and style, accused of batting slowly, even selfishly sometimes, irrespective of scoring a hundred before lunch three times in first-class cricket, Hazare was never a connoisseur’s delight. But so brittle was India’s batting in those days that he had to drop anchor more often than not.

Sound technique and temperament enabled him to face speedsters and spinners with ease and felicity. His cover-drive, hook and square-cut were attractive. His confidence, concentration, determination and hunger for runs would frighten his opponents. He was patience personified and remained unruffled by any amount of intimidation or sledging. And much like Jack Hobbs, Hazare could play as well on matting as on turf.

Sid Barnes (left) and Don Bradman resuming batting after lunch, on the opening day of the fourth Test between India and Australia, in Adelaide on January 23, 1948. Barnes made 112 while Bradman 201 in their 236 run partnership for Australia for the second wicket. Vijay Hazare bowled Bradman and then went on to score a century in each innings. Bradman was all praise for the Indian batsman.-

A Protestant, Vijay was born in Sangli, a small princely state in Maharashtra, on March 11, 1915. The son of a school teacher, he had two sisters and five brothers. Only Vijay and younger brother Vivek took to cricket. An average student, Vijay was more interested in outdoor sports like cricket and football than in books. He studied in Sangli and Kolhapur and didn’t go beyond matriculation. But he was destined to graduate in the willow game.

Initially a medium-pacer who could also bowl leg-spin, Vijay had a spell of coaching from Clarrie Grimmett thanks to his first employer, Maharaja Vikram Singh of Dewas, who brought in the legendary spinner from Australia to perfect his wrist-spin and improve his batting. Grimmett advised Hazare to concentrate on batting and forget about leg-spin. The coaching saw the metamorphosis of an already good batsman into a great one with the guru witnessing the protégé essay those two centuries against Miller and Lindwall.

Hazare made his Ranji Trophy debut in the year (1934-35) of its inception. He represented India, mainly as a bowler, in the unofficial ‘Test’ in Lahore against Lord Tennyson’s side in 1937, taking 6 for 54 and scoring 3 and 13. Though he played for Maharashtra against the MCC in Pune in 1933-34, and toured England with the Rajputana side in 1938, it was not until he scored 316 in a first-class game in 1939-40, adding 245 for the ninth wicket with V.D. Nagawallah, that he made his first big impact.

Four seasons later, playing for the Rest against the Hindus, he bowled 52 overs, scored 59 out of 133 in the first innings and, on his team following on, made 309 out of a total of 387, adding 300 for the sixth wicket with his brother Vivek (who made only 21), contributing 79.8% of his side’s score.

Although he didn’t have a memorable Test series in England in 1946, he finished the tour with 1,344 runs at 49.77 and 56 wickets at 24.75. “Never satisfied with his score, Hazare is incapable of throwing away his wicket. The century-mark, the double century-mark, are only milestones in an unvarying pace of scoring. Few critics will become lyrical about his style, but that will not worry him: he is concerned with scores and is developing into a most capable machine for making them,” wrote the peerless commentator-writer John Arlott.

The “machine” was in full swing when the team returned home. Hazare (288) and Gul Mohammad forged what was then a world-record 577-run fourth wicket partnership against Holkar in 1946-47. Hazare made 429 runs at 47.66 in five Tests and 1,056 at 48.00 in all first-class matches in Australia in 1947-48.

A spate of runs followed. He aggregated 534 run at 67.87 against the West Indies in 1948-49. His 134 in the second Test rescued India; his 122 in the fifth nearly won the match. In two series against a star-studded Commonwealth Team, he collected 1,311 runs. Appointed captain against England in 1951-52, he essayed dogged hundreds in Delhi and Mumbai, but the crowning glory came in Chennai, where India recorded her first ever Test win.

A file photo of Vijay Hazare (left) and Polly Umrigar. While Hazare was the captain of the Indian team that scored its first Test victory, beating England at Chepauk, Madras, in the 1951-52 series, Umrigar made a century in that match.-

In England in 1952, his consistent batting was the sole redeeming feature for India in a series dominated by Fred Trueman and Alec Bedser. Isolated performances by Vijay Manjrekar in Leeds and Vinoo Mankad at Lord’s didn’t substantially assist Hazare’s damage-control operations. Five out of nine times he was faced with these prospects as he saw wickets going down like ninepins: 3 for 42, 4 for 0, 5 for 17, 2 for 7, 5 for 6.

At The Oval, with India 5 for 6 and Trueman on a hat-trick, Hazare scored 38 in his team’s total of 98. “It’s the innings of my life,” he said. In 7 crucial innings, he scored 333 runs at 55.50. He ended the tour with 1,077 runs. He took 7 for 50 against Middlesex, including three wickets in four balls.

Stripped of captaincy, Hazare held his own against Pakistan in 1952-53, playing a masterly innings of 146 on a difficult wicket in Mumbai. He was reinstated as captain for India’s maiden tour of the West Indies in 1953. But neither his batting nor his captaincy inspired his team and he was discarded for good.

Hazare tended to be too defensive, his risk-eliminating batting tendency becoming so much a part of his mental make-up that it showed even in his leadership. “I wish Hazare had never captained India. He was always a disciplined soldier, never a commander. Captaincy affected his otherwise unflagging concentration and he was never the same batsman again. It was a tragedy of Indian cricket,” remarked Vijay Merchant. Hazare led in 14 Tests, won 1, lost 5, drew 8.

He played 30 Tests, scored 2,192 runs at 47.65 and hit 7 centuries. He opened India’s bowling 12 times in Tests, his curious round-arm action and assorted bag of tricks fetching him 20 wickets. Bradman, dismissed only four times in the 1947-48 series, was bowled by Hazare for 13 in Sydney and for 201 in Adelaide.

In all first-class cricket, Hazare made 18,740 runs at 58.38, including 60 centuries, took 595 wickets at 24.61, performed a hat-trick and held 165 catches. In the Lancashire League, he scored 1.075 runs at 71.66 and took 104 wickets at 9.82 for Rawtenstall in 1949; and 760 runs at 44.70 and 89 wickets at 10.02 for Rayton in 1950.

Hazare, who spent all his life under princely patronage, played for Maharashtra before and for Baroda after World War II. He was a tiger hunter and a captain in the army of Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad of Baroda. Married to Ramila in 1943, Hazare loved his privacy, shunned unnecessary publicity and was never involved in controversies. An honorary life-member of the MCC, he wrote three books — My Story, Cricket Replayed and A Long Innings.

He passed into the ages on December 18, 2004.