The debut of Narendra Hirwani is no flash in the pan. THE STORY is that, in the beginning, Narendra Hirwani could not persuade even club batsmen in C. K. Nayudu’s old town of Indore to bat against him. He was chubby and optimistic, indulging in back-of-the-hand spin out of unusual interest and a great deal of hope. In fact, he had to do most of his practice outside the Nehru Stadium.
Then Sanjay Jagdale, formerly an off-spinner for Madhya Pradesh and Central Zone, noticed that Hirwani had something special, and he moved him inside the stadium — even to the extent of getting him a room there. Sanjay Jagdale, a six-footer, has an impressive cricket pedigree.
His father, M. M., played with the Nayudus and was a contributor to Holkar’s cricket eminence in the past. His brother Ashok had opened the bowling for Central Zone with purpose, if not with speed. Jagdale is responsible for discovering cricket’s latest bowling sensation.
He knew enough to advise Hirwani that he had to shed his puppy fat; so Hirwani trained — never looking like an athlete — with the sort of dedication that deserved a reward. Although Hirwani considers Sanjay Jagdale as his ‘guru’ — a word which conveys more than the word ‘mentor’ ever can — the fact remains that he had to perfect his craft alone.
Although C. S. Nayudu, considered in his time among the most unusual and trickiest of leg spinners, lives.in Indore, it is likely that Hirwani never met the former Indian cricketer until after the youngster’s exploits at Madras. Credit for boosting Hirwani goes to Hanumant Singh, the former Test batsman who is currently the chairman of the national selectors.
Hanumant, who has sentimental connections with Indore, was asked to watch the lad and, already disappointed that his faith in Shivaramakrishnan had been shattered, the man born to be Prince of Banswara was thrilled to see someone so keen to master the most intricate form of bowling in the game. Hanumant Sing played spin, of all types, better than most, so he was well qualified to spot a good bowler.
He passed the word to India’s junior selectors, and Hirwani found himself traveling to Australia with India’s Under-19 side. He was the team’s outstanding bowler, troubling the young Australians, who got into trouble trying to clobber him. Jaspal Singh, a team-mate and future fast-bowling hope, said ‘Hirwani never bowled a full-toss.’
Hanumant Singh then asked his co-selectors to watch Hirwani on his return from Australia. The late Kripal Singh, then a selector and acknowledged as one of the shrewdest students of the game in India, was mightily impressed. But Shivaramakrishnan was still too young to be dumped for good and seemed likely to recapture form and confidence: the selectors felt that Hirwani could wait his turn.
The World Cup saw the end of Shivaramakrishnan’s aspirations. He had not found a way to reduce the number of bad balls — gifts to batsmen — that he bowled, so Hirwani came into the discussions of the selectors, especially after his six-wicket haul for the Indian Under-25 team against the West Indians.
Dilip Vengsarkar, India’s new captain, and the selectors spent many hours deliberating on the right moment to choose Hirwani. They agreed that he should be introduced to one pitch that would provide him with some assistance. Such a pitch was found at Madras but, ironically, had Maninder Singh been fit it is unlikely that the bespectacled and still slightly clumsy Hirwani would have made the side.
India actually went into the match with five spinners: ac- ting captain Ravi Shastri and Arshad Ayub, plus to be regarded as a dubious one. The limited-overs rubber saw India thrashed 6-1, and the indications are that India cannot muster the incisive bowling necessary to contain international batsmen at home. The West Indian tour, starting even before the dust had settled after the World Cup, saw a telling decline in attendances.
Eden Gardens at Calcutta was almost half-full for the Test match (which was a bore), and even for the one-day internationals, at- tendencies were poor, with some tickets still available at the start of play. A few years ago this would have been quite inconceivable. Television had always taken the blame for luring away spectators, but finally, it was grudgingly accepted that spectators had learned to become choosy.
India’s batting was always battling st India’s new bowling sensation Narendra Hirwani in action during his debut Test at Madras newcomers Hirwani, W. V. Raman, and Ajay Sharma. Hirwani’‘s debut made new and thrilling history. The leg break spun, the googly was less potent but effective, and the top spinner worked marvels.
Most of the West Indian batsmen were flummoxed, including the great Richards who, though well-set on 68 in the first innings, never had a clue about the ball which bowled him — he had moved into a position to cut. Narendra Hirwani’s Madras performance revealed that the lad loved to bowl, was unperturbed by the quality of the opposition, and knew his business.
But perfection is yet to be achieved. It would be ridiculous to expect him to come up with many more 16-wicket performances. But Narendra Hirwani, who has emerged out of relative obscurity like Sonny Ramadhin in 1950, looks the sort who will stay, which is excellent news for Indian cricket, especially after the disappointments with the dusky Sivaramakrishnan.
On the West Indies tour from an Indian point of view the main interest lay in how the team would cope without Sunil Gavaskar. Without him, the Test rubber was shared, although the victory in the final Test at Madras, on a pitch which was never up to the required standards, has against the odds. Vengsarkar, the new captain, stood firm — with a fair amount of luck — against the West Indian bowling, which was pace-oriented as ever and fearsomely spearheaded by Patrick Patterson.
The bull-chested Jamaican, who terrorized England’s batsmen not so long ago, produced some spells of awesome speed, and one dreads to think what he might have achieved if he had been partnered by Malcolm Marshall. Arun Lal, given the unenviable responsibility of replacing SunilGavaskar, emerged with credit, revealing that he has both the courage and the technique — if not the class and innovativeness — of his predecessor.
His partner Srikkanth had two innings of note at Bombay, but otherwise flashed at everything and failed. Vengsarkar, with two centuries in three Tests (he missed the final match because of a hand injury) did enough to pro- ve that he remains the most consistent batsman in international cricket.
The major plus from India’s point of view was the return to form, with bat and ball, of Kapil Dev. Freed from the cares of captaincy, the Haryana allrounder pulled his weight both as player and adviser. At the end of it, all most people had to accept that there has not been a happier Indian team for years. Even so, West Indies reached the final
Test one-up, having won at New Delhi and nearly forcing victory at Bombay. The only setback had been a limited-overs defeat at Calcutta. What Hirwani achieved at Madras is now history, but despite the predictable moans about the pitch, the Indians batted better: Kapil Dev made a marvelous century.
The Dunlop Mk.II and Uni-Turf pitches are top-quality products for cricketers at both practice and match play to the highest level. Outdoors over 900 Mk.II pitches have been installed in the UK at county grounds and for schools, local authorities, and clubs. The West Indians went home rightly pleased with themselves.
Younger batsmen like Gus, Logie, Carl Hooper, and Phil Simmons had done well, while the regulars Vivian Richards, Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, and Richie Richardson had done themselves no harm. If Viv Richards has yet to take lessons intact and diplomacy from his predecessor Clive Lloyd, he can be content that his team remains hard to beat — unless it finds a pitch like the one at Madras and is confronted by a Hirwani or Abdul Qadir.