August 1, 1910, saw the birth of India’s first express pace bowler – Mohammad Nissar, who perhaps still stands as the fastest-ever produced by the country. Forty two years down the line, on the same day, Yajurvindra Singh was born – a man who on Test debut equalled two world records. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the careers of these two unique Indian cricketers.
The first of August is indeed a curious day for Indian cricket. Full to the brim with wristy batsmen and mystic spinners, this major cricketing nation has never quite been known for fire-breathing fast men or electric fielders. Occasionally there has been a rare specimen of each kind, but till this day, they have emerged as exceptions rather than norm.
Hence, it is indeed an anomaly of quirky chance that this very day saw the birth of two individuals – who played only 10 Tests between them, but wrote their names in indelible font in the pages of Indian history, one as an express bowler and the other a mercurial fielder.
Pace of the primeval fire
One hundred and two years ago in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, was born the man who bowled the first ball for India in Test cricket, at a pace that shook the world, making them sit up in their plush Long Room and take notice. Within the first few minutes on that day at Lord’s, Mohammad Nissar had Herbert Sutcliffe playing on to a scorching in-swinging yorker, and soon after sent the off-stump of Percy Holmes in a spectacular cartwheel with one that came back viciously. England’s score read 11 for two. Just 10 days ago, the two Yorkshire openers had added 555 against Sussex.
Nissar took five wickets for 93 that day, but limited experience and batting ability of the side could not convert the excellent start into a win against the seasoned Englishmen. However, the fast bowling partnership he formed with Amar Singh would turn out to be one of the best ever – perhaps - arguably the best – produced by India. On that 1932 tour, Nissar swung and cut the ball at fiery pace to take 71 wickets at 18 apiece.
When the English team visited India the next year, Nissar picked up five more at the Brabourne Stadium. While he could not reproduce the heroics with the ball in the home Tests that followed, he was back to his supreme form against Jack Ryder’s Australians. In the four unofficial ‘Tests’ played in 1935, he scalped 32.
Nissar’s final hour of glory in international cricket came in his last Test match at The Oval in 1936. A double hundred by Wally Hammond and a century by Stan Worthington had seen England coasting at 422 for three. This was when Nissar came back to pick up four wickets in five overs, bowling Hammond and Worthington, and getting Gubby Allen and Hedley Verity snicking behind, ending the innings with five for 120.
More than half his international wickets were either bowled or leg before wicket, a testimony to the sheer pace at which he came at batsmen.
He continued to play First-class cricket, helping Southern Punjab to reach the Ranji Trophy final in 1938-39. The next year, his partner in arms, Amar Singh, succumbed to typhoid at the young age of 29. In a cricketing sense, Nissar passed away as well, never really producing the pace or performance that brought him fame.
Equalling the feats of grandfather and grandson
Exactly 60 years ago, Yajurvindra Singh was born in Rajkot, the same city that also produced Amar Singh. By the mid-1970s, he had developed into a dour batsman who could score quickly if the situation demanded. When Tony Greig’s men were touring in 1976-77, he was brought into the Test team on the wake of a spate of brilliant batting performances in domestic cricket.
Batting at No six in the first innings and elevated to No 5 five in the second, he found the likes of Bob Willis and Derek Underwood too hot to handle. He struggled while scoring eight and 15, the second innings knock consuming 150 minutes.
However, standing close to the wicket as Bishan Bedi, Bhagawat Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna went about spinning their combined web of magic on a turning wicket, he displayed lightning reflexes and pouched catch after catch, some of them blinders. In the first innings, Keith Fletcher, Derek Randall, Greig, Dennis Amiss and Underwood all landed in his clasp, some off Chandrasekhar and some off Prasanna. The five catches equalled the world record set in 1935-36 by Vic Richardson.
In the second innings, as India spun their way to a win, he gobbled up the first two catches, Amiss off Karsan Ghavri and Fletcher off Chandrasekhar, equalling the world record of seven catches in a Test set a couple of years earlier by Richardson’s grandson, Greg Chappell.
He did little of note in the three other Tests that he managed to play. Touring England in 1979, he turned out in the final Test match, the thriller at The Oval, where he posted his highest score in international cricket, 43 not out in the first innings. However, he failed when India needed those crucial final runs to snatch an incredible victory on the final day.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)