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Vijay Hazare, one of the true Indian greats

Published: Saturday, December 18, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
 
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Vadodara:Vijay Samuel Hazare was truly one of the greats of the game produced by India, and but for the Second World War, which robbed him and many others including Sir Donald Bradman vital playing years, would have scored many more runs and centuries in Tests.

The fact that Hazare, who drew attention in undivided India since the late 1930s, had to wait till the end of the war and India's tour of England in 1946 to make his Test debut at the age of 31, tells its own tale of missed opportunities.

Born on March 11, 1915, Hazare played only 30 official Tests, between 1946 and 1953 and scored 2192 runs at 47.65 per innings.

In the 1930s and 40s two Vijays strode the cricket fields in the sub-continent like colossus, Merchant and Hazare, and the competition between the two to outdo one another in the Pentangular and Ranji Trophy matches is still talked about in awe in cricket circles.

Hazare, like Merchant, was a technician par excellence and the forerunner to Rahul Dravid in his technical perfection of playing each ball on merit.

His defence was immaculate, according to players, writers and observers who have watched all three players in action.

Like Merchant, Dravid and another great Indian batsman, Sunil Gavaskar, Hazare's concentration too was intense and unwavering which helped him score double and treble centuries in domestic cricket with regularity.

Hazare played and shone outstandingly with the bat in an era when the protective armour for the willow wielders, unlike today, consisted mainly of the pads to protect the leg and the abdomen guard.

There was no protective head gear, which has made batsmen fear the faster bowlers of the game less and less over the years, and the players needed to take evasive action by swaying out of harm's way or duck underneath the bouncers which were not restricted to two per over as at present.

Hazare also played when uncovered wickets were in vogue, which made the ball deviate alarmingly off the wicket in helpful conditions. His achievements should be looked at with this perspective in mind.

The right-handed batsman's runs included seven three-figure knocks (two each against England, Australia and the West Indies and one against Pakistan).

He also captured 20 wickets with his medium-pace bowling.

Hazare's Test break-up country-wise is as follows: 12 Vs England (3 in 1946, 5 in 1951 and 4 in 1952), 5 Vs Australia (all in 1947-48), 10 Vs West Indies (1948-49 and 1952-53), 3 Vs Pakistan (1951-52).

He averaged above 40 against every country he has played, with his best being 111.50 opposite Pakistan at home in the first-ever cricket series between the two countries post-partition.

Hazare was discarded after a personally poor tour to the West Indies as captain in 1953 when he could gather only 194 runs, averaging less than 20 per innings, in the five-Test series in the Caribbean. He was also, by then, 38 years old.

Against the same Calypso charmers, he had led the batting averages five years earlier at home by accumulating 543 runs (at 67.87), which included a match-saving and gutsy knock of 134 not out in the second Test at the then Bombay's Brabourne stadium, his favourite hunting ground, after India followed on.

When the two teams met again at the same venue in the fifth and final match of the series, Hazare's plucky 122 helped India to a near-victory. The hosts were denied of a sure win by the West Indians' time wasting tactics.

Hazare also represented the country in 24 unofficial Tests against Lord Tennyson's visiting team in 1938, the Australian Services XI led by Lindsay Hassett in 1945 and the three Commonwealth teams that toured the country between 1949 and 1953.

He led India in 14 Tests in the early fifties and was sacked after the team's return from the West Indies despite it doing well as a whole and earning plaudits for its fine fielding.

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