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Thursday, October 10, 2019

Pune Test - some who bowled fast and .. Pandurang Salgaoncar !!

The game of Cricket is always interesting ~ and it is becoming increasingly difficult to beat a team in their home.  AT   Visakhapatnam,  South Africa made a substantial 431 in their first innings, after losing the toss. Their first innings stretched to the fourth day ~ yet SA  lost by 203 runs. The venue now shifts to Pune, where those with good memory would recall  Steve O'Keefe bundling them out and winning the man of the match with an exceptional performance.    In the longer version of the game, it is not necessary that the Team needs to win every session – only waits for one of them to fold and collapse ! .. at Pune, it is going to be first test after that famous loss to Aussies.   Faf du Plessis has lost eight consecutive tosses in the subcontinent, and when he called wrong again last week, his wry smile was more eloquent than words could be.

Pune situated 560 metres (1,837 feet) above sea level on the Deccan plateau on the right bank of the Mutha river, is the administrative headquarters of Pune district and was once the centre of power of the Maratha Empire established by Shivaji. In the 18th century, Pune was the political centre of the Indian subcontinent, as the seat of the Peshwas who were the prime ministers of the Maratha Empire.

I more than vaguely remember that in 1983, Triplicane suddenly became abuzz – news was TA Sekar, the raw-quickie of Tamil Nadu team had been called mid-way to Pakistan as a replacement.  In mid-noon, he visited Sri Parthasarathi Swami temple and a few youngsters ran behind him, not knowing how to reach to him, may be to touch and shake hands with him, or get his signature – not the days, when could take a selfie !!  .. he was touted very fast – a genuine quickie.

There have been some touted very fast – yet not made the cut at the National level, for no fault of theirs.  The big burly Yograj Singh was said to be faster than Kapil Dev by yards, toured Australia / New Zealand – played his only Test at Wellington took a wicket in the only innings that he bowled. In the 2nd NZ were all out for 100, but Yograj did not get to bowl.  Thirumalai Ananthanpillai Sekar landed in Pakistan not knowing what to do – perhaps not at all coordinated and made his debut immediately upon landing, in ODI no. 172 at National stadium, Karachi.  A couple of days later on 23rd Jan 1983, he made his Test debut at Gadaffi Stadium, Lahore.  TA Sekar had been a quite sensation at home with his quality pace with red cherry, troubling almost all the batsman, including those big names in Indian Test cricket. In Ranji, he got a wicket off his very first ball.  Sekar replaced  the injured Madanlal at Pakistan and perhaps was not at all that supported by the team stalwarts.  In the final Test at Karachi, the 6th of the long Series,  Dilip Vengsarkar dropped Mudassar and Javed Miandad in the same over and another one  went abegging  those were the days, when Indian slip fielders would stand with hands on hip and would walk to retrieve the ball from boundary.  One cannot help hazarding a guess, what those catches could have done to his career !!  He last represented India in a 15 over match !! – it was ODI 298 at Sector 16 Stadium, Chandigarh on 27 Jan 1985.  In rain shortened match, England made 121 off 15 overs.  TA Sekar had figures of 3-0-23-3 bowling alongside Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar, Chetan Sharma and Ravi Shastri.

The 1970s was even worser – have heard of Barun Burman who lost out to Kapil Dev for that 1978 Pak tour.  Kapil was phenomenal beginning in that tour and blossomed much.  Nothing to beat this perhaps ~ read this interesting article in ESPN Cricinfo about Pandurang Salgaoncar.  He once hit Sunil Gavaskar on the hand, forcing him to miss the next Test. That was enough to spread the word in the whole country but the selectors. He came close to playing for India on three occasions, all in the two years leading to first World Cup.

In Nov. 1972, in the  Duleep Trophy semi-final between South and West Zone in mid-November featured many of the stars of those recent Test victories. With an all-star cast, the show was stolen by a relatively unknown West Zone player: a strapping young fast bowler with a disarmingly toothy smile, called Pandurang Salgaoncar. In those days, Chepauk was a square turner of a pitch, where nearly all the wickets accrued to spinners and most matches were low-scoring thrillers.  In South's first innings, Salgaoncar finished with 5 for 55 off about 18 overs, but it was in the second innings that he really lit up the place. When South began their second innings 83 runs in arrears, a draw loomed as the most likely outcome. As the shocked Chepauk crowd dispersed, with  partisan disappointment at losing the match drowned by a quickie. Barely 38 overs later (17 of which were bowled by Salgaoncar), South had been skittled for 97 runs and West won the match outright by ten wickets shortly after tea.  He picked up another five-for, this time for 56 runs, to make it ten for the match.   In the Duleep final he grabbed 7 for 72 in the first innings as Central Zone careened to an innings defeat.  Yet, he could not break into the Indian team.  Month later,  India's new-ball "attack" plumbed the depths by the third Test, at Chepauk, when Eknath Solkar and Sunil Gavaskar took the shining cherry in the first innings, and (dispensing any pretense at all) Bishan Bedi joined Solkar to open the bowling in the second.

Though Salgaoncar was strongly tipped to catch the flight to England as India's tour got underway in May of 1974, he again, inexplicably, did not make the cut. In fact, Salgaoncar never played for India. Salgaoncar went to Sri Lanka to play unofficial Tests in 1974, and fondly remembers a match in which he bowled 24 overs out of 55.4 to help enforce a follow-on.

After the long story, recall that Salgaoncar was the pitch curator for that Test against Aussie, which India lost and all blamed the underprepared pitch.  Like any other ground in India,  Pune is another flat pitch in 1st class Cricket.  In 26 first-class games here, there have been ten individual scores of 150 or more, two triple-hundreds and three other doubles. Thirteen of the 26 games have ended in draws. ODIs here have largely been high-scoring too, with three out of four matches producing first-innings totals of above 280.   Yet,  Pune's debut Test, in 2017, ended in less than three days, with India scoring 105 and 107 and the pitch ending up with a "poor" rating  and later that year even greater controversy arising from his getting trapped in a sting operation, which led to his being suspended for six months by both his home association and the ICC.

In a serious note, the BCCI  "dismissed" Pandurang Salgaoncar, the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) curator, for "malpractice" that was captured on camera by undercover reporters. The controversy did not affect the start of the second ODI between India and New Zealand, which began as scheduled after a routine pre-match pitch inspection by ICC match officials. He is curator for this Test too.  Two days from the start of India's second Test against South Africa, Salgaoncar's primary worries were to do with the weather. Rain has lashed Pune incessantly in the weeks leading up to the game, and this has, no doubt, complicated preparations for the game.

So – another test .. and we look forward to another Indian win !  ..  Umesh Yadav makes a comeback and is playing in place of Hanuma Vihari.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
10th Oct 2019.

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