Ramesh Saxena © Getty Images
Ramesh Saxena finished his First-Class career with 8,155 runs from 149 matches at 40.37 with 17 hundreds © Getty Images

Ramesh Saxena, born September 20, 1944, was a quality batting all-rounder at the domestic level. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a Delhi and Bihar stalwart who dominated Ranji Trophy for close to two decades.

His contemporaries agreed that Ramesh Chand Saxena was one of the most talented batsmen of his era. Bishan Bedi, for example, told Clayton Murzello of mid-day: “I never saw anyone in Indian cricket who could jump out to spinners like Saxena. He could create terror for the opposition. Unfortunately, Ramesh lacked in mental application and he had no one to guide him.”

His lack of temperament held him back from attaining the consistency his immense talent deserved. His incredible footwork against the spinners made up for his slight (5’6”) frame. As Hari Gidwani told Murzello, “He danced down the pitch to the best spinners in business and it was a thrill to be at the other end while he did that.”

Abbas Ali Baig, himself an excellent stroke-player, told The Times of India that Saxena was “an extremely elegant stroke player. He played only one Test and that does not really reflect the quality of his batsmanship.” Similarly, in Mid-Wicket Tales: From Trumper to Tendulkar S Giridhar and VJ Raghunath wrote: “An earlier generation will similarly vouch for how unlucky Ramesh Saxena, the stylist with a very high back-lift was to have played just a solitary Test for India.”

The other aspect of his batting was his running between the wickets. Daljit Singh recalled: “We played junior and senior cricket together. Ramesh was a sprinter too and that helped him in running between wickets. He was swift and I don’t recollect him refusing a single when we were batting.”

He finished his First-Class career with 8,155 runs from 149 matches at 40.37 with 17 hundreds. Had he played for a single team in Ranji Trophy his numbers would have pushed him to the top brackets of either side. Instead, his career was split in two phases — for Delhi (1,595 runs at 40.89) and Bihar (3,710 runs at 47.56). Also an irregular leg-break bowler, Saxena finished with 33 wickets at 28.27; he also manned cover with proficiency and held 65 catches. He reached his peak in the late 1960s when he toured England, Australia, and New Zealand, but finished with a tally of a single Test.

Early days

The son of a civil servant, Saxena was born in Delhi. Hailed as a teenage prodigy, a 16-year old Saxena made his First-Class debut for Delhi against Southern Punjab. Coming out at 102 for 4 after the tourists had been bowled out for 152, Saxena scored 113 not out, helping Man Sood put up 290 for the fifth wicket. In the process he became the third Delhi batsman (after JN Sethi and Ajit Bhatiya) to score a hundred on debut.

Saxena helped Delhi reach the Ranji Trophy semi-final in 1963-64. Delhi had conceded a 105-run lead in the contest against Rajasthan before Saxena, coming out at 59 for 2, took control. His 151 came out of a team score of 330, but it went in vain as Suryaveer Singh and Hanumant Singh helped chase down the total.

He did well with the bat in the next season as well (519 runs at 47.18) but it was with his bowling that he surprised everyone, finishing with 19 wickets at 18.05. His 2 for 18 and 3 for 35 helped Delhi beat Northern Punjab by an innings, but he surpassed it in the Moin-ud-Dowlah final that followed. Playing for Indian Starlets against Associated Cement Company he finished with a career-best of 4 for 24.

Saxena moved to Bihar in 1966-67, and started off in style, scoring 625 runs at 69.44 in the first season. It was perhaps this change that affected Saxena’s career the most. As Daljit later said, “Players from smaller Ranji sides hardly got a look-in then. If he had turned out for a bigger team, he might have played for at least 10 years for India.”

As the touring West Indians thwarted the hosts, Saxena, playing thrice against them on their tour, did not meet failure even once. For India Prime Minister’s XI he scored 31, but his real performance came in the fourth innings. Left to score 271 the hosts were reduced to 187 for 7, but Saxena kept out Lester King, Garry Sobers, and Lance Gibbs to save the match in the far-from-competent batting company of EAS Prasanna, Bedi, and VV Kumar.

Then came the famous contest for the unheralded Central and East Zones where Subrata Guha and Chuni Goswami led the hosts to an unexpected innings victory. The 147-run lead was set up by Saxena (who top-scored with 52) and Hanumant with some adventurous batting down the order from Guha. Saxena also played for Indian Board President’s XI, who, chasing 435, were bowled out for 412. Saxena (after dismissing Conrad Hunte) scored 31 and 74 in the match. When the squad to England was announced, he found his name in the list.

International tours and Test cricket

Saxena did not succeed on his maiden tour of England. He finished with 238 runs at 23.80 from 10 matches, with his 53 not out against Leicestershire being his only innings of note. However, the tourists were bowled out for 63 in the second innings by John Cotton (9 for 29) and lost comfortably.

Despite his poor form Saxena was selected for the first Test at Headingley, where he made his debut with Guha. Geoff Boycott scored 246 not out before Brian Close declared the innings closed at 550 for 4 (our hero sent down 2 overs for 11 runs). Opening batting with Farokh Engineer Saxena struggled against John Snow and Ken Higgs before D’Oliveira relieved him of his misery by clean bowling him. The openers had added 39 in 55 minutes, but Saxena could manage only a 51-ball 9.

India were bowled out for 164. Saxena was demoted in the second innings as Tiger Pataudi sent Rusi Surti to open with Engineer. Engineer, Ajit Wadekar, Hanumant, and Pataudi himself all batted well to save the ignominy of an innings defeat. They eventually piled up 510. Batting at No. 7 Saxena scored a 35-ball 16 (in a 26-run stand) with 3 fours before Snow bowled him.

England won by 6 wickets. Saxena did not play at Lord’s or Edgbaston — or, for that matter, another Test. He also went to Australia and New Zealand later that year but failed on both tours, managing 146 runs at 24.33 in the 5 tour matches he played in the tours.

Back to domestic cricket

Once back home Saxena continued to serve Bihar. In 1969-70 he scored 202 not out against Assam, which remained his highest First-Class score. It also remains the highest score by any No. 4 batsman for Bihar. However, his greatest contribution to Bihar cricket came in 1975-76 when he played a key role when when Daljit’s Bihar reached the Ranji Trophy final for the only time in history.

Against Bengal Saxena scored 41 and 69, but his finest performances came in the next two matches. Against Delhi in the quarter-final, Saxena top-scored with 112 before Sumit Shome and MR Bhalla secured the all-important 58-run lead. With Bihar struggling in the second innings, Saxena top-scored again, this time with 55. Chasing 266 Delhi crashed to 108 against Ajay Jha and Sekhar Sinha, who bowled unchanged for 35.3 overs.

Sinha routed Karnataka for 157 in the semi-final. The tourists hit back, reducing Bihar to 52 for 3 when Saxena walked out. There were contributions at the other end from Venkataraman Sivaramakrishnan, Tilak Raj, and Daljit, but Saxena formed the backbone of Bihar’s batting. He scored 143 as Bihar reached 394.

AV Jayaprakash (who later stood as umpire at the end from where Anil Kumble took 10 for 74) scored a hundred, but some quality bowling from Shome and Bhalla meant that the target was a mere 32, which was duly chased down without the loss of a wicket.

Hopes were high for Bihar when they took on Bombay in the final, but Abdul Ismail took 10 wickets in the match and Ashok Mankad scored 98 to secure a 10-wicket win for the tourists. Saxena scored 30 and 2. Saxena finished the season with 540 runs (next to only the 583 amassed by Yajurvindra Singh) at 54.

Saxena played domestic cricket till 1981-82. Delhi spoiled his swansong party when they scored 483 for 8 (Surinder Amarnath, Kirti Azad, and Madan Lal all slammed hundreds) after Sinha and Randhir Singh had reduced them to 31 for 5 in the Ranji Trophy semi-final. Bihar succumbed to Mohinder Amarnath and Maninder Singh, losing by an innings. Saxena bowed out with a mere 2 and 30.

Final years

During his playing days Saxena worked for State Bank of India before joining Tata. He was also appointed Secretary of Bihar Jharkhand Cricket Association. Saxena had a stroke at Howrah Station while travelling to Sikkim from Jamshedpur for a vacation. He had to be admitted to Ruby Hospital, Kolkata, but he survived.

He passed away the following year of a brain haemorrhage on August 16, 2011 at Tata Main Hospital, Jamshedpur. He was 66. He was survived by his widow Karuna and his sons Saurav and Vineet. The latter, an all-rounder, played Ranji Trophy for Jharkhand towards the end of the 20th century.

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