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Bal Dani: A champion domestic all-rounder wasted in wilderness

Bal Dani (extreme right)
(From left): Dattu Phadkar, Rajsingh Dungarpur, CD Gopinath, Jayasinghrao Ghorpade and Bal Dani.

Bal Dani was born May 24, 1933. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a champion domestic all-rounder who had been wasted in the labyrinthine mysteries of Indian cricket.

Hemchandra Tukaram “Bal” Dani was an outstanding all-rounder in the true sense of the word: he was a reliable batsman, a new-ball bowler [despite his 5’6” frame], who could switch to both off-breaks and leg-breaks at will, an excellent fielder [his military tenure may have been a reason for that], and an astute leader. Dani’s First-Class numbers in a career that spanned over two decades boggle the mind, and defy logic for him playing a solitary Test.

Dani remains the only player to have scored 3,000 runs and have taken 100 wickets for Services [Inder Dev and Raman Surendranath are the only others to have done the 1,000 runs-100 wickets double]. His 4,576 runs and 14 hundreds both remained the best for Services till Yashpal Sharma [5,474 runs and 15 hundreds at the time of writing this post] went past him. He is also fifth on the wickets tally with 156 [Inder Dev heads the list with 206].

He did not fail in the Test he played, which meant that there was really no reason to drop [or not recall] him. But then, selection policies in Indian cricket have seldom depended on logic. Let us have a look at his statistics:

  M R Ave W Ave C
Ranji Trophy 84 5,105 47.71 165 19.19 61
Other matches 32 1,371 35.15 35 34.69 19
All First-Class cricket 116 6,476 44.36 200 21.91 80

Early days

Bal Dani was the son of a landlord in Dudhani, Solapur. He went to Rungta High School, Nasik [where he was a schoolmate of Bapu Nadkarni]. He made an impact at school level, representing Maharashtra Schools in the Cooch Behar Trophy. He went on to do his BA [with Honours], and represented Poona University in Rohinton Baria Trophy, and made it to the combined Indian Universities side.

Dani made his First-Class debut for Indian Universities against a touring Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) [that gave India their first Test victory] at Brabourne Stadium. Coming on second change, Dani finished with five for 79 [that included the wickets of Jack Robertson, Nigel Howard, and “Dusty” Rhodes]; he then scored 66 to give the hosts a 35-run lead.

In his Ranji Trophy debut the next season, Dani scored 33 and 55 and had three for 24 against Baroda at Kolhapur, and followed it with 121 Gujarat at the same ground the next match. He repeated his heroics for Maharashtra against MCC at Poona, scoring 72 not out. When the Pakistanis arrived the next season, Dani was drafted into the side out of the blue to make his debut in the third Test at Brabourne Stadium with the series levelled 1-1.

Test cricket

Three Indian cricketers made their Test debut that match, and all of them had surprisingly short careers despite not really doing anything wrong: barring Dani, there was Madhav Apte, whose career had ended after he had scored 542 from seven Tests at 49.27; and Vijay Rajindernath, who had effected four stumpings [but did not take a catch] and did not bat.

As things turned out, India went into the Test with their first spin trinity — that of Subhash Gupte, Vinoo Mankad and Ghulam Ahmed. Dani opened bowling with Lala Amarnath [22 years older than Dani], and was taken off after figures of 4-2-10-0 as Mankad, Gupte and Amarnath skittled out the tourists for 186. Dani took a “superb catch” to get rid of Abdul Hafeez Kardar off Amarnath.

Vijay Hazare and Polly Umrigar scored hundreds and Amarnath declared 201 runs ahead. Dani dismissed Nazar Mohammad for a duck, and was taken off after figures of 6-3-9-1. Though Hanif Mohammad and Waqar Hasan added 165 for the second stand, Pakistan were bowled out for 242 by Mankad and Gupte. It took Mankad and Apte a shade over 15 overs to polish off the runs.

Dani never played another Test. His Test career was over at 19: he never got to bat, and finished with a single wicket for the cost of 19 runs.

An attempted comeback

Dani continued to perform at domestic level with both bat and ball and was selected for India’s maiden tour of Pakistan in 1954-55. He made an impact with 42 not out and four for 16 against Sind at Hyderabad, but despite his partnership-breaking spells he did not do anything major on the tour, finishing with 116 runs at 29.00 and 10 wickets at an exceptional 15.20.

Despite his decent performances, he did not get to play a single Test on the tour.

Joining the Force

Dani joined the Indian Air Force that year, and moved to Services. He was an instant success with Hemu Adhikari’s side, scoring 166 not out against Delhi at Roshanara Club Ground. He continued to play for Services, and became a crucial cog in the Services side of the 1950s: never again have they attained such stature.

An emphatic performance came against Bengal in the Ranji Trophy semifinal of 1957-58 at Kotla. After Bengal scored 360, Dani joined Atma Singh at 69 for two on the second afternoon. They batted throughout the third day, reaching 370 for two at stumps, knocking Bengal out. Atma Singh scored 184 not out, Dani an unbeaten 122, and their 301-run partnership remains the best third-wicket stand for Services.

The fight for supremacy in North Zone continued; against a strong Rajasthan side [without a doubt the second-best side in India at that time] in the 1960-61 Ranji semi-final at Palam A Ground Dani put up a solo fight, taking on a side that consisted of Mankad, Vijay Manjrekar, Rusi Surti, Salim Durani, Raj Singh Dungarpur, Suryaveer Singh and Kishan Rungta, Dani finished with five for 35 and followed it with 104. He became the second Services cricketer [after Inderjit Bahroke] to score a hundred and take a five-for (Inder Dev is the only other one to emulate this feat).

Dani
(From left): Pankaj Roy, Bal Dani, Prof Chandgadkar (BCCI secretary), CD Gopinath,  MM Jagdale and Jayasinghrao Ghorpade.

Dani was named captain of Services the next season. The side was on the decline, but Dani’s tactical acumen meant that they gave stiff competition to strong teams in their zone like Delhi, Northern and Southern Punjab and Railways. An excellent 140 came against Bombay at Brabourne Stadium in the 1964-65 semi-final, where he kept out Ramakant Desai, Baloo Gupte and Nadkarni to save an innings-defeat.

Dani had an amazing run with the bat in 1966-67, scoring 149, 154, six, 170 (his career-best), 42, 87, two, 123, and 28 not out in consecutive innings. He finished the season with 765 runs at 85.00, 435 of which came in Ranji Trophy alone at 72.50. Three seasons later he had his career-best haul — seven for 50 against Jammu and Kashmir at Srinagar.

Dani stood down after leading Services for a decade, but continued to play till 1972-73. In his last match, against Railways at Karnail Singh Stadium, Dani scored 13 and 36 and picked up four for 35.

Post-retirement

Dani rose to the rank of Air Commodore when he retired in 1987. In the interim, he became an Indian Selector in 1968 and served till 1975, witnessing the sacking of both Tiger Pataudi and Ajit Wadekar. He served Maharashtra as a selector, coach and manager from 1989 to 1997 and was involved with Sneha Sava, a Pune-based charity organisation.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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