Hemu Adhikari: 15 facts from the life of well respected Indian cricketer and administrator

On his birth anniversary, take a look at 15 lesser-known facts about the player who fought for the country as a cricketer as well as army man.

Hemu Adhikari: 15 facts from the life of well respected Indian cricketer and administrator
Updated: July 31, 2017 9:18 AM IST | Edited By: Suvajit Mustafi

Lieutenant Colonel Hemchandra Ramachandra Adhikari, better known as Hemu Adhikari, was an Indian cricketer who represented the country in 21 Tests between 1947 and 1959. A right-handed batsman and a leg-break bowler, Adhikari was also an exceptional fielder, and in a way a trendsetter, who encouraged others to give due importance to this facet of the game. He even led India in a Test, under extremely bizarre circumstances though. In the second innings of his life, he proved to be an equally good administrator, engineering India s win in England in 1971. Awarded on multiple occasions for his contribution towards Indian cricket, Adhikari died in the year 2003. On his 98th birth anniversary, Chinmay Jawalekar digs out 15 lesser-known facts about the player who fought for the country as a cricketer as well as army man.

1. Early days: Adhikari was born on July 31, 1919 in Pune, Maharashtra. He began his sporting career as a teenager at the age of 17, playing for Gujarat against Western India in the Ranji Trophy season 1936-37. He top scored in both the innings, churning out 26 and 30 batting at No. 3 in his team s loss.

2. World War II: By the time the World War II broke, Adhikari had already established himself as a leading cricketer. But the outbreak of war and his role in the Indian armed forces brought interruption in his career and delayed his arrival onto the international scene.

3. Defining moment: In the 1945-46 Ranji season, Adhikari was in a tremendous form and scored 555 runs at a majestic average of 69.37. Playing for Baroda, he took his team through to the Ranji Trophy final which they lost to Holkar (now known as Madhya Pradesh cricket team). Around that period, he notched four hundreds in eight innings spanned over 2 seasons. Despite the effort, he missed out on the 1946 tour of England, as Indian batting line-up was pretty strong back then. But he was eventually selected for the 1947-48 tour of Australia.

4. Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year: Though Adhikari s maiden tour with the Indian team was an ordinary one (156 runs at 17.33 in five Tests), he did enough to impress the selectors with his fearlessness batting against quality pace. The same year, he was named as Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year . He was one of the five cricketers along with Hiralal Gaekwad, KC Ibrahim, Dattu Phadkar and C Rangachari to be named for the award. However, his selection for the honour was a bit surprising, as he had had much better seasons in the past where he could have got the award.

5. Stood tall at Kotla: In the following season, against the mighty West Indian team in Delhi, Adhikari scored his only Test hundred. In reply to a huge West Indies score of 631, India were struggling at 5 for 249 when Adhikari came to the crease. He, then, went on to score an unbeaten 114 in the first innings and 29 in the second, thus helping India secure a draw. His 114 not out still remains the highest Test score by an Indian No. 7 against West Indies.

6. First Services player to represent India: After assuming national duties with Indian army, Adhikari moved to the Services team in domestic cricket. This way, he became the first Services player to represent the Indian cricket team.

7. Record partnership: In 1952, in the first Test against Pakistan at Delhi, India were 6 down for 180. This is when Adhikari hit a tenacious 81 not out and went on to add 109 with Ghulam Ahmed for the last wicket, which remained an Indian record for the last wicket for almost 50 years, before Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan added 133 against Bangladesh at Dhaka in 2004-05. Surprisingly, after this effort, he played only three more Tests for India.

8. Only captain to lead Services to Ranji Trophy finals: In 1956-57 season, Adhikari became the first captain to lead Services to a Ranji Trophy final. He repeated the feat next year as well. Till date, these remain the only two occasions when Services made it to the Ranji Trophy final. The side, however, lost on both occasions to Bombay and Baroda respectively.

9. India captain: In the year 1959, Adhikari was called back to the national side under dramatic circumstances. Interestingly, he was not just recalled as a player, but also as a captain to lead his country in the last Test of a disastrous series for India, where the team had lost three of the first four matches against a formidable West Indies team. The Indian batsmen were petrified of facing West Indian pace attack comprising of Wes Hall and Roy Gilchrist in that series. The humiliation had already become a subject of national debate, even being raised in the lower house of Indian Parliament, Lok Sabha.

The flawed selection policy had ensured the team had three Indian captains Polly Umrigar, Ghulam Ahmed and Vinoo Mankad in the first four Tests. For the fifth Test, selectors decided to appoint Gulabrai Ramchand as the captain. However, the cricketer had left Bombay before they could convey him their decision. This way, they summoned Adhikari, who had not played Test cricket since 1956, from his military duties. Adhikari was posted in Dharamsala at that point and refused the offer at first, only to accept on his chief s insistence. He scored 63 and 40 in the match and took three wickets. His presence instilled the fighting spirit in the team, which finally stoop up to the opposition and managed to draw the match after three successive defeats.

10. Withdrew from the side: After this superlative show against West Indies, Adhikari was expected to lead India on the England tour which followed. As things turned out, Adhikari withdrew from the side because of lack of fitness and practice, and was never recalled. He retired after one more season of domestic cricket.

11. Domestic giant: Adhikari played for four different domestic teams in his career and scored over 8,000 runs at an average falling just short of 42. The teams he represented were Baroda, Gujarat, Hindus and Services. Besides, Adhikari also scored heavily in Tests at home with his average of close to 49.

12. Second innings: Adhikari ended his military career as a Lieutenant Colonel. He remained associated with cricket after retirement from the game as well as army and coached the national cricket team. The high point in his administrative career came when India beat England in their backyard in the year 1971 under the captaincy of Ajit Wadekar. Adhikari was the manager of the victorious team.

13. Hari-kiri: That Adhikari was a brilliant fielder would be an understatement. He was an extremely agile fielder at cover-point and a constant threat in the region. He had the ability to hit the stumps on a consistent basis with his devastatingly accurate throws. It is said that during the England tour of 1952, Adhikari acquired the nickname "Hari-Kari" on the county circuit. The name suggested how suicidal it was to attempt a run to him. He once said in an interview to ESPNCricinfo, When I was in school and college, I used to read books and they said fielding is the key to success. If you get 100 runs but give away 5-6 boundaries and drop a couple of catches, you are not worth your place in the side. But even if you score zero and save 45-50 runs, you have +50 to your name. So fielding is the basis on which you must build up your cricket.

It is also documented that Indian fielding was hugely responsible for the victory on that historic tour of 1971 that Adhikari managed. It was under his maniacal supervision that the fielding practice sessions got more intense and the results showed. A shrewd tactician and a hard taskmaster, Adhikari brought all his discipline and acumen from the time with Indian army into the team culture and results showed.

14. Groomed future greats: Adhikari helped the careers of many Indian cricketers including the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Ravi Shastri, Mohinder Amarnath, Syed Kirmani et al.

15. Personal life, awards and accolades: Adhikari was awarded the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 for his contribution to Indian cricket, both as a captain and as a coach. He was immensely popular both on and off the field. In the words of Nadkarni, As a person, Adhikari was always a gentleman, very humble and straightforward.

Adhikari would not have been half the person he was without his wife Kamala s contribution. Former Board President Raj Singh Dungarpur acknowledged this during the welcoming speech of the aforementioned awards in 1999 saying, "I wonder what Hemu would have been but for the dedication and support given by Mrs. Adhikari. As they say in military parlance, the man behind the gun is more important than the gun itself. Dungarpur also had something to say on Adhikari s fielding: He [Adhikari] patrolled cover point as if he was on the Line of Control with the dedication of a soldier".

Adhikari passed away on October 25, 2003 in Mumbai, leaving behind his wife. In cricket writer Suresh Menon s words, he will be remembered for his role in Indian cricket's self-confidence movement that began with that series win in 1971.

(A self-confessed cricket freak, Chinmay Jawalekar is a senior writer with CricLife and CricketCountry. When not writing or following cricket, he loves to read, eat and sleep. He can be followed here @CricfreakTweets)