Polly Umrigar Biography
Pahlan Ratanji “Polly” Umrigar could not have chosen a better occasion to come of age as a Test batsman. Till then he boasted a total of 143 runs in five Tests at 20.14. In fact, he had been omitted from original team to play England in the Chennai Test and managed to sneak in only due to a wrist injury to Hemu Adhikari.
The tall, well-built Parsee walked out to bat on the third morning with the score on 216 for 5 in reply to England’s 266 — the match evenly poised. He batted four-and a-half hours and walked back unbeaten on 130. After that, Vinoo Mankad and Ghulam Ahmed spun India to their first-ever victory in a Test match.
With this hundred Polly Umrigar had scripted his name in eternal characters in the annals of Indian cricket. Eleven more Test centuries would grace his fantastic career. But Umrigar considered this to be the best innings of his life.
According to KN Prabhu, Umrigar was the link between two generations. While he was schooled by the no-risk approach of Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare, his broad range of strokes, powerful hitting ability, thundering drives, cuts and pulls made his style reminiscent of the romantic adventure associated with the cavalier thirties. Additionally, his ability to often hit sixes at will made him a huge crowd puller.
Unfortunately, he could not come to terms with Fred Trueman on English pitches. Despite his imposing physique, he, as Mihir Bose wrote, “backed away to square-leg,” leaving the young Yorkshireman to hit timber without anything obstructing his view.
John Arlott described him as a poised and skilful murderer of any bowling short of top pace and class. Yes, Freddie Trueman troubled him with his pace, and he infamously backed away towards the square leg. But, through the fifties and early sixties Umrigar remained the backbone of the Indian side.
In 1962, India lost all the five Tests in West Indies, most of them one-sided routs. Nari Contractor almost died when the ball from Charlie Griffith cracked his skull in the match against Barbados. But Umrigar stood tall among the ruins in the Tests, scoring a serene 445 runs at 49.44. His 56 and 172 not out followed by 5 for 124 at Kingston remains strangely unsung, while it is actually comparable to the immortal Vinoo Mankad feat at Lord's. The series was a rousing swansong for the man who served India so dedicatedly for so long.
His final figures were mind-boggling for that era — especially for an Indian batsman. In 59 Tests he notched up 3,631 runs at 42.22 with 12 hundreds. His bowling was used sparingly but the 35 wickets included two five-wicket hauls. At the time of retirement he possessed all the major Test match records for India, highest number of Tests, runs and centuries. They would be rewritten — all by another man from Bombay named Sunil Gavaskar. But Polly Umrigar remained one of the greatest Indian cricket had ever seen.