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Manohar Hardikar, twice Ranji Trophy winning captain, was born on February 4, 1936. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a capable all-rounder who could not make it big at the highest level.
Manohar Hardikar was your ubiquitous Mumbaikar: he played with a lot of pride, in terms of determination and pluck Hardikar was second to none, and would not spare an inch on the cricket ground. He epitomised the two words that Sandeep Bamzai had used to describe Bombay cricket: guts and glory.
Of Hardikar’s dour, composed batting, unwavering concentration, and persistent, nagging mixed bag of military medium and off-breaks, it is difficult to say which defined him more. One of the finest all-rounders to have come out of Bombay, he held fort for them during their golden era, leading them to two consecutive Ranji Trophy titles.
From 74 First-Class matches, Hardikar had scored 2,592 runs at 32.81 with eight hundreds. He had also picked up 74 wickets at 31.66 with two five-fors, and it was unfortunate that both his Tests came in that ill-fated 1958-59 home series against West Indies. Had a stable management system been at place he would have gone on to play more than those two Tests.
Born in Baroda, Hardikar moved to Bombay, studied at Ruia College, and made his First-Class debut for Bombay against Gujarat at Ahmedabad. He was an instant success: he started with four for 48, and bowling in tandem Baloo Gupte, helped rout the hosts for 232. Coming out at 220 for five, Hardikar then scored a crucial 52 and helped Bombay reach 337. As if that was not enough, he had a go at Gujarat again, finishing with three for 30 as Gujarat saved the match, finishing on 100 for six.
Bombay reached the final that season, and Hardikar came to his elements against Probir Sen’s Bengal at Eden Gardens. After Sivaji Bose and Premangsu Chatterjee put up a solid 50 for the first wicket Hardikar struck: introduced as the fifth bowler, he put a suffocating stranglehold on the hosts, finishing with a career-best haul of 39.1-27-39-8. Bengal meandered to 255 in 146.1 overs before they were bowled out.
It remained the best bowling figures for anyone in a Ranji Trophy final till 1972-73 when Padmakar Shivalkar routed Tamil Nadu with his famous 17.5-10-16-8. Shivalkar’s feat has been bettered only by Rajinder Singh Hans (nine for 152) against Karnataka in 1977-78.
Coming back to the final, a hundred from Polly Umrigar helped defy Chatterjee’s seven-wicket haul: Bombay obtained a 53-run lead before Umrigar and Baloo Gupte bowled out Bengal cheaply as Madhav Mantri’s Bombay clinched the title.
Making a mark in a champion side in his maiden season is always difficult, but there was no stopping Hardikar: coming out at 184 for five in the first match of next year’s Ranji Trophy against Gujarat at home, Hardikar farmed the strike skilfully, slammed 204 and took Bombay to 525.
There was no looking back from there: when West Indies visited India in 1958-59, Hardikar was picked for the Board President’s XI. Ghulam Ahmed held him back (he was used as the eighth bowler) but he showed tremendous pluck when it came to handling Wes Hall and Jaswick Taylor: coming out at nine for two he received a few blows from the fast bowlers (who were aided by Eric Atkinson, Sonny Ramadhin, and Garry Sobers) and was the only one to hold fort.
Hardikar scored 64 when nobody else crossed 14, and the home side was bowled out for 124 and lost by an innings. The gutsy performance made him an obvious choice for the first Test at Brabourne Stadium.
India began the series on a high with the seamers reducing the tourists to 50 for three. It was then that Rohan Kanhai and ‘Collie’ Smith got together and put their heads down, scratching their way to a 68-run partnership. Umrigar held back Hardikar and eventually introduced himself as the seventh bowler.
Hardikar struck immediately: he trapped Kanhai leg-before with his third ball, and once the partnership broke West Indies surrendered for 227 against Subhash Gupte’s wiles. Hardikar, perhaps a tad under-bowled, finished with figures of 7-5-9-1: he would not manage another Test wicket.
He walked out with the score on 120 for four. The dangerous Roy Gilchrist was bowling with fiery pace, and had removed Umrigar the previous ball; poor Hardikar was left clueless; he was trapped leg-before first ball. His ten overs went for 36 in the West Indian second innings, and India were left to score 399 or bat out nine-and-a-half hours.
It was then that Pankaj Roy played his 444-minute marathon of 90, holding up against Hall and Gilchrist; however, India still had to bat out over two hours when Hardikar joined Gulabrai Ramchand, and the two batted with immense grit. They added an unbeaten 85 when stumps were drawn with Ramchand on 67 and Hardikar on 32: the Test had been saved.
Ghulam was appointed captain for the second Test at Green Park: once again West Indies were bowled out cheaply (for 222, which included a seventh-wicket stand of exactly a hundred between Joe Solomon and Gerry Alexander; Subhash Gupte picked up nine wickets) and when Roy added 93 with Nari Contractor, it seemed that India stood with a chance. Umrigar and Vijay Manjrekar then took the score to 182 for two, and for once it seemed that India were under control.
Then it all went wrong as a rampant Hall ran through the Indian line-up; with some assistance from Taylor he bowled out the hosts for 222; poor Hardikar was hit behind the left ear (the ball raced to the boundary) by a ferocious beamer from Taylor; his confidence was dented severely as he became one of Hall’s six victims: he scored a mere 13.
Though both West Indian openers scored ducks in the second innings, Sobers took the Indian bowlers to the cleaners as India were set 444 for victory (Hardikar’s solitary over went for ten after he did not bowl in the first innings).
Once again there was a gallant start by Roy, Contractor, Umrigar, and Manjrekar as India reached 173 for two; once again Hall ran through the rest, this time finishing with five wickets; once again Hall clean bowled Hardikar; and India were eventually bowled out for 240, adding 67 for the last eight wickets (they had added 40 in the first innings). Hardikar never played another Test.
His name came up again for the fourth Test at Cheapauk. Lala Amarnath, the Chairman of Selectors, had wanted to get Umrigar back as the new captain (since Ghulam had lost the previous two Tests) and Jasu Patel as the replacement spinner. Cota (or Cotah, or Cotar) Ramawasami, on the other hand, wanted Kripal Singh.
Moreover, Ramaswami had wanted Hardikar as a replacement for Manjrekar, but unfortunately Hardikar missed the last flight from Bombay. In the meantime, Umrigar refused to lead if Patel was chosen and Apoorva Sengupta, who had scored a hundred in the tour match for Services, made his debut. Hardikar went out of contention. With all-rounders like Rusi Surti, Borde, Bapu Nadkarni, and Salim Durani dominating Indian cricket in the 1960s Hardikar was never reconsidered.
Back to domestic cricket
Back to playing for Bombay, Hardikar went onto become a crucial cog in the all-conquering Bombay line-up that lifted the Trophy from 1958-59 to 1972-73. In 1964-65, he registered his highest First-Class score when he slammed 207 not out against a strong Services side at home.
The mantle changed hands from Umrigar to Madhav Apte, and then to Nadkarni. In 1966-67, Hardikar was appointed the captain of Bombay. Now reduced to a part-time bowler, he did not make it big till the final against Rajasthan at home. After the tourists scored 284 Dilip Sardesai, Nadkarni, and Hardikar all scored hundreds as Bombay won on first-innings.
He started the next season’s Ranji Trophy with 146 not out against Saurashtra at home and 99 against Baroda in Baroda. He led from the front and scored 135 in the semi-final at Eden Gardens to bat Bengal out of the tournament.
The final against Madras at Brabourne Stadium was one of the finest in the history of Ranji Trophy. After Arun Varde bowled out the visitors for 258, Chandroth Bhaskaran reduced Bombay to 31 for three. Hardikar scored 73, adding 168 with Ashok Mankad as Bombay secured a 54-run lead.
The match, however, was far from over. Bombay were eventually set 249 to win on a crumbling wicket in well over a day, and both Srinivas Venkataraghavan and VV Kumar were getting lethal turn and bounce. From 94 for one Bombay crashed to 109 for five with almost two sessions to go.
Hardikar started the rearguard with a teenaged Eknath Solkar in tow; Venkataraghavan and Kumar sent down over after over, but the pair were determined to guide Bombay to the title; they were simply not going to give in. They remained unvanquished (Hardikar with 62, Solkar with 55) as Bombay finished with 225 for five and lifted the title on first-innings lead.
It turned out to be his last Ranji Trophy match. He was succeeded by Ajit Wadekar, who helped defend the title successfully. Hardikar played two Relief Fund matches later that season, scoring five and 19 in his last match at Margao and getting Nadkarni out. Thereafter he quit First-Class cricket at an age of 32, but was named an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year that year.
Hardikar suffered from cancer in his fifties and passed away in 1995. He was only four days short of his 59th birthday.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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