Classy in whatever he did on and off the field, ML Jaisimha is one of the seven players who are to be posthumously honoured by BCCI. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the batsman who stepped out of the plane to score a hundred in the 1968 Brisbane Test.
He buttoned his silk shirt to the wrists and turned his collar up. Every movement was a statement in style – on or off the field. Whether it was smoothly cutting off a travelling ball in the outfield or driving off the front foot with élan; walking with his inimitable gait, or his boyish face breaking into an infectious smile, or the impeccably knotted tie hanging with casual elegance from his neck, no one quite did it like ML Jaisimha.
Years later, we identified the traits of the turned up collar and the buttoned shirt, the electrifying fielding and the wristy magic, with the intoxicating brilliance of Mohammad Azharuddin. But Jaisimha was the template on which the Hyderabadi panache was developed.
True, the willow of Jaisimha did not quite trace the glittering paths of Azharuddin and, later, VVS Laxman. Yet, he was the most loved of cricketers, some of whose feats have lived on as legendary. From batting on all five days in a Test match, to getting off a plane to score a hundred in Brisbane, playing golf with Sir Garfield Sobers or being made an honorary life member of the MCC, it was a career to remember and cherish.
The vigil at Eden
Jaisimha made his debut for Hyderabad at the age of 15, scoring a polished 90 against Andhra Pradesh in 1954. A few seasons of consistent all-round performance, elegant run making with some success with medium paced bowling, saw him touring England in 1958.
His Test debut was at the headquarters of cricket, but he hardly set Lord’s on fire – falling for 1 and 8 in his two innings, the second of which was as an opening batsman.
His next opportunity came in the fifth Test against Australia at the Eden Gardens, and he seized it with both hands, creating history.
The Indian innings folded at 194 on the second morning with Jaisimha unbeaten on 20. Australia scored 331 in response and India began their second innings during the last session of the third day. At the fall of the second wicket at 67, Jaisimha was sent in to see through the remainder of the day, and he did so without opening his account.
The next day, he refused to budge. Wickets fell around him, but he put his head down and batted on. Pankaj Roy and CD Gopinath left in quick succession to reduce India to 78 for four, defeat looming large. However, Jaisimha carried on. First with Bapu Nadkarni, then with Chandu Borde and finally with Ramnath Kenny, he stitched together partnerships, occupying the crease like a man possessed, scoring runs only when unavoidable. He batted through the day and was unbeaten on 59 when stumps were drawn, India finishing at 243 for six. Benaud, Lindwall, Alan Davidson, Ian Meckiff and Ken Mackay had tried all the tricks up their formidable sleeves to no avail.
It was well into the final day when Mackay finally got one through his defence and Jaisimha fell for 74, but by then the match had been saved. He thus became the first batsman to bat on all five days of a Test match – a feat repeated only six times since.
Rise, fall and amazing return
In the next Test that he played, against Pakistan at Kanpur, Jaisimha opened the innings and became the fifth batsman to be run out for 99.
His stylish batting was already making waves, and with Pankaj Roy coming to the end of his career, he soon established himself as an opening batsman.
The series against England that followed was one of the best he enjoyed in his career. At Delhi he scored an attractive 127 with 14 fours and two sixes, and also had three fifties to go with it as India triumphed 2-0 in the five Tests.
A total of 728 runs from 11 Tests at 45.50 was a superb start to a career. Then the Indians toured West Indies and came up against fire breathing fast bowling.
The Caribbean odyssey was disastrous for both him and the side. Jaisimha managed just 117 at 14.62, with a highest of 41. The promise of developing into a top-class opener was short-lived as he found the pace of Wes Hall, Charlie Stayers and Lester King too hot to handle.
He enjoyed a much better series back home, when England visited again and played out five docile draws. And it was during the Calcutta Test of this series that Jaisimha formed the everlasting relationship that Hyderabadi batsmen have enjoyed with the Eden. Most of the spectators who saw him score 118 in the second innings, with 18 boundaries and a six, vouch that it was an unforgettable effort. Jaisimha may have struggled in the distant shores of the West Indies, but in India he was a hero.
Unfortunately, the next three series saw him struggle for runs, not capitalising even against a weak New Zealand side. These failures ensured that he was no longer an automatic choice, but they also set the stage for one of the greatest fairytale comebacks of Indian cricket.
Jaisimha did not find a place in the side that toured Australia. However, losses at Adelaide and Melbourne, along with several injuries to the touring party, ensured that he was flown in as a replacement. Going straight into the third Test at Brisbane, Jaisimha scored 74 in the first innings. And when India chased an unlikely 395 to win in the final innings, he played perhaps the best innings of his life. Coming in at 154 for four, he added 119 with Borde for the sixth wicket and at one stage India stood at 310 for five.
The miracle did not transpire, with Borde falling to part time bowler Bob Cowper. But Jaisimha fought on, reaching a remarkable century, fighting hard till he was the last out for 101 as India lost by just 39 runs.
The last days
Sadly, in the remaining four years of his career, Jaisimha never again scored a half century. The highest in his last nine Tests was 23, scored in his last appearance, at Port of Spain.
He failed in New Zealand, bagged a pair in the only Test he played when the Kiwis visited India. And on his last tour – West Indies in 1970-71 – Sunil Gavaskar, who had grown up idolising him, was reduced to farming the strike and shielding him in the Test matches.
Yet, during that historic series, Jaisimha did play a crucial role. Even when sitting out in the second Test, he volunteered to go in with the drinks and shared his crucial insights with captain Ajit Wadekar which proved to be decisive in the end.
Jaisimha ended his career with 2056 runs at 30.68 from 39 Tests. And although his nine wickets came at a colossally expensive 92.11 apiece, he had the distinction of opening both the batting and bowling for India in as many as eight Tests.
Perhaps the best captain never to lead India, Jaisimha was the skipper of the strong Hyderabad team for 16 of his 23 years of First-class cricket. The Indian captain of the 60s, Nawab of Pataudi, had no problems in playing under his leadership in domestic matches. Under his captaincy, South Zone triumphed three times in the Duleep Trophy and shared the title once.
Jaisimha also played the role of manager and selector of the Indian cricket team, before succumbing to lung cancer in 1999.Till the final days he was full of zest for life, with his enduring slim figure, a cigarette between his fingers and a glass of whiskey nestling in his hand. His untimely death was mourned all over the country.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to him was played by Sunil Gavaskar, who named his son Rohan Jaiviswa – after three greats who had shared the cricket grounds with him, Rohan Kanhai, ML Jaisimha and Gundappa Viswanath.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix