Jasu Patel: The man who held India’s best bowling efforts in Test cricket
Jasu Patel… caricature by Austin Coutinho
He held the Indian record for best figures in a Test innings and match for a long time. Jasu Patel, born on November 26, 1924, was also the first cricketer to be decorated with a Padma Shri. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the career of the man who created history against Australia.
Australia had thrashed India by an innings and 127 runs in the 1959-60 Delhi Test. On the eve of the Kanpur Test, Lala Amarnath, the chairman of selectors, decided to surprise the Australians by doing something different. Instead of the young all-rounder Kripal Singh, he picked a 35-year old off-spinner with salt-and-pepper hair who had not played a Test in the past three years, and whose Test career read 10 wickets from four Tests. Jasu Patel himself was apparently surprised by the call-up. Though Patel was generally considered a matting-wicket specialist, Amarnath thought his unorthodox whippy bowling action (“he bowled with the seam”, as Mihir Bose wrote) would be ideal for the new turf pitch at Kanpur, which was watered with river water containing grains of sand.
It seemed hopeless when Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud bowled out India for 152 on Day Oone at Kanpur. The all-rounders took nine wickets between them, and Australia ended the day with 23 without loss. On Day Two, Patel dismissed Gavin Stevens caught and bowled, but Australia cruised to 128 for one at lunch, and another innings defeat loomed on the horizon.
At lunch, Lala Amarnath supposedly had a conversation with captain Gulabrai Ramchand. He asked Ramchand to bowl Patel from the other end so that he could bowl at the footmarks of Davidson and Ian Meckiff. The effect was magical. Patel’s first ball spun and went through the defence of Colin McDonald. Patel was transformed into another bowler instantaneously. He found an impeccable line and length, and bowled both the big off-break and the drifter that went the other way with amazing consistency; and wickets kept tumbling.
The champion batsmen, Neil Harvey and Norman O’Neill, seemed helpless against Patel; O’Neill holed out to Bapu Nadkarni at mid-wicket, who missed the chance. On hindsight, had Nadkarni held the catch, Patel might have claimed 10 wickets in an innings. Nevertheless, Patel bowled Harvey, and O’Neill was bowled by Chandu Borde.
It was all Patel after that: Davidson was the only one to offer some resistance, and from 128 for one, the Australians were bowled out for 219. Patel’s spell read eight for 24, and he ended with figures of 35.5-16-69-9 – a bowling analysis that would remain the best in the history of Indian cricket till Anil Kumble’s 10 for 74. What was more stunning is the fact that Patel did not need the help of a fielder in eight of the nine dismissals: five were bowled, two were leg before and one caught and bowled.
Patel’s job was, however, far from over. Nari Contractor (74), Borde (44), Ramnath Kenny (51) and Nadkarni (46) not only erased the 67-run deficit, but helped post 291. Davidson toiled for 57.3 overs to take seven for 93 to go with his five for 31 in the first innings, and Australia were left to score 225. Before stumps, Patel removed Stevens again, and Harvey was caught by Nadkarni at slip off Polly Umrigar. Australia ended the fourth day at 59 for two.
Umrigar had O’Neill caught by Nadkarni at leg slip early the next morning, and followed it up with the wicket of Ken Mackay. Patel came into action then, removing Davidson and Benaud at the same score; he also removed Lindsay Kline, and then, with nothing to play for, McDonald decided to go for it and was stumped off Patel to give him his fifth wicket. Patel’s figures read 25.4-7-55-5, and he became the first Indian bowler to take 14 wickets. Patel’s 14 for 124 remained an Indian record till Narendra Hirwani went past him with his 16 for 136.
India won the Test by 119 runs. It was a spectacular win – a historic one in a year marred by innings defeats – and their first Test victory against Australia in 10 attempts. It was also their sixth win in 64 Tests. The crowd was jubilant. In fact, they went so much over the brink that Nadkarni was injured by a guava thrown by someone as the team took a victory lap.
The Australian media rushed with cables with the contents “Rush Patel pictures”. The bemused Indian counterparts responded with pictures of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, thereby adding to the confusion of all and sundry! No one expected that a foreign country would frantically ask for the pictures of an obscure graying cricketer on Christmas Eve.
The first day cover in honour of Jasu Patel issued by the Indian Postal Service.
Patel, the hero of the Test, played in two more Tests in the series (Australia took the series by winning at Madras by an innings and 55 runs), and never played a Test again. His First-Class career ended in two more years, but the Kanpur Test was enough for him to win the Padma Shri award (along with Vijay Hazare). He also made it to a special cover issued by the Indian Postal Service. It was only much later that the amendments were made.
Patel began his career for Gujarat in 1943-44, taking three for 32 on his debut. He came into prominence with his five for 73 and four for 88 against Maharashtra and following that up with seven for 122 in the following innings. He became a regular fixture for Gujarat, and turning up for Western India against the touring MCC side, he took seven for 71 and attracted attention.
However, his most stunning First-Class feat till the Kanpur Test came as a batsman in the Ranji Trophy final against Holkar. Chasing 546 for a win, the Holkar bowlers had restricted Gujarat to 167 for eight when Patel came out to join his captain Pheroze Cambhatta. The ninth-wicket stand of 63 was a prelude of what was to follow: Patel flayed the Holkar attack all over the park, reaching his fifty in 35 minutes and his hundred in 87 minutes. He added 136 for the last wicket with wicket-keeper Hasan Nakhuda of which the latter contributed only 15. Patel eventually finished with a career-best of 152, including 22 fours, scored out of a total of 189 during his stay at the wicket.
He continued to shine for Gujarat, and he toured Pakistan in 1954-55, and figures of 12 for 47 against Pakistan Universities earned ensured he made his Test debut at Karachi on the tour. He played three more Tests back home – one against New Zealand and two against Australia. He was then sidelined till that famous Kanpur Test.
He continued for a couple more years in the domestic circuit, still bowling the occasional spectacular spell (like his eight for 21 against Saurashtra). But thereafter, with Gujarat not being strong enough to make it to the knock-out rounds of the Ranji Trophy any more, Jasu Patel’s career faded out.
(A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in.)