No one quite matches the achievements of the axed Mohinder Amarnath, but the newly appointed selectors do have quite a lot of experience between them. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the careers of the five wise men who are set to guide the fortunes of Indian cricket.
The chief selector
When he burst into the scene, Sandeep Patil brought with him oozing star appeal ahead of his time. There were more dedicated exponents of batting in the team of the early eighties – established greats in the annals of Indian cricket. Yet, crowds flocked to watch the handsome, often erratic, and superbly talented batsman from Bombay, with a penchant for attractive stroke-play and frequent big hits.
He grew up playing school cricket alongside Dilip Vengsarkar. Patil followed Vengsarkar into the Indian team in 1980, and was an instant success on his first tour. In the first Test at Sydney, a Rodney Hogg bouncer hit him on the throat, but he continued to bat attractively. He had moved to 65, before another short ball from Len Pascoe struck him above the ear forcing him to retire hurt. He still staggered out to bat in the second innings, in a futile attempt to avoid innings defeat.
His moment of glory came in the second Test at Adelaide when he produced a scintillating exhibition of counter-attack. Coming in at 130 for four with the total of 528 bearing down on the Indians, Patil drove with grace and cut and pulled with power to hit 174. Years later, several Australian cricketers could detect similarities between the on-drives he essayed during that innings with those played by VVS Laxman. The innings consisted of 22 fours and a six over mid- wicket off Bruce Yardley.
It propelled him to instant fame and he started appearing on soft drink and other commercials of the day – thus far reserved for only Sunil Gavaskar. However, in the next 14 innings, he crossed fifty only twice – giving an indication of the inconsistency that would dog him right through his career.
Dropped after the fourth Test of the incredibly tedious home series against England, Patil nevertheless made it to England that followed. Making a comeback into the team at Manchester, he batted at No 7 and launched one of the most brutal rear-guard actions after coming in at 136 for five. Adding 96 with Kapil Dev in an hour, he raced to 129 not out, in the process taking 4,4,4,0,4,4,4 off a Bob Willis over - the third delivery being a no-ball. Two were cover drives, two fierce square cuts, one swivelling hook and another short ball flat batted over the bowler’s head. It took him nine balls to move from 73 to 104.
After another century in India’s first ever Test against Sri Lanka, Patil sunk back into another spate of low scores – and opted out of the West Indies tour of 1982-83. The preceding Pakistan tour had been disastrous for India, and apart from two knocks of 68 and 84 he had not been able to reach double figures in the other five innings.
He was back in the team for the Prudential World Cup of 1983, and was one of the heroes of the triumph – especially remembered for his blistering half century in the semi-final against England.
Yet, his form deserted him again during the home series against Pakistan and West Indies that followed, in which he managed a meagre 109 runs off 8 innings with a highest of 26.
However, it dented neither his confidence nor his popularity. Soon, he was trespassing into another area of Indian cricket till then earmarked for Gavaskar and later Kapil Dev – publishing his autobiography Sandy Storm while still very much an active cricketer.
The next year, he showed some signs of recovery. During the tour of Pakistan, curtailed due to the assassination of Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, Patil belted 127 on a featherbed at Faisalabad, his fourth and last Test century. Back home, in the series against England, he batted with visible grit in the first innings of the second Test at Delhi.
It was the second innings at Delhi which proved to be the last straw on Patil erratic career. Needing to bat out the final day, India was going strong at 207 for four, Patil at the crease with 41 along with the solid Ravi Shastri. It was now that he tried to launch Phil Edmonds out of the ground and was caught at long-on by Allan Lamb. Seven runs later, Kapil Dev was out to a similar skier off Pat Pocock and India collapsed to defeat. In the resulting disciplinary action against irresponsible batting, both Patil and Kapil were dropped from the side for the next match at Calcutta.
While Kapil was back for the fourth Test, Patil never played Test cricket again. His place in the side was usurped by a lanky, wristy youth named Mohammad Azharuddin – who started off with a hundred and continued in the same vein.
Yet, the next year saw Patil rising to a new level of stardom. In 1985, the Bollywood movieKabhi Ajnabi The was released with Patil as the hero holding his own against Poonam Dhillon and Debashree Roy. Playing the role of the villain in the movie was Indian wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani.
Patil did tour England in 1986, but played only a couple of ODIs, batting once and scoring 12. After that, he was no longer in the reckoning for national duty. After appearing for Bombay against the visiting Australians, Patil announced his retirement from First-class cricket.
When Dilip Vengsarkar captained India to West Indies in 1988-89, Mohinder Amarnath had just been comically omitted for famously calling the selectors a bunch of jokers. For a while it was rumoured that Vengsarkar wanted to fill in the missing experience on the tough tour by pushing for Patil. However, nothing came off it.
Patil did make a comeback to First-class cricket, captaining Madhya Pradesh for five years with reasonable success, with time sporting a rather substantial white tinged beard.
In the end, his Test record of 1588 runs at 36.93 reads measly when contrasted with his oodles of talent and very astute cricketing acumen that he demonstrated while leading in domestic tournaments. But the ones who saw his exuberant stroke-play still remember him fondly, with misty eyes.
Binny was the first Anglo-Indian to play for India. Perhaps this is what made him a brilliant asset to have on English tours.
Indeed, his solitary five-wicket haul that came in an Indian win came at Leeds in 1986, in conditions that made every seam bowler look like a demon, Binny decidedly more so. It was also in England, during the Prudential World Cup 1983, when Binny picked up 18 wickets at 18.66 apiece, giving away just 3.81 runs an over. While this is rather well known, what many tend to forget is the amazing hand he had in the subsequent 1985 Benson Hedges Mini World Cup triumph, picking up nine wickets at just 13.67 apiece.
Having him in the team had the additional advantage of the solidity he brought to the lower order. He started his Test career with 46 on debut against Imran Khan, Abdul Qadir and Iqbal Qasim. In the fifth Test at Chennai he blasted Imran Khan and Sikander Bakht for an unbeaten 42 off 45 balls, including a hooked six off an Imran bouncer. Indeed, Binny had initially shot to fame by adding a record 451 runs for the first wicket with Sanjay Desai for Karnataka against Kerala in 1977-78. Yes, he could open the batting too, and did so in the Jubilee Test of 1980 alongside Gavaskar.
Additionally, he was a brilliant fielder.
While enjoying success in the One-Day tournaments and a couple of Tests in England, Binny struggled to get wickets in India and was perpetually in and out of the team. But, he did have his moments at home. His defiant partnership with Madan Lal saved India from defeat against Pakistan at Bangalore in 1983. He also produced several gutsy innings against the four pronged pace attack of the West Indies in the series that followed. During the same series against West Indies, he briefly unsettled the great side by dismissing Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes and Vivian Richards in quick succession at Ahmedabad.
His greatest moment with the ball at home came against Pakistan at the Eden in 1986. Following a breezy unbeaten 52, he capitalised on the helpful conditions by producing a first innings spell of six for 56 that raised hopes of an Indian win. He bowled superbly in the second innings too, but could not get past the broad blade of Javed Miandad.
Incredibly, he played just two more Tests after that, bowling three overs in all.
His final figures are not flattering, 830 runs at 23.05 and 47 wickets at 32.63. However, his 77 wickets in ODIs at 29.35 are full of winning memories.
A big run getter in the domestic circuit, he found himself woefully out of depth in the six Tests he played for India at the top of the order.
A drive through the offside was a rare encouraging sign during his debut innings in Birmingham, but an hour’s struggle for 20 started the saga of edges which continued throughout his brief career.
He did not cross fifty even once in his ten innings, and by the time he hit 44 against South Africa at Johannesburg, India had started looking elsewhere for an opening batsman.
He was a surprise choice for the spot of deputy wicket-keeper to the West Indies in 1988-89, and did not manage a single International game. However, consistent keeping and powerful batting displays kept him in the reckoning and he was back in the Indian side for the South African tour of 1996.
He made immediate impression, scoring 55 on his ODI debut off 48 balls against South Africa, following it up with 38 in the next match against Zimbabwe which enabled India to tie the game. However, his next 100 runs encompassed 13 innings. He never really got going with the bat again at International level, and it was only the regular failures of the other wicketkeepers that managed to get him back into the national side.
He played one Test match against Bangladesh, but was struck on the eye while keeping to Anil Kumble in the Asia Cup at Dhaka and the resulting surgery ended his cricket career.
A regular commentator now, Karim amassed 7310 runs in First-Class cricket at an amazing average of 56.66.
The only man in the panel without international exposure, Rajinder Singh Hans nevertheless played against touring sides on four occasions, twice against MCC for Central Zone in 1976 and 1982, and twice against the West Indians for Board President’s XI in 1979 and for Central Zone in 1983.
A consistent performer in the domestic circuit, he was at his best in 1977-78, picking up 69 wickets with his left-arm spin at 18.18. This managed to bring him on the threshold of the national team, but with Dilip Doshi taking over from Bishan Singh Bedi as the left arm spinner for India, he could not break through to play at the highest level.
However, 340 wickets in a decade, at an average of 22.13 do speak of volumes of experience.
(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)