A Selection Of Eleven Unsung Cricketers

Cross-posted on DesiCritics

Kiran More and the other Indian selectors have made it very clear that they are looking at blooding youth and just youth at every possible opportunity. This sure doesn't augur well for the future of all those domestic cricketers who are 30+ and still doing quite well. Last year, the Australian selectors handed out baggie greens to two very talented 30+ cricketers (Brad Hodge and Mike Hussey) who had kept scoring tons of runs in domestic cricket for over a decade. But I don’t think that is something which the Indian selectors would dare to do. Cricketers in India start very young these days, almost as young as female tennis stars. The average age of the Indian debutant is getting lower by the day. If he doesn't get a look in by the powers that be before he reaches his late 20s, he is as good as forgotten. Knowing this, it is always heartening to see all those aging cricketers who turn up every season with the same enthusiasm as they did for their first season. It does take some really special motivation for them to keep trekking on and putting on one exceptional performance after another.

I've tried to pick a team from this pool of unsung heroes. Some of them have never played international cricket while others have had a small taste of it. They are all in their 30s and their chances of getting a call or a recall are as good as Ganguly and Chappell becoming best buddies again. The team of eleven includes one specialist opener, three middle order batsmen (with 24000+ runs between them), two medium pace bowling all-rounders who can open with both bat and ball, one wicket-keeper who can also open the innings, one leg-spinner, one off-spinner, one left-arm spinner and one fast bowler.

Connor Williams: His only international appearance came against South Africa in the controversial Centurion Test in 2001-02. Unfortunately for him, it ended up being named an "unofficial" test. He was picked for the home series against England that followed, but India's predilection towards makeshift openers (Deep Dasgupta was made to open) denied him a spot in the playing XI. After that, he was never really in contention. Having finished this Ranji season with 555 runs at an average of 55.5, Connor Williams would like to believe that he could repeat the same form for a few more seasons for Baroda.

Sanjay Bangar: In the limited time that he was associated with the Indian team, he did little wrong. His stint at the top level included a sparking test century in only his second game coming in at No.7, three sedate half-centuries as an anchoring opener, a match-winning 57 off 41 balls in the dying stages of a 320+ run chase against the West Indies and some testing spells of seam bowling in helpful conditions. Picked for the '03 world cup in South Africa, he did not get to play a single game. In the year following the world cup he got to play only 4 ODI games before being dumped for good. The snub by the national selectors proved beneficial for Railways, as Bangar led his team to a Ranji championship victory in the 2004-05 season.

Amol Muzumdar: He still holds the world record for the highest individual score on debut (260) at the first class level. Mumbai cricket's Mr. Dependable has so far amassed 8000+ first class runs and is still going strong. He ended up being this season's leading run-scorer in the Ranji Elite Group with 672 runs at an average of 67.20. Schooled at Sharadashram and coached by Ramakant Achrekar, Amol was expected to become the next Tendulkar. After being on the fringes for almost a decade, he now finds himself completely sidelined. For someone who showed so much potential as a youngster, it is a pity that he might have to end his career without ever getting to represent his country.

Jacob Martin: Another prolific run-getter in the domestic circuit with 8000+ runs. He was picked for three overseas (Canada, Australia and South Africa) ODI tours at the turn of the century. He got to bat on 8 occasions, made three 30+ scores and also ran himself out three times at crucial junctures. His last game for India resulted in a loss against Kenya, putting a forgetful end to an international career that never really got launched properly. He continues to be amongst runs at the domestic level and ended this Ranji season with 571 runs at a healthy average of 63.44.

Sridharan Sharath: Ardent followers of Tamil Nadu cricket still find it hard to fathom the fact that Sharath hasn't been able to break it into the national team. He has served Tamil Nadu well over a long period of time and for someone who has batted at No.5/No.6 for a majority of his career, he has a very impressive record – 8080 runs at an average of 52.81. Elegant with drives and murderous with cuts and pulls, he has single-handedly scripted many memorable wins for Tamil Nadu. He was involved in a serious career-threatening motor accident in 1994, at a time when his career was starting to blossom. He had to under-go a major surgery and the recuperation process took a while, but the way he fought back into reckoning and became a reliable force in the domestic circuit is an inspiring tale in itself.

MSK Prasad: 30 years of age is like 45 in "Indian stumper" years. When the Indian team started to distance itself from Nayan Mongia in 1999, a golden opportunity presented itself, but Prasad failed to make the most of his chances. After the disastrous 1999-2000 Australian test series in which none of the Indian batsmen could get going, the axe had to fall on someone. Prasad had been one of the many failed openers tried in the series and though he had a fairly good series behind the stumps, it came as no surprise when he was dropped for the ODI series that followed. His only notable performance at the international level came in the '99 LG cup final against South Africa at Nairobi, when he made a fighting 63 in a losing cause. He still opens the batting for Andhra and he still manages to put on impressive scores on the board. But to compete with the younger brigade (the likes of Dhoni, Kaarthick, Parthiv, Ratra and Pinal Shah) for a spot in the national squad, he might have to go invent a time machine.

Sairaj Bahutule: From being at the receiving end of a 664 run partnership between Tendulkar and Kambli in a Harris Shield game to playing alongside them for Mumbai at the Ranji level as a teenager, from being Kumble's first serious leg-spinning competitor to playing for India in Kumble’s absence, from being the first choice replacement for Kumble to being the third (behind Piyush and Amit) choice, from leading Mumbai to a Ranji Trophy championship victory to shifting allegiance and leading Maharashtra against Mumbai - Sairaj has seen and done quite a few things in his career. In 14 years at the first class level, he has picked up 529 wickets (that is more than a handful of wickets for someone who has always been criticized for lack of variation) and is just 10 runs short of completing the "5000 runs - 500 wkts" double. By grooming young Piyush to be Kumble's apprentice, the selectors have firmly shut the door on Bahutule.

Jai P Yadav: He is probably the only one in this list who has an outside chance of making the selectors do the unthinkable. After a poor introduction to international cricket in 2002 when he played a couple of games against the West Indies and disappeared, Yadav was given a much-deserved second chance last season. He got to play 10 ODIs, but managed to put on just one meaningful performance - a spirited knock of 69 against NZ in Bulawayo. With Dhoni and Pathan rapidly developing into destructive world-class all-rounders, the utility value of Yadav's stock has gone down dramatically. The team-management is no longer looking for the so-called "bits and pieces" players and that should certainly hurt Yadav's chances. However with over six and half thousand runs and 200+ wickets at the first class level, he still remains one of the most consistent all-rounders in the current Indian domestic circuit.

Aashish Kapoor: There aren't many players in the Indian domestic circuit who have represented teams from all four corners of the country - Tamil Nadu in the South, Rajasthan in the West, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh in the North and Tripura in the East. If he gets to play for some team in the central zone before he retires, he would have had the distinction of representing all 5 zones. As an off-spinning allrounder who came through the ranks playing a lot of junior cricket with the likes of Ganguly and Dravid, he kept the selectors interested in him for a good part of the late 90s. He got to play a handful of tests and ODIs (spread over a period of 6 years), but just couldn't cement his place for long at that level. With 392 first class wickets in 17 years of first class cricket, he is still going strong.

Ashish Winston Zaidi: If he had been born a decade late, the story of his life would have definitely turned out a lot different. He would have been remembered for lot more than just as the UP cricketer with a name from three different faiths (His mates call him Amar Akbar Anthony"). For someone who was once touted to be the fastest bowler in the country, his best (and only) shot at donning the Indian colors came in 1992 when he was picked for a national training camp. He was at his peak in the early 90s and would have fancied his chances at making his international debut around the same time as Srinath. 34 years of age now and in a career that has spanned 18 years, he has managed to scalp 378 first class wickets. He is still fit and very much an integral part of the UP team, this year's Ranji champions. He ended the season with 30 wickets at 26.33 apiece, pretty good returns for someone who is considered a spent-force by the selectors.

Nilesh Kulkarni: Not many international cricketers have picked up a wicket off their first ball in test cricket. Also, not many have ended up with figures of 1-195 off 70 overs in their debut innings. Nilesh Kulkarni dismissed Marvan Atapattu off his first ball in that torturous '97 Colombo test in which Sri Lanka raked up a score of 940. He played only a couple of tests after that and managed to pick up only one more wicket. Unusually tall (6'4") for an Indian spinner, he has done really well for Mumbai over the years picking up 332 wickets at less than 25 apiece. He led Mumbai into the Ranji finals this season, where they lost to UP and he would be hoping to get that last step right next season.

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Blogger bk 12:53 PM

Fantastic post, great work Pawan...for my part, shall try to spring up a cpl of other names - aah, i remember 1 - R. Vijay - known more famously as Vijay Bharadwaj to the world audience. rose thru the domestic ranks (atleast i dint follow his rise thru the junior teams, if he indeed did) - still cant forget pics of his and Dravid in The Hindu - in the Ranji columns...i for one expeced a lot more out of him. was nt as bad a cricketer as one might tend to think. Tough luck for him.
Kanitkar for another.

Great post buddy...

suggestion: a 11 of potential match-winners who lost it all after the initial zing - likes of LS, Sadanand Viswanath, Banerjee, Manjrekar, Raman... (if u had noticed, i cud nt go earlier than 85-86, that s all my knowledge can serve for the time being).    

Blogger Pratik 9:58 AM

Let me throw in the name of Badani in there as well.    

Blogger vishnupavan 12:04 PM

Pratik, I did think of Badani and Dinesh MOngia, but they aren't really 30+ yet. From the looks of it, they seem to be destined to make it into this forgotten XI pretty soon..    

Blogger vishnupavan 12:07 PM

bk, thanks.. I tried to stick to cricketers who are still active at the domestic level and are still performing well enough.. Vijay Bharadwaj is no longer part of the Karnataka Ranji team, he seems to have gone completely off the radar.. I tried but couldn't fit Kanitkar in the middle order..    

Blogger Michael Higgins 12:27 PM

Hi Pavan
Interesting post.
There aren't many over 30 players still in Ranji, they usually give up by then.

Debasis Mohanty is still playing and he is almost 30 and he really deserved more chances. Romash Powar is only 28 but he is already probably too old to be considered. He is an excellent all arounder.

Bangar was a good test player but he really wasn't suited too well for ODI's - that one 50 you mentioned was his only 50. His average was about like Agarkar's. And he was a weak bowler.    

Blogger vishnupavan 2:44 PM

Michael, You'll be surprised to know the number of 30+ cricketers who are still actively playing Ranji Trophy. Some of them just don't quit because life after cricket for a not-so- successful cricketer in India isn't all that great.

Mohanty would be 30 soon. He was very promising when he made his ODI debut in Canada. (Harvinder Singh is another bowler who made his debut in that series and faded away) He still is Orissa's main bowler and would probably remain the same for the next 5-6 years.

About Powar, I would like to think that he would keep the selectors interested in him atleast for a couple of more years. That would be for the ODIs, I don't really see him being a test bowler.

Bangar was a limited bowler, but he did seem to fit into the role of a dour opener + third seamer pretty well while he was with the team. And that is a pretty good package for something like the English conditions. Agree that there really wasn't a place for him (rather a good role for him to play) in the ODI variety..    

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