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Parthasarathy Sharma: A talented all-rounder who couldn’t fulfill his burgeoning potential for India

Parthasarthy Sharma. Photo courtesy: Mid-Day
Parthasarthy Sharma. Photo courtesy: Mid-Day

The prodigious Parthasarathy Sharma was born on January 5, 1948. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an excellent all-rounder and coach who did not justify his talent at the top level.

It can be argued whether Parthasarathy Harishchandra Sharma should have got a longer run at the top level: given his excellent performance at First-Class level, one might think he could have been given more than an aggregate of seven international matches to play for India (in which he bowled only four overs, despite being a quality all-rounder).

Parthasarathy was the ubiquitous Rajasthan player with an imposing physical stature and powerful shoulders. He could hit the ball cleanly and extremely hard, and on his day he could tear any bowling (with a special affinity to spinners) apart. Kishen Rungta went to the extent of saying that Parthasarathy was “the finest batsman to have ever played for Rajasthan.”

“He [Parthasarathy] was a damn good cricketer – a neat batsman, who could murder any spin attack and a good off-spinner. He could also field well at close-in,” said Kenia Jayantilal, Parthasarathy’s colleague at Mafatlal Sports Club in an interview with Mid-Day. He even kept wickets.

Parthasarathy  was one of the mainstays behind Rajasthan’s success story in Ranji Trophy in the 1960s (where they were runners-up in seven of the ten episodes of the tournament); he was also instrumental in the ascent of Central Zone in Duleep Trophy.

Jayantilal recalled his adventurous nature: “He [Parthasarathy] coerced us into indulging in some horse riding on tour. After we finished, he ordered the horse owner to pick us up at 6 am for another session. The man made it but our buttocks pained so much that we didn’t venture out. Parath [Sharma] was always the adventurous kind.”

Emphasising on Parthasarathy’s sense of humour, Jayantilal said: “Parath [Parthasarathy] got hold of a gun and gave us a feeling that he was aiming at us. He pulled the trigger, but the bullet went way past our group.”

From 152 First-Class matches, Parthasarathy scored 8,614 runs at 39.15 with 18 hundreds. He also claimed 191 wickets at 24.51 with six five-fors and a ten-for as well as 145 catches and two stumpings. From five Tests, however, Parthasarathy’s tally read 187 runs at 18.70.

Early days

Born in Alwar, Parthasarathy caught the eyes of Salim Durrani with his all-round talent when he was ten. Such was his reputation at school-level that he broke into Raj Singh Dungarpur’s strong Rajasthan side of the early 1960s at an age of 14. Rajasthan won the game in which he made his debut against Uttar Pradesh at Lucknow by an innings, but Parthasarathy neither batted nor bowled nor took a catch.

Given the quality of the Rajasthan outfit in the period, a couple of failures meant a long wait for any cricketer, which was what had happened to Parthasarathy. In fact, he was more of a reserve cricketer till 1967-68, when he top-scored with 127 (his maiden First-Class hundred) at Hyderabad for Dungarpur XI against a strong Indian Starlets attack that included the likes of Dhiraj Parsana, Mohinder Amarnath, and Uday Joshi.

The next season saw Parthasarathy slamming 110 against Delhi in the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal at Kotla; a few days later he came into prominence with the ball against North Zone at Kotla with figures of four for 59.

Towards the end of the decade, Parthasarathy slowly developed into one of the stars of the Rajasthan side: he finished 1970-71 with 383 runs at 54.71; the next season he scored 537 runs at 48.81 and added 11 wickets at 19.45 to his tally, starring in Central Zone’s maiden Duleep Trophy title. His all-round performance made him an Indian Cricketer of the Year.

The first five-wicket haul came in the next season at Nagpur, where he helped Rajasthan rout Vidarbha with figures of three for 60 and five for 33. He started bowling more at this phase of his career, and was selected for the unofficial tour of Sri Lanka in 1973-74. He did an impressive job, scoring 85 against the Board President’s XI at Kandy and 61 in the unofficial Test against Sri Lanka at Colombo.

He took a career-best six for 26 against Vidarbha at Nagpur (as well as scoring 54 not out). Next season he was selected to play for Indian Board President’s XI against the touring West Indians at Jaipur. Batting against Andy Roberts, Keith Boyce, Bernard Julien, and Lance Gibbs, Parthasarathy top-scored with a dazzling 83.

MAK Pataudi and Sunil Gavaskar’s injury in the Bangalore Test had opened up two slots at the top of the order: with the in-form Parthasarathy and Gopal Bose both contenders for Test debut, the selectors only went for the former, and recalled Sudhir Naik.

International cricket

Parthasarathy Sharma (left) stonewalled England's surge for a brief period in the Delhi Test in 1976 with a gritty innings © Getty Images
Parthasarathy Sharma (left) stonewalled England’s surge for a brief period in the Delhi Test in 1976 with a gritty innings © Getty Images

After Srinivas Venkataraghavan decided to bat, India lost Farokh Engineer, Hemant Kanitkar, and Naik with 104 on the board when Parthasarathy walked out to join Gundappa Viswanath. The Karnataka champion did not last long either, and the spinners – Gibbs and Elquemedo Willett – kept on taking wickets at regular intervals.

Parthasarathy played a neat, composed innings. “He [Parthasarathy] faced the pace bowling with equanimity and was most impressive in his attack on the spinners. He batted two and a half hours, hitting one six and six boundaries, and it was only the prospect of running out of partners that caused him to play a desperate shot resulting in a catch in the deep,” wrote Wisden.

Parthasarathy was eventually the eighth batsman out with the score on 196: he had top-scored with 54, as India folded for 220. Taking advantage of the absence of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Viv Richards then mauled the Indian attack with an innings of 192 not out, helping West Indies to a 273-run lead.

India lost Naik and Kanitkar cheaply, and Engineer’s 75-run blitz ended when he was third out on 103 for three. The score was almost identical to the first-innings when Parthasarathy walked out to join Viswanath: this time, too, he looked completely in control as he added 101 with Viswanath, and it seemed that India might put up a fight.

It was then that Viswanath edged Gibbs to Clive Lloyd. Then, as Parthasarathy ran frantically for the run that would have made him the third Indian to have scored twin fifties on Test debut (after Dilawar Hussain and Gavaskar) he was run out for 49. From 204 for three, India collapsed to 256 and lost by an innings.

Parthasarathy was retained for the next Test at Calcutta: unfortunately, he had to walk out to bat to face the second ball of the Test after Andy Roberts removed Naik; he struggled for a painstaking six, and in the second innings was run out for a score of 15. India won the Test, and the selectors roped in Eknath Solkar and Ashok Mankad for Naik and Parthasarathy in the next Test.

He toured New Zealand, but never got to play a Test, but was selected for both One-Day Internationals (ODIs). He failed to do well with the willow in both matches: opening the batting with Dilip Vengsarkar, he scored only six and 14. He never played another ODI.

Parthasarathy was thrown to the wolves when he was asked to open batting with Gavaskar in the first Test at Bourda against Roberts and Michael Holding: he did not have much to do as Gavaskar set out in a murderous mood, and India reached 51 in the ninth over, before Parthasarathy was caught off Holding for six.

After West Indies took a 311-run lead, he walked out again with Gavaskar and once again found Holding too hot to handle: this time Parthasarathy was caught-behind for a single run, and was not recalled in the series.

Parthasarathy was selected for the first Test against Tony Greig’s Englishmen at Kotla: Dennis Amiss’ epic 179 helped England amass 381, and some Vaseline-smooth bowling from John Lever reduced India to 96 for five when he walked out to join Gavaskar, who was playing a lone hand.

However, The Little Master fell soon, and Parthasarathy was tormented by Lever and Derek Underwood, before falling for a 29-ball four. Following on being 259 behind, he walked out at first-down with the score on 20 and set up tent, allowing Gavaskar to launch a fightback.

At 110 for one, India seemed to be clawing back into the Test, but Underwood ended Parthasarathy’s 151-ball, 196-minute vigil of 29. ‘Deadly’ then accounted for Gavaskar as well, and India lost the Test comfortably by an innings.

The next Test at Eden Gardens did not go well for India either: they lost Gavaskar after four balls, and after a 52-minute struggle for nine Parthasarathy fell to Lever as well. He decided to counterattack in the second innings, but fell to Bob Willis for a 32-ball 20. India lost by ten wickets, and Parthasarathy never played another Test.

Back to domestic cricket

Despite his failure at the highest level, Parthasarathy kept delivering in domestic cricket. Playing for Rest of India against Bombay in 1977-78, he scored 206 – then the highest score in an Irani Trophy match, going past Viswanath’s record of 200 not out (the record is currently held by Murali Vijay with 266). Two matches later he single-handedly defeated South Zone at Nagpur with 103 and 31, and figures of three for nine and five for 85.

Parthasarathy kept delivering against the touring sides as well: 39, 58 not out, and three for 40 against West Indians at Bombay; 96 against Australians at Nagpur; and 70 against Pakistanis at Jaipur. He followed it up with 127 against Uttar Pradesh at Agra and claimed his only ten-for – five for 69 and five for 47 against Railways at Delhi.

In 1979-80, he scored three consecutive hundreds in Ranji Trophy, and two matches later managed 111 and 87 against South Zone at Kanpur. However, his form coincided with the rise of the likes of Vengsarkar, Chetan Chauhan, and Yashpal Sharma, and with Gavaskar and Vengsarkar still going strong, it was impossible for him to make a comeback.

He played till 1984-85 when Rajasthan was past their glory days. He scored 39 in his last match against Uttar Pradesh at Jaipur before finally calling it quits.

Post-retirement

Following his retirement, Parthasarathy became a reputed coach, most known for guiding Gautam Gambhir back to the Test side. He also helped Rahul Dravid fine-tune his technique. The Cricketer wrote: “[Rahul] Dravid, who has always revelled in the technical side of the game, was one of the beneficiaries, constantly picking his brain for pointers, while Gautam Gambhir credited him with the remodelled technique that allowed him to score a half-century or more in 11 consecutive Tests.”

His four-year stint at the National Cricket Academy [NCA] saw him mentor the likes of Robin Uthappa, Piyush Chawla, Amit Mishra, and Suresh Raina. In 2009 he replaced Manoj Prabhakar as the coach of the Rajasthan side.

Parthasarathy Sharma passed away on October 20, 2010 at an age of 62 years 288 days when his condition deteriorated in the ICU. He was survived by his wife and son.

(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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