On February 2, 1977, Yajurvindra Singh wrote his name in the record books as he took seven catches on his Test debut against England at Bangalore. In the first innings, he accounted for five England batsmen – to equal the record for the most catches by a fielder in an innings. He then held on to two more in the second essay – to make it seven for the game and level the record for the most catches by a fielder in a Test match.
In an exclusive interview with CricketCountry’s Nishad Pai Vaidya, Yajurvindra Singh looks back at his debut and talks about his world record, fielding at short-leg and the importance of that position.
Excerpts from an interview:
CricketCountry (CC): You came into the side at the back of good batting performances. Did you ever imagine that your fielding would make you famous on Test debut?
Yajurvindra Singh (YS): No one really imagines what can get you fame. Actually, there is a story to it. There was a jyotish (astrologer) I used to believe in – who said that you will play Test cricket this year (1977). I did not do too well against England in the tour match before that and I felt he was talking rubbish. But I did get selected. The jyotish said, “When you do get selected, you will get world fame.” Naturally, my whole thought was that “world fame” meant a hundred on debut. After all Ranjitsinhji, Duleepsinhji, Tiger Pataudi’s father, Hanumant Singh – all Royals – got a hundred on Test debut, so I thought that is something in life you have to do. I didn’t do well in my first innings and was disappointed. But then came the world record in catches. So the jyotish was right!
CC: When the England started their innings, you opened the bowling with Karsan Ghavri as he was the only specialist seamer. Did you know before hand that you would open the bowling, or was it a surprise?
YS: When you are fielding close to the wicket, the ball comes at a tremendous pace. Fielding at short-leg is difficult as you do not know how the ball will come. There are bat-pads, but some of them come straight from the edges, which people now say is impossible to catch. You just dreamt that the ball is going to come into your hands. There is a mental side to it. Firstly, you shouldn’t be scared of being hit. If there is fear, there is no way you can field there. And you should enjoy fielding there – which I used to. With such great spinners as Bishan, Pras and Chandra in the line-up, you can get sharp edges fielding close to the wicket. When I look back, the most difficult catch was that of Dennis Amiss in the second innings. But, the catch I took of Derek Randall was tough. It was a one handed catch and was taken at the edge of the wicket. Then the catch I took of Underwood flew towards me and I clutched at it with one hand. Most of those catches came off sharp edges off the bowling of Chandra. He could bowl faster than a fast bowler. The ball used to fly and I had to move like a flycatcher. If it stuck, then well and good. And that day everything stuck in my hand.
CC: At the end of the first innings, you had taken five catches. Did you know that you had equalled Vic Richardson’s record for most catches taken in a Test innings?
YS: No, I did not know it. When you are playing the game, you really don’t know what is happening. Thank God I did not know. It is only after I came back to the pavilion someone mentioned that I had a world record. Again, I was thinking: “Is India going to win?” My concerns were more about the team and my performance rather than dwelling on a world record. But, later I realised I should have enjoyed it much more.
CC: In India’s second innings, there was an interesting thing that Gundappa Viswanath told you. What was it?
YS: On that wicket in Bangalore, Underwood was unplayable. You would have one ball turning sharply and the other would come in. Viswanath was not feeling well and hence I went to bat at No 5. When we batted together, he told me, “Don’t do anything stupid; just play straight and leave it to me.” And he went on to score a fabulous, unbeaten 79 on a tough wicket. The first ball Viswanath faced from Underwood, he flicked it for four through the leg side. He then came and told me, “If he keeps bowling on the leg-stump, I will keep hitting him like this.” I did not have the heart to tell him that he had hit it from way outside the off-stump as well!
YS: By then, I knew I had to break the seven to clinch the world record for myself. The sixth one was of Amiss. Karsan Ghavri was bowling and I was at backward short-leg. I saw the ball ballooning towards me and I didn’t feel I was going to reach it. Nevertheless, I took a few steps and put in a full-length dive, just to make a natak (Hindi for “show”) of it. The ball fell right into the edge of my fingers. I rolled over and came up only to find everybody running towards me and the batsman walking back. The seventh catch was of Keith Fletcher. It came flying towards my right. I could have had the world record to myself as I almost had Roger Tolchard out. The ball flew past me, but I dived for it and got it in my hands. But as I came down, my elbow hit the ground and the ball slipped out of my grasp. I did get him out after that, but it wasn’t given. So near yet so far.
CC: Fielding has improved today and has become a critical part of the game. What are the tips you would pass on to youngsters who field at short-leg?
YS: There is a technique to field at short-leg. As I said earlier, you need guts and the passion to field there. The next step is when you tune your mind that the ball is coming to you as it can anytime. Then you have to place yourself in positions to give you a good chance. I used to stay a little closer as that narrowed the angles. I would then stay down as the edges would come a little higher. Normally you don’t catch the ball parallel to you, but a little behind you. That gives you extra bit of time. You need practice to field there. It is not like the youngster in the side has to go there – it is a specialist position. The sooner people realise it, the better it would be for Indian cricket.
CC: Do you think that today’s mindset entails the youngster to stand at short-leg?
YS: Unfortunately that has become the trend. Not only in Test cricket, but also First-Class cricket. The player who makes his debut stands there and it has been a tradition for quite some time. If you make a turner, the spinners are in play. Thus, you need a specialist there. The only one who recognised this as a captain was Sunil Gavaskar. When we played the West Indies in India in 1978-79, he specifically got me there to field close in and we won the Test at Chennai because of it. That was a significant move in that series.
CC: In the modern era, who has impressed you the most at short-leg? Who did you admire from the bygone era?
YS: Aakash Chopra was good and did well there. Ricky Ponting was also a phenomenal fielder close in. During our time, Viv Richards was too good. Once he took an unbelievable catch of Gavaskar at that position. I looked up to Brian Close who was excellent there.