Anil Dalpat: The first Hindu cricketer to represent Pakistan

Anil Dalpat © Getty Images

Anil Dalpat, born September 20, 1963, was the first Hindu cricketer to represent Pakistan. He was one of the many wicketkeepers to have been tried after Wasim Bari quit the international scene, but mediocre performances earned him just nine Test and 15 ODI caps. Karthik Parimal looks back at the short career of this Karachi-born player.
As Wasim Bari, one of Pakistan’s safest wicketkeepers, bid adieu to the international stage in the Australian summer of 1984, the hunt to find an apt replacement commenced immediately. The void he left was by no means negligible and the fact that there weren’t many proficient glovemen in the domestic arena at the time to fill his shoes worried the head honchos. Pakistan’s first series after they returned from the tour of Australia was against England, at home. As the selectors gathered to pick a squad for the first Test, a certain Anil Dalpat Sonavaria, born at Karachi, was named as the side’s new wicketkeeper.

While Dalpat’s First-Class record wasn’t exceptional, he was an efficient ‘keeper for Karachi — in one domestic season, he accounted for 67 dismissals, a record at the time — and Pakistan needed one of that genre. When the announcement of his inclusion in the squad was made, the cricketing world stood up and took notice of the soon-to-be first Hindu to play Test cricket for the country. On March 2, 1984, the day duly arrived, as Dalpat donned the national whites and walked onto the field to take his position behind the stumps, incidentally on his home ground of Karachi. He was the first to leap over the barrier, but a sterner test awaited him.

On a turning surface, a low-scoring fixture seemed inevitable as England crumbled against Abdul Qadir’s deceptive leg-breaks. The batsmen, no doubt, were flummoxed, but what soon became noteworthy was how nonchalantly Dalpat kept wickets to the spin of Qadir in that innings. Later, walking in to bat at No 7, he dropped anchor to help Saleem Malik thwack a brilliant 74. During England’s second innings, Dalpat effected his first dismissal, whipping the bails while Allan Lamb ventured out of his crease — certainly not a bad start to the resume — before scoring a valuable unbeaten 16 in a shaky chase of 66. Were it not for his calm demeanour, Pakistan — 40 for 6 at one juncture — would have crashed to a humiliating defeat.

While Wisden made no mention of Dalpat being the first Hindu in a Pakistani side, his heroics were aptly recognised in the cricketing bible as follows: “The twenty-year-old Anil Dalpat, displaying calmer nerves in his first Test than many of his seniors, added 19 with Qadir, and an edged 4 by Sarfraz [Nawaz] brought the winning runs 25 minutes from the close of the fourth day.” Surprisingly, for the next two Tests at Faisalabad and Lahore, Dalpat was pushed down the batting order.

Towards the end of the year, New Zealand toured Pakistan for three Tests and, although oftentimes Dalpat’s services with the bat weren’t required, he made a career-best of 52 during the final match at Karachi. Prior to and after this innings, his scores were paltry. During the return series in the January of 1985, he remained insipid in Tests but scored an unbeaten 21 and 37 in the One-Day Internationals (ODIs). Sadly, those were to be his only double-digit scores in his limited-over career that spanned 15 games. He was duly discarded from the Test squad thereafter, never to make a comeback.

Dalpat’s father, Dalpat Sonawaria — a cricket enthusiast himself and head of a club named Pakistan Hindus — was instrumental in his son making the cut on the big stage, but the truncated career must have left him disappointed. Dalpat returned to ODIs in the October of 1986 under Imran Khan’s tenure, but was shelved permanently after that. What transpired at the time between the two remains unknown, but almost one-and-a-half decade later, Dalpat blamed Imran for destroying his career.

Refusing to take an offer to be a minor beneficiary from a Morocco tri-series tournament in 2002, Dalpat shed light on the issue saying: “I would not accept an offer of being minor beneficiary and it was because of Imran Khan that I played less cricket than I deserved. I was made a scapegoat because of a tussle between Imran and the Mohammad brothers, and had I been given a fair chance I would have played more.” The numbers though, do not back his claims. He simply fell behind in the race against younger, sharper wicketkeepers in the region. While Dalpat failed to go the distance, his first cousin Danish Kaneria looked set for a long haul in the Pakistan cricket team, but controversies put an abrupt end to his dreams, too.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)