Vijay Rajindernath had a successful Ranji Trophy stint with Bihar, scoring 366 runs and effecting 15 dismissals. Ramadham Presents The Galaxy of Indian Cricketers
Vijay Rajindernath had a successful Ranji Trophy stint with Bihar, scoring 366 runs and effecting 15 dismissals. Courtesy: Ramadham Presents The Galaxy of Indian Cricketers

Vijay Rajindernath, hailed as a teenage prodigy, born January 7, 1928, played a solitary but record-breaking Test. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at the gloveman whose career got lost amidst stiff competition from his peers.

Vijay Rajindernath (sometimes referred to as N Rajindernath, for whatever reason) was one of the several wicketkeepers India tried in the early 1950s, between the Probir Sen and Naren Tamhane eras. They tried Madhav Mantri, Ebrahim Maka, Nana Joshi, and even, for a Test, Vijay Manjrekar (who scored 43 and 118). Rajindernath played a solitary Test, did nothing wrong, and was dropped for good.

At 5’8”, Rajindernath was probably taller than the average Indian, but his skills lay in his deft glovework, especially in the way he whipped the bails off to dismiss unsuspecting batsmen. His First-Class tally read 59 dismissals from 28 matches, but 24 of these were stumpings.

More competent than spectacular with the bat, Rajindernath was good off the back-foot. He scored 844 runs at 22.21. He played only 15 Ranji Trophy matches, but represented five teams: Northern India, United Provinces, Southern Punjab, Bihar, and Eastern Punjab.

Early days

Born in Amritsar, Rajindernath was the son of Vishwanath Hoon. A competent batsman and an occasional wicketkeeper, Hoon was good enough to play the trial match for India Possibles against India Probables. Opening batting with Kartick Bose, Hoon scored 22 before he was bowled by Mohammad Nissar.

[Note: In Patrons, Players and the Crowd, Richard Cashman mentions that Rajindernath’s father was Dean of Banaras Hindu University (BHU). The BHU website does not make a reference to Hoon. However, Rajindernath had played a solitary match for United Provinces when he was 16, and went to BHU afterwards.]

By the time he turned 15, Rajindernath made his debut in an unofficial match for Punjab University against Punjab Governor’s XI. He was stumped by Dilawar Hussain, but he stumped Dilawar in return. He finished the match with a catch and three stumpings.

He made his First-Class debut that season in a Ranji Trophy match for Northern India, scoring 41. He played for United Provinces next season, but his biggest break came against Australian Services. Playing for Indian Universities (he was a student of BHU at this time) he took two catches.

The great escape

Following a productive phase with BHU, Rajindernath got a call-up to play for North Zone at Patiala against the touring West Indians of 1948-49. He was dismissed by George Headley. He had his revenge later in the day when he caught the great man (and stumped Gerry Gomez).

North Zone trailed by 372, and were 162 for 3 when play started on the final day. Rai Singh held fort for some time, but Jimmy Cameron’s double-strike, followed by Headley’s dismissal of Yuvraj of Patiala (Maharaja by then), reduced the hosts to 208 for 6. When Balbir Khanna was dismissed by John Goddard, North Zone still needed 52 to save the innings defeat. The alternative was to bat out 92 minutes.

Lala Amarnath was, of course, there, trying to pull off a miracle against John Trim, Gomez, Denis Atkinson, Goddard, and Headley (who was turning his leg-breaks sharply). As Amarnath kept one end moving, Rajindernath remained on guard at the other. The 372-mark was finally overcome; when stumps were drawn North Zone were on 378 for 7 with Amarnath on 223 and Rajindernath on 4.

Eastbound

Rajindernath moved to Bihar next season, and emerged as the leading wicketkeeper for the zone (besides acting as mentor for the side). He played several matches against Les Ames’ Commonwealth XI. He scored 57 against them for Bombay Governor’s XI — a match usually remembered as the only First-Class match of Raja Maharaj Singh. Coming out at 53 for 6, he added 109 with Rusi Modi.

He also played a match-saving 78 not out for Bihar Governor’s XI. Amidst all this, he played 3 unofficial “Tests” against them without much success. He also slammed 136 — his only First-Class hundred — against Orissa. It was certainly Rajindernath’s best season: his tally read 366 runs at 36.60 and 15 victims.

By the time the next season started, Rajindernath was one of the batting mainstays for Bihar as well. In a match against Uttar Pradesh he had an excellent stumping. Sujit Mukherjee described in Autobiography of an Unknown Cricketer: “Standing write up to him, despite [Bimal] Bose’s medium-pace, Rajindernath executed a marvellous stumping which removed the UP skipper BP Telang, before he had scored.”

Uttar Pradesh scored 178, but Bihar were soon reduced to 102 for 4 when the debutant Mukherjee joined Rajindernath. He wrote that Rajindernath “blossomed with pulls and drives off the backfoot,” and at lunch insisted Mukherjee had only bread and soup (which, for a food-loving Bengali, is synonymous to torture).

Mukherjee fell for 33 (and promptly “ate up all the biscuits [he] could reach at the tea interval”). They added 83. Rajindernath eventually fell for 76 before Bose wreaked havoc, and Bihar won their second match away from home (the first being against Orissa where Rajindernath had scored his hundred).

When England toured India, Rajindernath got to play them for East Zone. He also played for Bombay against the touring Pakistanis, and got a call-up for the third Test with the series levelled 1-1. He made his debut alongside Bal Dani and Madhav Apte.

World record

India used several new faces that season. Sen kept wickets in the first Test at Kotla; Joshi, in the second at Lucknow; Rajindernath, in the third at Brabourne Stadium; Maka, for the fourth at Chepauk; and Sen again, for the fifth at Eden Gardens (it was his last Test).

Abdul Hafeez Kardar chose to bat, but the tourists crumbled against Amarnath and Vinoo Mankad. They were reduced to 60 for 6 on the first morning before Waqar Hasan and Fazal Mahmood added 83, but Pakistan were eventually bowled out for 186. Rajindernath stumped Waqar off Mankad and Mahmood Hussain off Subhash Gupte.

In response, Vijay Hazare and Polly Umrigar amassed hundreds, putting up 183 for the fourth wicket. Amarnath declared on 387 for 4, and Mankad and Gupte bowled out Pakistan for 242. Rajindernath stumped Fazal and Israr Ali, both off Gupte. Rajindernath became the second (and last, till date) wicketkeeper to effect 4 stumpings on Test debut after Gil Langley (though Langley had also pouched 3 catches).

India won by 10 wickets. Rajindernath did not get a chance to bat, and did not play another Test. Of all cricketers without a Test catch, Rajindernath holds the record for most stumpings.

Final days

Rajindernath’s career faded out after playing his only Test. He moved northwards and even played a season for Eastern Punjab before calling quits in 1953-54. He was barely 26. When West Indies toured India in 1958-59, he made an appearance for Bihar Governor’s XI, catching Collie Smith and stumping Robin Bynoe, but doing little else of note. He never played again.

A graduate, Rajindernath had taken up a job at Burmah Shell Indo-Nippon Batteries during his working days. He passed at Madras on November 22, 1989.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)