Kiran More: India’s finest stumper and one of the best in the world

Kiran More © Getty Images

The pocket-sized and chirpy Kiran More was born on September 4, 1962. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the wicketkeeper who always relished a challenge and rose to the occasion.

Kiran Shankar More was the complete wicketkeeper’s package: a gutsy batsman in front of the stumps and a supreme performer behind it; he also lifted dropping shoulders after a hard day’s play through his incessant chirping and words of encouragement between deliveries.

His minuscule frame meant that he could stay low till very late; his excellent reflexes helped him gather even the most difficult of edges; and his electric glovework meant that he was one of the best stumpers cricket has seen. At home he was an asset against the spinners on dustbowls; overseas he dived deceptively to pull off incredible catches.

He also had that ability to get under the skin of even the toughest of cricketers. Javed Miandad, one of the coolest beings around (who had earned a name by sledging Ian Chappell into submission) was lured to give in to More’s antics: he lost his temper, and Pakistan lost the crucial tie.

The other, relatively unnoticed aspect of More’s wicket-keeping was his ability to think on the move. Three instances immediately come to mind:

The first came in an ODI at Trent Bridge in 1990: Mike Atherton and David Gower were batting comfortably with the score on 47 for 1, the latter looking ominous on a 30-ball 25 with six fours. Atherton pushed the ball to cover; Mohammad Azharuddin threw it back to More who gathered the ball in his left hand; there was no question of a single.

More, however, noticed that Gower was out of his ground at the non-striker’s end. He seized the opportunity, quickly shifted the ball to his throwing hand, and threw the stumps with a direct hit so impossible that it not only shocked the poor batsman, but also brought a rare outburst of excitement in the voice of the nonchalant Richie Benaud.

The second instance came in the World Cup match against New Zealand in the extreme cold of Dunedin. With the Kiwis dominating the tournament and India on the verge of elimination this was supposed to be a pushover. Things seemed easy when Andrew Jones and Martin Crowe were cruising along as New Zealand reached 162 for 2 in pursuit of 231.

Then it happened: Venkatapathy Raju tossed one just outside off-stump; Crowe, easily the best batsman in the tournament, played it carefully, and as the ball trickled down past More, Crowe took a couple of steps forward — more to maintain his balance than anything else.

More had perhaps noticed Crowe move with the corner of his eye as he dived to gather the ball with surprising urgency; then, in the same fluid motion he hit the stumps with a swift flick of his hands with his back to the action. It was yet another absurd dismissal; it had happened so fast that the scorers took their time to decide whether it was a stumping or a run out, before deciding in favour of the latter.

The third instance involved Graham Gooch — and was perhaps some sort of compensation of the costly drop off the same batsman at Lord’s two-and-a-half years back. It was the series when Anil Kumble emerged as a champion for the first time in his career.

England were asked to follow on after a 208-run deficit but had somewhat settled down at 37 for 1. Kumble then produced one of those special deliveries which went past Gooch’s edge at an express pace. More appealed vehemently for a caught-behind, but the umpire turned it down.

Noticing that Gooch’s boot was on the line More immediately whipped off the bails and turned to his left, appealing again. It took the third umpire, but eventually More ended up seeing the back of Gooch.

In 49 Tests, More took 110 catches and effected 20 stumpings. He also scored 1,285 runs at 25.70 with seven fifties. The average went by a notch in First-Class cricket, where he scored 5,223 runs at 31.08 with seven hundreds, and had 303 catches and 63 stumpings. He also took 63 catches and effected 27 stumpings in 94 ODIs.

In the second half of the 1980s and in the early 1990s, More was probably the best wicketkeeper in the world.

Early days

After playing for India Under-19, More found a job in Tata and played for the Tata Sports Club in the Times Shield, scoring a hundred on debut against Nirlon. He made his First-Class debut in 1980-81 against Bombay at their den: More scored 26 out of 174 and ended the match with two catches and a stumping.

To enhance his wicketkeeping skills in the off-season, More played for Barrow in the North Lancashire League in 1982. Back home he had an excellent season, reaching his against Bombay at Thana where he pouched five catches in an innings for the first time. He also went past 40 thrice in four innings (though he was still without a First-Class fifty).

He had 154 runs at 51.33 from five matches, and had 15 catches and two stumpings to his name. As a result he was rewarded with a place in the 1982-83 tour of West Indies as an understudy to Syed Kirmani. He didn’t score a fifty in his three matches but finished with five catches and five stumpings.

It was in the next season that More eventually scored his first First-Class fifty, and a big one at that: coming out to bat at 56 for 5 against Maharashtra at Karad, More saw Baroda lose another wicket on 69. Then began the onslaught: Baroda eventually reached 313 with More remaining unbeaten on a 307-minute 153 with 17 fours. It would not be the last time More would deliver under pressure.

The 153 not out was followed by a horrid run of 7, 0, 5, 8, 4, 5, 8, and 1, before More would score his second First-Class fifty — an even bigger one.

This time More came out at a comfortable 221 for 5 in response to Uttar Pradesh’s 238 at Vadodara. Baroda needed a big lead to ensure they did not have to face Rajinder Hans and Gopal Sharma on a turning track in the fourth innings, but they kept on losing wickets, sliding to 338 for 9.

It was then that More added 145 for the last wicket with Vasudev Patel, the latter contributing only a career-best 34. It was a new Ranji Trophy record for a tenth wicket partnership (it remained a record till Ajay Sharma and Maninder Singh added 233 against Bombay in 1991-92). More remained unbeaten on 181, his career-best, and Baroda won by an innings to match into the semi-final.
International debut

With two hundreds in the season along with 27 dismissals from 10 matches, More eventually made his ODI debut in the next season against England. He played in two ODIs at Pune and Cuttack; he did not to bat in either, and neither did he have a dismissal to his name, and he was dropped without a reason for over a year.

More was picked for the 1985-86 tour of Australia; an injury to Kirmani opened the path for More, who took over as the frontline wicketkeeper for India for the rest of the tour. He was then selected for the England tour of 1986.

Test debut

More played three practice matches before the Tests on the tour, but got to bat only once. However, despite the lack of batting practice, he picked up four catches against Northamptonshire at Northampton. In a week’s time he made his Test debut — at Lord’s after more than three years of touring with the national side.

“I played a lot of matches against touring sides and toured with the Indian team. That’s where it helped me as a wicketkeeper. You have to wait for the right time and you must have the experience behind you because it’s a very challenging and thankless job and takes a lot out of you,” More later said. He thought it was a blessing in disguise.

More had a good time behind the stumps: Gower, the captain, was his first victim, caught off Chetan Sharma, who picked up 5 for 64 to bowl out England for 294. India were 264 for 8 when More walked out to join Dilip Vengsarkar, who seemed completely at ease with the bowlers and the conditions and was on the way to his third century on the ground in as many Tests.

More played a blitz, scoring 25 off 31 balls with four fours, outscoring his senior partner in a 39-run partnership. “More announced himself as a batsman of higher ranking than ten,” wrote Wisden. He eventually finished with five catches in the Test and was instrumental in India’s first Test win at Lord’s.

He was at it again in the next Test at Headingley: coming out at 213 for 8 he scored 36 not out in 72 balls with six fours and helped India reach 272. Coming as night-watchman in the second-innings he scored 16 more, finishing the Test with 52. This may not sound a big number, but it was a pitch so treacherous that More was one of only two batsmen to have gone past fifty in the Test (Vengsarkar, of course, was on another planet with 63 and 102 not out; England scored 102 and 128). More also pouched six catches in the Test.

Come Edgbaston, and India found themselves in trouble for the first time at 275 for 6 in response to England’s 390. More, now promoted to No. 8, was last out for a gutsy 119-ball 48. And then, with India under sudden trouble at 105 for 5 chasing 236, Kapil Dev promoted More above himself; he played out time with Azharuddin and secured a draw.

With five more catches, More finished the series with 16 in addition to 156 runs at 52.00. It remains the best by any Indian against England (though MS Dhoni had 13 catches and three stumpings against England at home in 2005-06), and is the best by an Indian in a three-Test series (along with Dhoni in the series mentioned above).

Later on the tour, More scored 52 against Yorkshire at Scarborough, batting at first-down. Surprisingly this was More’s first fifty (excluding the two 150s) in a career that had spanned for five-and-a-half years at that point of time!

More continued to do well in both formats, and slowly emerged as the leading wicketkeeper in the world. At this time there was a minor contest with Chandrakant Pandit for the wicketkeeper’s slot (on the perennial argument that the latter was the better batsman) but with all-rounders like Kapil, Ravi Shastri, and Manoj Prabhakar in the side, More got the run he deserved.

On the rank turner against Pakistan at Bangalore (which was also Sunil Gavaskar’s last Test), More hit Tauseef Ahmed for a brilliant six over mid-wicket, earning a promotion: Kapil gambled by sending More at five in the second innings, but the ploy did not work as he fell leg-before to Tauseef trying to play across the line.

He had a quiet phase with the bat, but his wicketkeeping was as sound as ever. He stood helplessly at the other end and saw India get bowled out for 269 from 256 for 6, losing by 1 run in India’s first match in the World Cup 1987 at Madras. In the next match at Bangalore, he erupted.

Both Indian openers were run out and the score read 21 for 3 after Vengsarkar’s wicket. There was some restoration from Navjot Sidhu, but things seemed hopeless at 170 for 7 in 41.3 overs with New Zealand’s phalanx of medium-paced bowlers maintained a consistent wicket-to-wicket line, strangling the strong Indian line-up.

The last eight-and-a-half overs saw 82 runs being scored without the loss of another wicket. Kapil smashed his way to a 58-ball 72 with four fours and a six, but the surprise package was More, whose career-best 42 came in just 26 balls with five fours. When he hit Willie Watson for two outrageous fours over cover in four balls, Ravi Chaturvedi went ecstatic on Doordarshan: “Bade miyan to bade miyan, chhote miyan subhaan-Allah!

[Note: Some phrases are better left alone without a translation. Even if this was translated, literally it would have lost its flavour and would not have been the same. Let us just assume that Chaturvedi was delighted at More matching Kapil stroke by stroke.]

The world record

Once again, More showed his skills in a low-scoring Test at Delhi. India were bowled out for 75 but struck back by restricting West Indies to a 52-run lead. More walked out for 178 for 5 (with Sanjay Manjrekar retired hurt and ruled out of the Test) and hung around, scoring 49 and helping Vengsarkar add 96 for the sixth wicket in 141 minutes. He scored another 44 in the third Test at Calcutta.

The fourth Test at Madras has been immortalised by Narendra Hirwani’s 16 for 136 on Test debut. Along with Hirwani, however, More also entered the record book: he stumped Jeff Dujon and caught Courtney Walsh in the first innings, and stumped Gus Logie, Carl Hooper, Dujon, Winston Davis, and Walsh in the second. As a result he ended up with five stumpings in the second innings and six in the Test — both of which remain world records.
Emergence as a batsman

He continued his progress, finishing with four catches and a stumping against New Zealand at Bombay. On the West Indies tour of 1988-89, India were at the receiving end of 0-3 drubbing with almost no Indian batsman succeeding.

In the second Test at Kensington Oval, India were reduced to 63 for 6 after trailing by 56 in the first innings. With Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop, and Walsh all on fire, More played his strokes and scored 50 in 111 balls. He added 132 with Shastri in 212 minutes. This was his first Test fifty. In the next Test at Queen’s Park Oval, too, More scored a valiant 42, adding 98 in 118 minutes with Vengsarkar.

The 1989-90 tour of Pakistan is generally remembered in Indian cricket for Manjrekar’s superlative batting performances and Sachin Tendulkar’s Test debut. However, two other cricketers thrived on the series, rising way beyond their potential: Prabhakar batted out of his skin and picked up 16 wickets with the newly mastered art of reverse-swing, and More proved his mettle as one of the better players of fast bowling in Indian cricket.

It began with the first Test at Karachi where Pakistan scored 409. India found themselves reeling at 85 for 6 against Wasim Akram and a debutant Waqar Younis. A resolute 45 from Shastri and a belligerent 55 from Kapil saved some grace, but the real effort came from More, who top-scored with a 96-ball 58 not out with nine fours. India managed to avoid the follow-on and the Test. More later called it the best innings of his career.

With another fine innings at Sialkot More eventually finished the series with 122 runs at 61.00, finishing second on the chart after Manjrekar (Prabhakar was the only other batsman with an average over 50). He was out only twice in the series, and had also pouched 11 catches.
The promotion and the drop

More was named Azharuddin’s deputy for the 1989-90 tour of New Zealand. More himself thought wicketkeepers make good vice-captains: “I think a wicketkeeper can be an ideal vice-captain because he’s a big guide to the whole team. He sees the wicket, the movement in the air, and what sort of line the bowler is bowling.”

Kiran More: India’s finest stumper and one of the best in the world

Kiran More keeping to Graham Gooch of England during the latter’s knock of 333. More dropped Gooch on 36, which was one of the costliest in the history of the sport and helped resurrect Gooch’s career © Getty Images

More did a good job with the bat on the tour in addition to sound wicket-keeping. He scored a career-best 73 (in 132 balls with 11 fours), adding 128 with Tendulkar in 187 minutes at Napier. In the next Test at Eden Park More scored an aggressive 58-ball 50 with eight fours, adding 88 with Azharuddin in 83 minutes of breathtaking batting.

Then came the drop — the drop that ruined the summer for India and helped rebuild Gooch’s career. Kapil bowled Atherton early after Azharuddin put England in; when on 36 Gooch edged an out-swinger from Sanjeev Sharma and More dropped a regulation catch behind the stumps.

Gooch went on to score 333 and 123 in the Test (the 456 still remains a match aggregate), India lost the Test by 247 runs, and eventually lost the series 0-1. The drop — one of the ‘costliest’ in the history of the sport — helped resurrect Gooch’s career after an excellent summer. More’s 61 not out at The Oval did not come of any help.

Final days

More picked up a hamstring injury during the Australian tour and missed the Tests at SCG and Adelaide with Pandit taking his spot. However, he batted brilliantly in the second Test at MCG as Bruce Reid ran through the Indian line-up. After India were down to 151 for 8, More scored 67 not out, adding 77 with Raju and 35 more with Javagal Srinath.

Coming back on a bouncy pitch in the fifth Test at the WACA, More found the Indian innings in complete disarray with only Tendulkar standing tall among the ruins. While Tendulkar’s iconic 114 announced him to the world of cricket, More scored an 83-ball 43 to help him add 81 in 126 minutes for the ninth wicket.

In his next Test, against South Africa at Kingsmead, he found himself coming out to bat against Allan Donald and Brett Schultz at 146 for 7 with the debutant Praveen Amre at the other end. It was attrition at its best: Amre added 101 with More in 225 minutes and scored a hundred; More was last out for a 214-ball 55 that took him a minute short of five hours.

It was the last time More would cross 30. After returning from South Africa tour, More played six more Tests — three against England at home and three more in Sri Lanka. The next season he was replaced by his Baroda teammate Nayan Mongia and was never recalled.
Back to domestic cricket

More continued to lead Baroda till 1997-98, often as a specialist batsman (especially when Mongia returned to play domestic cricket). His batting went up quite a few notches in 1996-97 when he scored 714 runs from eight matches at 54.92 with seven fifties and a 358-ball 180 against Maharashtra at Vadodara. He also finished the season with 15 catches and two stumpings.

He had scored a hundred in each of the three seasons before 1996-97. However, he retired next season after a poor run with the bat; he held three catches, effected a stumping, and scored a duck in his last First-Class match against Hyderabad at Secunderabad.
Post-retirement

Upon retirement, he helped set up the Kiran More-Alembic Cricket Academy in alliance with the pharmaceutical giant Alembic. He also became a wicketkeeping coach for the ICC Development Programme, working in Bangladesh, Kenya, and Uganda.

Kiran More: India’s finest stumper and one of the best in the world

Kiran More (left) worked as the Chairman of National Selectors from 2003 to 2006 is talking to the then coach of Indian cricket team Greg Chappell © Getty Images

More worked as the Chairman of National Selectors from 2003 to 2006 with an aim to promote youth. His decision to drop Sourav Ganguly during Greg Chappell’s tenure attracted a lot of flak from the Indian fans. He was appointed an Executive Director of ICL in 2006.

Currently, More runs his own cricket academy (KMICA) in Jetalpur, Vadodara.

(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 Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)