Former India batsman Sardesai passes away

Published: Tuesday, July 3, 2007, 17:39 [IST]
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Mumbai:Ex-India batsman Dilip Sardesai has died at the age of 66 after a multiple organ failure on Monday.

Sardesai was recently admitted to Bombay hospital for a chest infection and had also been suffering from several health problems.

He played 30 Tests between 1961 and 1972, collecting five hundreds and nine half-centuries at an average of just under 40. He scored 2,001 runs.

Sardesai is best remembered for hitting 642 runs with three hundreds, including a double century, in India's first Test series victory in West Indies in 1970-71.

Later that year he scored 54 and 40 in the Oval Test before leg-spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar took six for 38 to spin the visitors to their maiden Test series win in England.

Sardesai: The renaissance man of Indian cricket:Dilip Narayan Sardesai was an important link between an India which were used to defeats and one which, for a brief period in the 1970s considered themselves world champions.

Vijay Merchant, the chairman of selectors who had wanted to drop Sardesai before those tours, was quick to praise him as the renaissance man of Indian cricket. Irrespective of the usage, the sentiment was understandable. For in the year that Indian cricket turned the corner, much of the driving was done by Sardesai.

In the first Test at Jamaica, after India were 75 for 5, Sardesai's 212 forced the West Indies to follow on. In the fourth in Barbados, India were 70 for 6 before Sardesai saved them again with a 150. His 75 and 21 in the final Test were overshadowed by Sunil Gavaskar's 124 and 220; Sardesai took his aggregate to 642, but held the record for just a day before Gavaskar - who has given Sardesai credit for his mentoring role - broke it.

Sardesai, a sound middle-order batsman, paid the price many Indians have for being sound middle-order batsmen. He was asked to open, which might have curtailed his effectiveness. The game has seen few better players of spin.

In a decade which saw the great spinners, Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Bishen Singh Bedi, and S Venkatraghavan make their debut, there was no single batsman of similar stature. Tiger Pataudi's limitation meant that he was unlikely to be consistent; and Gundappa Vishwanath made his entry almost in the new decade.

Sardesai's record suggests he might have played the role, but injury and fast bowling kept him ineffective in England and Australia.

Sardesai, the only Goa-born cricketer to play Test cricket, graduated from University cricket, his scores in the Rohinton Baria (435 runs at an average of 87) bringing him into national focus. He made his debut in the same series as some of the stalwarts of 60s cricket - Pataudi, Farokh Engineer, Prasanna - the most romantic and romanticised bunch of players in Indian cricket.

Sardesai fit in easily, especially after taking his cricket to Bombay where he absorbed the culture of batsmanship that laid great store by correctness and the ability to grind out the long innings.

His first century, after India were asked to follow-on, occupied him for 548 minutes and raised visions of Vijay Manjrekar at his best.

His second, in the next Test, was for a long time the fastest made by an Indian.

He was never the fastest man on the field, and the story is told of Sardesai chasing the ball in Adelaide when he turned around to see the batsmen going for their fifth run. With remarkable presence of mind, he kicked the ball over the boundary to save a run.

That story doesn't matter. What counts is that everybody assumes it is, and the stories told of a person - even the apocryphal ones - say more about him than volumes of biography.

Sardesai was a quick-thinking player with an ever-ready smile and a love for good food that was a by-word in the teams he played for.

Asked to restrict himself to chicken soup after a stomach upset, he was seen eating a chicken. ''I am going to the source of the soup,'' he explained.

Sardesai's life, like his cricket, had both his head and heart.


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