Joginder Rao’s First-Class career for Services was limited to a month. Photo Courtesy: Touristlink.com
Joginder Rao’s First-Class career for Services was limited to a month. Photo Courtesy: Touristlink.com

Joginder Rao, born October 16, 1938, remains a common name among cricket statisticians and quizzers thanks to his penchant for hat-tricks. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an intriguing career that lasted a mere five First-Class matches.

It was the early 1960s. Gone were the days when Services used to be the leading challenger to Bombay, the supreme force in Indian cricket. Led by Lt Col Hemu Adhikari, Services had reached consecutive Ranji Trophy finals in 1956-57 and 1957-58. The men from the frontiers had extended their supremacy on the arena.

But all that was a thing of the past. Adhikari had quit First-Class cricket, as had VM Muddiah and Narain Swamy. Chandrasekhar Gadkari was on his way out. Apoorva Sengupta was there, but he was not a regular fixture. Services had to do with Bal Dani — then the captain — and Raman Surendranath. Their glory days were gone.

Dream debut

Thankfully, they started their season with a match against Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) at Army Headquarters, Delhi. As was the norm, Surendranath got to bowl the first over. Dani tossed the ball to a 25-year old debutant called Joginder Singh Rao at the other end. Born in Gurgaon, Joginder was a Captain in the Army, but was, at best, a medium-pacer.

He seized the opportunity immediately, having Khurshid Drabu caught-behind. J & K recovered to 31 for 1. Dani had already replaced Surendranath. Then the collapse started. Tahir Firdausi, the J & K captain, was trapped leg-before; Vijay Malhotra, the wicketkeeper, was caught-behind next ball; and the following delivery clean bowled Abdul Rauf.

Joginder became the ninth bowler to a hat-trick on his First-Class debut. He was also the second Indian bowler to do so (after Vasant Ranjane). Till now only 17 bowlers have achieved this feat, of which 6 (Ranjane, Joginder, Salil Ankola, Javagal Srinath, Saradindu Mukherjee, and Abhimanyu Mithun) are Indians.

Dani removed Mohiuddin Mirza at the other end, but Joginder was unstoppable. He soon dismissed K Tandon and Onkar Pajnu; J & K had suddenly lost 6 wickets without the addition of a run. Dani gave Joginder a breather after he had taken 6 for 24, and Bharat Awasthy soon finished things off. J & K were bowled out for 47.

Dani declared later that day on 196 for 1, and Services had J & K reeling at 23 for 3 at stumps. They were bowled out for 81 next morning, Joginder removing Drabu and Rauf for the cost of 11. Few have matched his debut figures of 26-12-35-8.

The dream run continues

Four days after the match Services moved to Amritsar to play Northern Punjab. This time Joginder was restricted to 5 wicketless overs as the hosts were bowled out for 108 by Surendranath, Dani, and Inder Dev. Sengupta and Dani then helped Services reach 308 on Day Two; they led by exactly 200.

Joginder hit Northern Punjab hard before they knew what was going on. Suresh Sharma had scored two before he and Brij Khanna were bowled by Joginder in consecutive deliveries. Bhupinder Singh walked out, but the edge off the first ball landed in the big gloves of R Narasimhan. Joginder had taken his second hat-trick.

Surendranath struck at the other end, and Northern Punjab were reduced to three for four. Joginder also removed Ashok Khanna, but Malhotra Chamanlal and Rajinder Kale held fort, taking the score to 127 for 6. It seemed that Northern Punjab would save their innings defeat.

Joginder bowled Kale to break the stand, and bowled Ramnath Paul next ball. A 16-year old Bishan Bedi walked out, but was trapped leg-before first ball. Joginder had now taken 2 hat-tricks in the same First-Class innings (barring Albert Trott he remains the only one to do so). He also remains the only bowler to take 3 hat-tricks in his first 2 First-Class matches. Joginder finished with 7 for 30.

Joginder Rao’s hat-tricks

Against

Day of hat-trick

Venue

Hat-trick No.

Batsman

Details of dismissal

Jammu and Kashmir

November 25, 1963

Army Headquarters, Delhi

1

Khurshid Drabu

c R Narasimhan

Tahir Firdausi

LBW

Vijay Malhotra

c R Narasimhan

Northern Punjab

November 30, 1963

Gandhi Sports Complex Ground, Amritsar

2

Suresh Sharma

bowled

Brij Khanna

bowled

Bhupinder Singh

c R Narasimhan

3

Rajinder Kale

bowled

Ramnath Paul

bowled

Bishen Bedi

LBW

The abrupt end

Joginder played 3 more matches with considerably good performances (though nothing comparable to the first two): he returned match figures of 3 for 42 against Southern Punjab, 2 for 41 against Delhi, and 1 for 47 against Railways. After 5 matches his career numbers read 21 wickets at an astonishing 9.67 including, well, 3 hat-tricks. All that had happened in a career mapping 20 days.

Then he faced an accident during parachute training; the incident put an abrupt end to Joginder’s cricket career. He did not give up on sport: he started playing golf, and soon played for India in France and Pakistan. He went on to restructure the Army Golf Course in Delhi Cantonment and the Dehra Dun Golf Course.

Joginder fought for India in the Indo-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971 and became a Major-General in the Army. Unfortunately, he passed away on October 3, 1994 — 13 days short of his 56th birthday. He was survived by his sons, Probir Pande Rao and Rahul Pande Rao.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)