Ramnath Parkar. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.
Ramnath Parkar. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.

Ramnath Parkar was born October 31, 1946. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a quality batsman and an outstanding fielder who served Bombay faithfully when their main stars were away on international duty.

Ramnath Dhondu Parkar was a captain’s dream. He would bat at any position and adapt better than most batsmen (though he was more of a blaster than a builder), and would field anywhere, absolutely anywhere and excel. During his days, he was one of the best fielders in the country.

At 5’3″ he was one of India’s shortest Test cricketers. He used the height (or lack of it) to great advantage, playing ferocious cuts, hooks, and pulls. Sunil Gavaskar, who had opened batting with him at all levels, had referred to him at one point of time as “the best opening batsman of my career”.

He was an outstanding front-foot player too, and was an excellent player of spin. Milind Rege maintained that he had not seen any right-handed batsman play Bhagwat Chandrasekhar better than Parkar. He used his feet to great effect, and whenever Chandra had tried any variation by pitching short, he was back to his strength, unleashing his amazing repertoire of back-foot strokes.

Most of his captains remember him as one of the best assets they have ever had. Ashok Mankad, under whom Parkar had played several Ranji Trophy matches, told in an interview with Mid-Day: “He was a team-man to the core and I am very proud to have been his captain. In fact, I would be proud to have him in any team. He kept the team’s interest above everything.”

Ajit Wadekar, Parkar’s only Test captain, recollected: “Ram would do anything for his team. If you needed him to open the innings or stand at the crucial forward short-leg position, he never shied away. And when it came to fielding, he was just brilliant.”

Fielding was his forte. Dilip Vengsarkar later told in an interview to H Natarajan, then with The Indian Express: “Ram was as good if not better than Azhar. But where he was distinctly better than Azhar was in his foot-speed and throwing accuracy. His anticipation was phenomenal.”

Rege added: “Parks could hit seven times out of 10 from any position. So well he anticipated the shots that he was there ready for the ball to come to him anywhere between point and mid-off. People always talk about him being a brilliant cover-point. I think he was a fantastic silly-point too, picking up catches from the batsman’s shoelaces.”

In 85 First-Class matches Parkar scored 4,455 runs at 33.75 with 8 hundreds. He also held 64 catches. His two Tests fetched him a disappointing 80 runs at 20 — but they included 10 hits to the fence. His exciting strokeplay and dashing fielding would have made him an excellent limited-overs cricketer; he was perhaps born a decade too early.

Early days

Born in Bombay, Parkar played his early cricket at the Jamboree Maidan in Worli and then at LR Tairsee Nets, where he was tutored by Vinoo Mankad. The great man played a significant role in shaping Parkar’s career. He was later coached by Ramakant Achrekar as well.

He made his First-Class debut for Vazir Sultan Tobacco Colts XI against Indian Starlets in 1964-65. He scored 6 and 30 against an attack consisting of Rajinder Pal and Chandu Borde. Thereafter he found employment at State Bank of India.

Towards the end of the 1960s Parkar’s superlative fielding abilities often made him the automatic choice for the 12th man of the reigning Ranji Trophy champions. As H Natarajan wrote, “Indeed, the joke was that the oft-crowned national champions used to select their 12th man even before their playing eleven!”

He had an innocuous start to his Ranji Trophy career against Delhi in the 1970-71 Ranji Trophy quarter-final; he scored 16, but when Bombay required only 82 in the fourth innings he, in unison with his captain Sudhir Naik, helped the hosts win by 10 wickets.

Parkar smashed 101 in the semi-final against Bengal as the hosts struggled and eventually saved the innings-defeat, though Bombay reached the final easily. In the final against Maharashtra Parkar top-scored with 108 in the first innings: the innings turned out to be crucial as Maharashtra defied Padmakar Shivalkar and eventually lost by only 48 runs.

On a seaming pitch next season, Abdul Ismail and Ajit Naik routed the hosts for 42; on the same pitch Parkar scored 144 before the fast bowlers ran through Baroda in the second innings as well. Shortly afterwards, Parkar scored 131 on his Duleep Trophy debut against East Zone, adding 225 with Gavaskar for the first wicket.

The Ranji Trophy semi-final of 1971-72 followed, where Parkar top-scored in each innings against EAS Prasanna and Chandrasekhar with 89 and 96; to put things into perspective, Shivalkar bowled out Mysore for 90 and 111 with absurd match figures of 13 for 50. Bombay retained their title yet another time defeating Bengal in the final.  With 973 runs at 42.30 Parkar was named an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year.

Just after the final, Parkar scored 70 and 195 in the Irani Cup against an attack that was almost as good as an all-India one. The onslaught was so brutal that it earned him the name ‘Battering Ram’. He scored 100 in his next innings — against Maharashtra, as a result of which he was selected to play for Board President’s XI against the touring MCC.

Almost immediately after the match started, EW Swanton, covering the match, exclaimed in astonishment at his colleagues: “Gentlemen, did you see what I saw? That falling sweep shot belongs to Rohan Kanhai!” The stroke had indeed been carried to perfection. He made 59, dominating a 100-run partnership with Gavaskar, and was selected for the first Test of the series at Delhi.

Test debut

Facing Geoff Arnold and Bob Cottam on debut was not an easy task. Parkar struggled for 19 balls before being caught by Pat Pocock off Arnold for 4. Arnold picked up 6 for 45 to rout India for 173 before England managed a 27-run lead despite Chandra’s 8 for 79.

Gavaskar fell for 8 in India’s second innings, but Parkar, dominating the partnership as well as the next one with Wadekar, scored a 72-ball 35 with 5 fours before being trapped leg-before to Arnold off one that kept low. It remained his highest Test score. Wisden wrote that Parkar played “lovely, sometimes risky strokes”. India were soon reduced to 103 for 5 before Eknath Solkar and Farokh Engineer took them to 233; England won by 6 wickets.

Gavaskar and Parkar lasted longer in the first innings at Eden Gardens, adding 29 in 89 minutes. Parkar was the second to go, caught behind off Chris Old for an uncharacteristically dour 109-ball 28 with 3 fours. He got another 15 — off 32 balls with 2 boundaries — in the second innings before Chandra and Bishan Bedi led India to a close victory.

Despite the victory Parkar was replaced by Chetan Chauhan for the next Test at Madras. India won the Test and clinched the series by a 2-1 margin. Parkar never played a Test again.

Return to domestic cricket

Because of his style and approach towards the sport he was considered as one of the potential selections for World Cup 1975, especially after he slammed his career-best of 197 against Hyderabad. However, that was not to be the case.

With time Parkar’s career faded out; he was selected for West Zone for the match against MCC, but scored only 25 and 7, falling to Tony Greig each time. The runs got less and less, and with the younger generation coming in, Parkar’s matches became less in frequency.

In his last season he had one last hurrah, scoring 139 against Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy quarter-final, adding 247 with Ghulam Parkar for the opening stand. He managed 68 and 25 against Tamil Nadu in the semi-final and also picked up the only wicket of his First-Class career when he had the host wicket-keeper R Babulnath caught-and-bowled.

Bombay won the Ranji Trophy that season defeating Delhi by an innings in the final. Parkar batted only once and scored a solitary run. It turned out to be his last First-Class match.

Post-retirement and the accident

After retirement Parkar became a coach at the Elf-Vengsarkar Cricket Academy, and earned a reputation among students — especially as a fielding coach. Vengsarkar later reminisced: “Ramnath Parkar was a dedicated coach who used to field with the boys at the Academy, played with them. He was that sort of a person. What really amazed me was his anticipation. He had an uncanny knack of effecting run-outs.”

He went on to work for Tata Chemicals and also played for Dadar Union for a few seasons. One of his teammates was Sanjay Manjrekar: “Having known him since my father’s days, I knew he did not like to talk, but in the dressing room came across as a lively person, whose energy was contagious. When I joined him in the Dadar Union team, he was past his prime but retained the same zest for the game. I was happy just to be on the same team as him.”

On December 31, 1995 Parkar had travelled the 23-kilometre distance from Oshiwara to drop his daughter Suchitra on his scooter at the Sea Cadet Corps in Colaba. On his way to the Elf-Vengsarkar Cricket Academy from Colaba when a taxi hit his scooter. He received a severe blow on his skull.

It took two complex brain operations and a long tenure at Jaslok Hospital for Parkar to show signs of improvement. The House of Tatas, in a magnanimous gesture, not only paid the bills but also maintained complete secrecy about their contribution towards the treatment of the ex-Indian opener.

In his article dated July 19, 1999 Natarajan had written that Parkar “is showing encouraging signs of surmounting the overwhelming medical odds stacked against him.” “There is a school of medical opinion which believes he could achieve a semblance of normalcy within two years.”

Unfortunately, just as he was showing signs of recovery, Ramnath Parkar passed away on August 11, 1999 after being bed-ridden for 43 months. He was survived by his wife Kumudini and his children Suchitra and Nikhil. They now stay at the Lokhandwala Complex in Andheri.

When BCCI launched its pension plan during its Platinum Jubilee Celebrations in 2004, Parkar’s family was entitled to INR 5,000 a month. However, in 2006 Sharad Pawar increased the amount to INR 25,000 a month for Parkar’s slab (24 Tests or less). Kumudini was unaware of the raise till 2011, as was Lini Kenny, widow of Parkar’s namesake Ramnath Kenny.

Bapu Nadkarni, on meeting Mrs Kenny, asked her to contact Ratnakar Shetty, the Chief Administrative Officer of BCCI. Shortly afterwards both women got the arrears that amounted to about INR 1.5 million each.

(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)