Narendra Hirwani: 17 facts about the Indian cricketer who got record 16 wickets on debut

Born October 18, 1968, Narendra Deepchand Hirwani is former Indian cricketer best known for his remarkable debut in Test cricket. A leg-spinner, Hirwani played 17 Tests and 18 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for India and is an all-time First-Class cricket great with his truck loads of wickets on spin-conducive surfaces. He remained the bowling mainstay of the Madhya Pradesh s Ranji team for close to two decades and served as a national selector post-retirement. On his 48th birthday, Chinmay Jawalekar looks at 17 interesting facts about the man who promised so much but delivered so little on the international arena.

1. Early days: Hirwani was born to an affluent family in Gorakhpur, where his father owned a brick factory. Instead of opting for family business, he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a cricketer.

2. Move to Indore: During his teenage years, Hirwani moved to the city of Indore in Madhya Pradesh for making a career in cricket. He rented a room near the cricket ground and started training.

3. Guru: Hirwani blossomed as a cricketer under the wings of the then Madhya Pradesh cricketer and current President of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA), Sanjay Jagdale. Hirwani considers Jagdale as his mentor and guru. Jagdale, who though never played international cricket, has identified many a talents like Hirwani, VVS Laxman, Murali Kartik, Amay Khurasiya, Naman Ojha and groomed them for India selection.

4. First-Class debut: Hirwani made his First-Class debut for Madhya Pradesh against Rajasthan in December 1984. He was all of 16 then. He had a remarkable debut as he picked 5 for 101 in the first and the only innings of that match.

5. Later seasons and the rise: He played three more matches in his debut season and picked eight more wickets. Hirwani however did much better in the following seasons and took 23 wickets in an under-19 three-Test series against Australia. His first big break came when he was selected for India U-25 team to play against the touring West Indians in 1987 88.

6. The big news: Hirwani s performance in the tour match against the West Indies side six wickets in the second innings earned him his maiden call-up to the Indian Test team. When the news came out, Hirwani was in Indore. Jagdale, his guru, read about it in the newspaper and went running up to him to give him the good news. Hirwani just couldn’t believe it.

7. Unforgettable Test debut: Hirwani’s debut came in the final Test of the four-match series at Chennai (then Madras.) It is famously said that the wicket for that match was underprepared. Batting first, India managed 382. Here on, it was all Hirwani show. He took three of the five West Indian wickets to fall on the second day and dismissed the remaining five on day three to finish with 8 for 61, thus becoming only the fourth bowler in the history of the game to take eight wickets in an innings on debut.

Set 416 to win in the second innings, the West Indies side were bowled out for 160. Hirwani was again the tormentor-in-chief with his 8 for 75. He ended the match with figures of 16 for 136 and broke the record of Australian cricketer Bob Massie, who had taken 16 for 137 on his debut in 1972. This continues to be a record for most wickets on a Test debut.

8. Uska danda maroonga : On the morning of the third day of his debut Test, Hirwani dismissed Vivian Richards with a flipper which the batsman failed to pick. The great man committed on the front foot and was eager to steer the ball towards third man but it turned out to be a flipper. The batsman played over it and got the wood disturbed. The legend has it that the previous evening, Hirwani had told his roommate Chetan Sharma that he ll get Richards clean-bowled. He had said, uska danda maroonga. (I ll get him [Richards] bowled). To this day, the wicket remains Hirwani s most special and memorable wicket.

9. ODIs: Hirwani s ODI debut wasn t as successful. Playing against the same side, he went wicket-less in his first two ODIs. But the next six ODIs that he played in Sharjah during a multi-nation tournament proved out to be fruitful ones. Though India lost the final of the tournament, Hirwani bagged the Man of the Series award with his 14 wickets from six games. He played 10 more matches over the next four years and by 1992, his ODI career was over. He was only 23 then.

10. The fall: Hirwani enjoyed another good season at home, when he finished the New Zealand series with 20 wickets. His figures after his first four Tests were 36 wickets at 14.61, the most by any bowler at this stage of their career. His career, however, went horribly wrong after he left the subcontinent tracks and toured abroad. In West Indies, the side he gave a torrid time on his debut, he was ineffective. It was as if his magic had suddenly vanished. In the nine Test matches that he played overseas after successful ones in India, he could pick only 21 wickets. His figures now read 57 wickets from 13 games.

11. Return to his favourite hunting grounds: After terrible outings in the West Indies, New Zealand and England, Hirwani returned to the favourable tracks of India to play just one Test before getting dropped. He didn t play for India for next five years. The rise of another leg-spinner Anil Kumble who couldn t turn the ball as much as he did but was far more accurate forced Hirwani to get back to the grind of First-Class cricket.

12. Advice from Richie Benaud: An out of favour Hirwani sought the advice of former cricketers to fix his shortcomings and get back to international cricket. In an interview to ESPNCricinfo, he shared about what he thought was the first good piece of cricketing advice he ever received. It came from the late Richie Benaud, a legendary leg-spinner from Australia. In 1992, Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar took him to meet Benaud, who observed that Hirwani s head was dropping, because of which his wrist position was changing, and as a result the ball was skidding instead of spinning. When Hirwani returned to India, he worked on that for the next eight-odd months before the results started showing.

13. Next chance: Hirwani remained a force in domestic cricket. His 51 wickets at 21.82 in 1992-93, 58 at 23.24 in 1993-94 and 48 at 23.30 in 1995-96 earned him another shot at international cricket five years after playing his 14th Test. Against New Zealand at Cuttack, Hirwani took 6 for 59 in a rain affected match. This got him on the plane to England in 1996 though he didn t get to play. He added only two more Tests to his career tally against South Africa at home. But with just two wickets in those two matches, his career was all but over. Kumble was by then India s number one spinner. Also with the likes of Venkatpathy Raju still around and the rise of the young Harbhajan Singh, Hirwani ran out of favour.

14. Selection and the controversy: In 2001, Hirwani was picked in the squad of 14 to play Australia at home, but he never made it to the final XI. It was the same series where Harbhajan picked up a record 32 wickets from three matches. After the series, Hirwani went to the press, criticising the then Indian captain Sourav Ganguly for not choosing him. However, with Harbhajan excelling and India winning the series, Ganguly s decision of not picking him stood vindicated.

15. Another record: Hirwani holds another world record in Tests. During a Test against England at The Oval in 1990, he bowled 59 overs unchanged without a break (except for the scheduled intervals.)

16. Life beyond cricket: Hirwani signed off from First-Class cricket, a career that spanned over two decades, in the year 2006 with 732 wickets. His international career stretched across 8 years lasting 17 Tests and 18 ODIs, with 66 and 23 wickets respectively. He later served as a national selector representing central zone from 2008-2012. He currently serves as the spin coach at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru. There s also a cricket equipments store in Indore named after him as Hirwani s top spin.

17. Like father, like son: Following in his father’s footsteps, Hirwani’s son Mihir too is a leg-spinner and is a budding cricketer. The 23-year-old player has played 8 First-Class games for Madhya Pradesh thus far in his brief career and stays in the domestic team’s scheme of things.

(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)