Sunil Gavaskar appointment as captain for the inaugural Test and three one-day internationals against the touring Sri Lanka team was but to be expected. Speculation about a new captain had sprung from concern over the great opening batsman’s physical fitness. When the announcement was made, it was learned that the captain had not fully recovered from the injury sustained at The Oval, for in the previous week his left leg had been put in plaster again.
Gavaskar returned from his trip to the UK and the USA (a private tour) and had not met the chairman of the selection committee, Polly Umrigar, to inform the latter about his fitness and his availability. For a time, Kapil Dev’s name was mentioned as a possible replacement captain.
The games against Sri Lanka, followed by the Duleep Trophy and Irani Trophy tournaments, will decide the composition of the Indian team for the 68-day tour of Pakistan starting on November 8 and ending on January 14, with the final Test (sixth) in Karachi. Meanwhile, there are rumors afloat that many of the key Indian players would like to miss the tour of Pakistan because of their experiences on the previous tour in 1978.
With the tour clashing with the Asian Games, to be staged in New Delhi from November, there was talk that the Government would ask the Cricket Board to request the Pakistan Board for a postponement so that the two events did not clash. In certain quarters, it was felt that the popularity of the Asian Games would be adversely affected if the Indian cricket tour was on simultaneously. The Indian Board asked the Pakistan Board to reduce the number of Tests from six to three, but the latter refused.
The tours between India and Pakistan have been negotiated on a reciprocal basis, with no guaranteed money involved. The Umpires’ Committee of the Cricket Board has instigated the formation of a Disciplinary Committee, which will judge misbehavior by a player which leads to crowd fury. The Working Committee, which met in Bombay, was of the opinion that some fuel had been added by a commentator expressing his views on the umpiring (Bombay v Karnataka), and the Board was writing to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (Indian broadcasting is Government-controlled) for guidelines to be issued to commentators about comments on umpires.
The Board intends to ask the Press to co-operate in this regard without, of course, interfering with the fundamental right of expression. This could be fun. This season, the Ranji Trophy Championship will have points computed on the same basis as English county cricket. Eknath Dondu Solkar, 34, India’s greatest close-in catcher, has announced his retirement from first-class cricket.
In a Test career lasting from 1969-70 to 1976-77 and 27 matches, ‘Ekky’ made 1068 runs, took 18 wickets, and held 53 catches. His best score in tests was 102 against West Indies in Bombay, 1974-75. Statistics can in no way express Solkar’s value. At a time of dominance by four great Indian spin bowlers Solkar’s ability to take the shine off the new ball and to be effective enough to undermine the career, if briefly, of a ‘great’ like Geoff Boycott (1974), bowling left-arm over the wicket, was considered truly worthwhile.
Basically, Solkar was a utility cricketer, like his contemporary Abid Ali, who contributed a bit in both batting and bowling and plenty in the field. Solkar was expected to bat just about anywhere in the order, which he did without complaining. He just fitted in, and if anything prevented the selectors from looking to other players, it was his catching and fielding. All of India’s spin bowlers testify to the fact that Solkar made a considerable difference to them.
Chandrasekhar said: ‘He caught those which others could catch, and caught a few which others wouldn’t try.’ In 1972-73 England’s captain, Tony Lewis, said, with his voice indicating both admiration and exasperation: ‘With Solkar lurking in the leg-trap the Indian spinners, formidable in themselves, seem doubly so.’ Lewis should remember the impossible catch plucked at short square leg when, at Calcutta, he swept Bedi with the meat of the bat.
Only Tony Lock, because he was as great a catcher, would have reacted as Solkar did. His finest Test year was in 1971, both in West Indies and England, under Ajit Wadekar — rubbers India won. His contribution to the victories made him one of the most valued men. In the first and fourth Test matches, when India were 75 for 5 and 70 for 6 respectively, it was Solkar who partnered the supremely confident Dilip Sardesai in century stands that rescued the team from dire trouble.
At Port of Spain, the lone Test India won, he held six catches in the match and scored 55. In England in 1971 his contributions to India’s first-ever victory in that country were substantial. He made scores of 67 (Lord’s), 50 (Old Trafford), and 44 (The Oval). Further, in that great Test at The Oval, he had three wickets and three catches. The catch to dismiss Alan Knott was one of the very best.
He was taken to New Zealand and West Indies in 1975-76 but figured in only one Test. There was a feeling that a blow on the head while fielding in New Zealand made the bonny battler scared of fast bowling. His last Test was in Calcutta against Tony Greig’s England side. Still as keen as ever, he tried to catch as in the old days and got blamed for dropping more than he really did.
He was a sad and disillusioned man, saying: ‘Public memory is short. But I didn’t drop all they say I have.’ The selectors were not impressed, and that was the end of the road for him. When India was in New Zealand in 1981, he led Bombay to the Ranji Trophy. It was a moment he cherished. He first came to prominence as captain of the Indian Schools in 1964-65 against the visiting London Schools side. Under him played Sunil Gavaskar.
A Report by RAJAN BALA, correspondent in India, with the latest from that part of the world.