Madan Lal, one of the heroes of the 1983 World Cup, was born on March 20, 1951. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a competitive cricketer who was a giant at the domestic level.
There was a standing joke among the Indian cricket lovers of the 1970s and 1980s: Madan Lal apparently ran in faster than he bowled!
It was a fact that Madan Lal’s Test averages were virtually the inverse of his First-Class numbers (1,042 runs at 22.65 and 71 wickets at 40.08 in Tests, 10,204 runs at 42.87 and 625 wickets at 25.50 in First-Class cricket).
However, the fact was that ‘Maddi Pa’ was actually a giant of domestic cricket, and his nippy swing bowling, handy lower-order batting, and top-notch outfielder had made him one of the best utility cricketers of his era.
Madan Lal was not one of the glamorous stars of Indian cricket. Instead, it was the rather mundane story of an ordinary cricketer’s ascent to the top through hard work, diligence, and patience. There have been many more talented cricketers, but few have been as committed to the sport. In Kapil Dev’s words, “’Maddi Pa’ was a hundred times earthier than me.”
Early days: Playing for Punjab
Based on some excellent performances at school and university level, Madan Lal broke into the Punjab Ranji Trophy team in the 1968-69 season as a teenager. He took eight wickets in his third Ranji match against Jammu and Kashmir, and then in the big match against Delhi, he impressed everyone with match figures of five for 73, and wrecked Delhi with a spell of seven for 53 in 1971-72.
After a few series of commendable performances in Ranji Trophy, he shifted to Delhi in the 1972-73 season, and after several impressive performances, he was selected for the Duleep Trophy squad for North Zone. He did well enough to be selected for a series of unofficial Tests in Sri Lanka.
Opening bowling with Pandurang Salgaoncar, Madan Lal took 10 for 102 in the match, compared to Salgaoncar’s seven for 121. Between them, they blew away the Sri Lankans. As a result he was selected to tour England in that fateful tour of 1974. He started well, picking up seven for 95 against a very strong Worcestershire batting line-up. After two more decent performances against Yorkshire and MCC, he was selected to make his Test debut in the first Test at Old Trafford.
Bizarre dismissal on debut
Few people have encountered a dismissal on Test debut as strange as Madan Lal had. He began the Test well, taking two for 56. Then, as Sunil Gavaskar scored a masterpiece of a hundred on a green pitch, the English bowlers ran through the Indian batting line-up. Bob Willis bowled two beautiful deliveries to hit Srinivas Venkataraghavan’s off-stump, and then Farokh Engineer’s leg-stump. The two blows might have loosened the stumps at their bases.
When Madan Lal walked out, Mike Denness brought back Mike Hendrick for a fresh spell. Hendrick bowled one well outside the off-stump, and with the aid of some wind, the ball swerved back awkwardly, flattening the off-stump of a stunned Madan Lal. It then brushed against the middle-stump, and proceeded to knock the leg-stump out of the ground. One can easily imagine the poor debutant’s reaction when he turned around to see only his middle-stump standing. He performed rather poorly, and India were whitewashed 3-0, reaching a nadir at Lord’s when they were bowled out for 42.
After the disastrous tour, Madan Lal was not in the squad for the first two Tests against West Indies at home. Trailing 0-2, India picked Madan Lal for the third Test at Calcutta. He began with a power-packed 48 with 10 boundaries. After India were bowled out for 233, Tiger Pataudi gave the new ball to Madan Lal.
In a fascinating display with the new ball, Madan Lal removed Gordon Greenidge and Alvin Kallicharran, followed with the wicket of Roy Fredericks, and eventually finished with figures four for 22. He also picked up Viv Richards in the second innings, and India won. After going wicketless in the fourth Test at Madas (where India levelled the series), he was dropped at Bombay, and West Indies took the series 3-2.
His all-round performances were good enough for the selectors to pick him for the 1975 World Cup. As things turned out, Madan Lal bowled the first ball in the history of the World Cup, but did nothing of note barring a three for 15 against a very weak East African side. The next season, he took his first five-for against New Zealand at Christchurch.
Back to domestic cricket
For a while Madan Lal was a regular in the Indian team, especially due to his success with the bat. He was picked for the 1977-78 Australia tour, and took five for 72 in Australia’s second innings. However, he played only one more Test in that series. Kapil arrived on the scenario the next year, which meant that only one more seamer would be selected for India. The selectors opted for Karsan Ghavri, and Madan Lal was left out for four years — a span during which he missed 35 Tests. He went back to domestic cricket to hone his skills, and also played League Cricket for Enfield.
He began his comeback with a 223 against Rajasthan in the 1977-78 season. A year later, he took eight for 80 in the final against Karnataka to bowl Delhi to victory. However, he bettered that against Haryana next year, when he took a career-best nine for 31, followed by four for 33, to lead Delhi to an easy win against Haryana. Delhi won the Ranji Trophy for the second consecutive time. In the two seasons he scored 506 runs at 46.00 and 517 runs at 47.00 (with two hundreds), and took 35 wickets at 18.40 and 52 wickets at 14.57. He followed this with 498 runs at 67.72 with four hundreds and 42 wickets at 18.02 in 1980-81, and it was evident that a recall was on the cards.
The second innings
Sure enough, Madan Lal was recalled for the 1981-82 home series against England. He started the second phase of his international career in spectacular fashion: England were set a target of 241 in the first Test at Bombay, when he (five for 23) and Kapil (five for 70) bowled almost unchanged to bowl out England for 102. He followed this with five for 85 at Delhi, and it was evident that he was now the forerunner in the contest to open bowling with Kapil.
The 1983 World Cup
One of the most important reasons that India won the 1983 World Cup was the fact that they had several all-rounders. Not only did they have a champion of the stature of Kapil, but they had several utility cricketers like Madan Lal, Roger Binny, Ravi Shastri and Kirti Azad, along with Mohinder Amarnath. Their bowling attack was also suitable for the English conditions, with Kapil, Madan Lal, Binny, Balwinder Sandhu and Amarnath in their side.
Madan Lal began his campaign well. In their opening match against West Indies, he scored a very crucial 21 not out, and picked up one for 34 in his 12 overs, helping India to a narrow victory. He followed it up with three for 27 against Zimbabwe. Thereafter, he did not do anything impressive till the second Zimbabwe match, where he helped Kapil add 62 for the eighth wicket, and then picked up three for 42.
The last league match was against Australia at Chelmsford, and it was a match where the winner would face England in the semifinal. India scored a below-par 247 in 60 overs, and needed something special from their bowlers. Madan Lal led the attack with four for 20, with splendid support from Binny (four for 29), and Australia were bowled out for 129. After a convincing win in the semi-final, India met West Indies in the final.
The final is too well-known to Indian supporters to be elaborated here. To India’s credit, they did not give up even after being bowled out for 183. Sandhu deceived and clean bowled Gordon Greenidge, but at 50 for one, West Indies seemed to be cruising.
It was then that Desmond Haynes holed out to Binny at cover off Madan Lal. Then came the famous wicket — the wicket that has been televised, and viewed at least a million times by Indian viewers. Madan Lal pitched one slightly short outside off-stump, and Viv Richards pulled it powerfully. However, the ball rose a bit higher than expected, and the top edge flew towards heaven. Kapil ran a long distance and took probably the most famous catch in the history of Indian cricket.
The dismissal is typically remembered for the catch, and it is almost always forgotten that it was Madan Lal had actually taken the wicket. When the issue came up in the 2008 reunion of the World Cup-winning cricketers, a fed-up Madan Lal blurted out: “Bas karo yaar, I bowled the damn ball!”
Madan Lal did not stop there. He curved a ball beautifully away from Larry Gomes, and from 50 for one West Indies had collapsed to 66 for four. They never recovered, and were bowled out for 140, Madan Lal taking three for 31 in his 12 overs. He took 17 wickets in the tournament at 16.76 — next to only Binny’s 18 wickets — along with 102 runs at 34.00.
Madan Lal did well in the home series against Pakistan that followed. In an unofficial day-night match at Delhi, India were 101 for seven chasing 198 for a victory. The two Delhi men, Azad and Madan Lal, guided India to an unexpected victory. Madan Lal’s fine batting form continued when he scored 74, and added 155 with Binny (83 not out) for the seventh wicket from a hopeless 85 for six.
His bowling went on a steady decline, though. He scored an unbeaten 63 at No 10 against a fearsome West Indian attack on a fast pitch at Kanpur, but did little with the ball to retain his place. One poor series followed another, and Madan Lal became an irregular member of the side at best.
The third stint
Gavaskar was appointed the captain for the World Series Cup in 1984-85, and he insisted on Madan Lal. There was a general voice against “OT” (Over-Thirty) cricketers due to their lack of fitness, but Madan Lal proved them wrong with his fitness. He bowled brilliantly throughout the tournament — picking up seven wickets at 16.57 at an economy of 3.34. In the next tournament at Sharjah, he took three more at 14.00 and an economy of 3.23.
Soon after the ODI season, Madan Lal led Delhi to the Ranji final to meet Gavaskar’s Bombay. Though he scored 78, and took four for 42 and two for 57, it was a lone cause as Bombay romped to a 90-run victory. In the next year, though, he led Delhi to a Ranji Trophy victory, scoring 255 runs at 42.40 and picking up 21 wickets at 24.52.
The surprise recall
With his international career virtually over and restricted to ODIs, Madan Lal was playing for Ashton in the Lancashire League in the summer of 1986. However, Chetan Sharma was injured after the first Test at Lord’s, and Madan Lal had a surprise recall for the second Test at Headingley.
He scored a crucial 20, adding 54 for the ninth wicket with Kiran More; then, opening bowling with Kapil, he removed Wilf Slack, Chris Smith, and Bill Athey, taking three for 31 from 11.1 overs — almost identical to his figures in the World Cup final. Still not content, he scored 22 in the second innings, and India won by 279 runs, sealing the series. The Test turned out to be Madan Lal’s last. He did play a few ODIs, and his career came to an end after the 1986-87 home series against Pakistan.
He led Delhi to another Ranji Trophy victory in the 1988-89 season, taking two for 33 and two for 72 in the final against Bengal at the age of 38. Even at that age he picked up 27 wickets at 24.88.
Coaching and other responsibilities
After quitting cricket Madan Lal coached United Arab Emirates in the 1996 World Cup. He then took over the charge of the Indian team when Sachin Tendulkar was appointed captain. After a short stint, he became a member of the Selection Committee in 2000, and later shifted to politics.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/