Roger Binny: the Anglo-Indian who did brilliantly for India in England © Getty Images
Roger Binny: the Anglo-Indian who did brilliantly for India in England © Getty Images

The first Anglo-Indian to play Test cricket for India, Roger Binny was born July 19, 1955. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of India’s finest swing bowlers.

Roger Michael Humphrey Binny is often unfairly remembered only, as the first Anglo-Indian to play Test cricket. Binny’s contribution to Indian cricket is often underestimated, despite the fact that for a man heavily dependent on swing, he did bowl some fine spells on flat Indian tracks.

Let us assess Binny’s career in terms of numbers first: from 27 Tests Binny finished with a mere 47 wickets at 32.63 and a strike rate of 61. The wickets per Test count is surprisingly low for a new-ball bowler, but one must remember that he got to bowl less than 18 overs a Test.

Where does Binny stand among Indian seamers? Let us put a 40-wicket cut-off, remove Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, and check.

 Bowler M W Ave
Kapil Dev

129

430

29.61

Javagal Srinath

58

203

30.88

Roger Binny

27

47

32.63

Lala Amarnath

24

45

32.91

Karsan Ghavri

39

109

33.54

What about strike rates?

 Bowler M W SR
Chetan Sharma

23

61

56.8

Roger Binny

27

47

61.0

S Sreesanth

26

85

62.1

Kapil Dev

129

430

63.5

Javagal Srinath

58

203

63.6

Binny’s achievements do not stop there. He also had an excellent ODI career and finished with 77 wickets from 72 matches at 29.35, a strike rate of 38.4, and an economy rate of 4.58; his highest claim to fame was, of course, the fact that he was the leading wicket-taker in the 1983 World Cup (18 wickets at 18.67, strike rate 29.3, economy rate 3.81).

Let us put a 70-wicket cut-off this time, leaving out Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, and other non-Test playing nations.

 Bowler M W Ave
Kapil Dev

214

247

27.65

Manoj Prabhakar

120

144

29.52

Javagal Srinath

201

266

29.92

Roger Binny

70

73

30.00

Ajit Agarkar

147

208

30.27

And as for economy rates…

 Bowler M W Econ
Kapil Dev

214

241

3.74

Manoj Prabhakar

120

144

4.32

Javagal Srinath

201

266

4.57

Roger Binny

70

73

4.65

Venkatesh Prasad

134

158

4.75

For a man with numbers this good, it was surprising that Binny had an ordinary First-Class record: he picked up only 205 wickets from 136 matches at 36.02 with 5 five-wicket hauls; he never got a ten-for. At domestic level, however, he was an excellent all-rounder, often opening the batting and scoring 6,579 runs at 34.08 with 14 hundreds. At Test level (where he batted in the top 5 as many as 6 times) this was translated to 830 runs at 23.05 with 5 fifties.

Despite his unusual shape (he had earned the nickname “Jackie” because his posterior was shaped like a jackfruit) Binny was extremely agile. He could swing the ball either way, and thrived whenever there was the slightest hint of swing in the air. In an era when India is in desperate search of quality bowlers, Binny would have fitted the bill as much as anyone else.

Early days

Born in Bangalore, Binny went to school at St Germain’s and St Joseph’s Indian High School. The boy from Benson Town went on to represent his school in football and hockey, and also held the national record for boys javelins throw. However, his heart lay in cricket, and he made his First-Class debut against Kerala at Raichur at 20.

He first made a mark in next season’s Ranji Trophy quarter-final against Maharashtra at home: opening batting, he scored 71, and after Karnataka posted 465, he removed the first four batsmen, finishing with 4 for 108 and securing the all-important first-innings lead.

The magnum opus, however, came in the season that followed. After Kerala were bowled out for 141 at Chickmagalur, Binny opened batting with gloveman Sanjay Desai, and the pair reached 206 at stumps. When Sudhakar Rao eventually declared the next afternoon at 451 without loss (at an astonishing 6.17) both Desai and Binny had achieved their respective career bests of 218 and 211. It remained a Ranji Trophy record till Ravi Sehgal and Raman Lamba added 464 in 1994-95.

This was followed by 174 against Andhra at home; Binny finished that season with 563 runs at 62.55, third on the list. His bowling, unfortunately, was yet to take off. It was a blessing in disguise, since the role of the Indian seamers of the era was restricted to taking the shine off the new ball. Kapil Dev was yet to arrive.

Binny first made a mark for South Zone against the touring Australians of 1979-80. Batting at five he top-scored with 53 out of a team total of 196; he was under-bowled on a turning track, but he finished with 2 for 26. He did not play Tests against the Australians, but was drafted in for the first Test against Pakistan at Chinnaswamy.

Test debut

Binny got to bowl 10 expensive overs in Pakistan’s first innings of 431 for 9, but scored a gritty 46 to help India reach 416. The next Test at Kotla saw a significant improvement as he finished with 2 for 32 and 2 for 56; he played all five Tests, doing a decent job.

He made his ODI debut next season in the Benson & Hedges World Series Cup where India, defending 208, bowled out Australia for 142; Binny finished with figures of 2 for 23. The next match saw India defend 157: not only did Binny open batting, he also demolished New Zealand with 4 for 41.

Thereafter he was left in the wilderness in either format before he made his comeback after an excellent domestic season with the bat and ball: he scored a crucial 115 and claimed three scalps in Karnataka’s win over Bombay in the 1982-83 Ranji Trophy final. Earlier in the tournament he had taken 4 for 29 and 5 for 52 (his first five-for) against Kerala.

His finest hour came in the semifinal against Haryana at Faridabad where he bowled unchanged to return career-best figures of 8 for 22 as Haryana crashed to 78 and lost by an innings. With 522 runs at 37.28 and 25 wickets at 20.72 from the domestic season, Binny was selected for the World Cup — a decision Indian cricket has always thanked the selectors for.

Top of the world

The triumph of Kapil’s Devils in the 1983 World Cup is too well-documented to recollect here. Binny’s contributions, however, is worth a mention: he scored a crucial 27, helping Yashpal Sharma put 73 for the opening stand. Then, in one short burst, he took out Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd, and Jeff Dujon. West Indies went on to face their maiden defeat in World Cup.

The next special spell (3 for 27) came against Zimbabwe at Grace Road; though the Indians were mauled by West Indians at The Oval, Binny still managed three wickets (including Faoud Bacchus and Dujon). India reached Chelmsford for their last league match to take on Australia: it was a near-quarter-final.

India scored 247. An Australian victory would have knocked India out of the tournament. Though Trevor Chappell fell early, Graeme Wood and Graham Yallop took them to 46; it was not before the 16th over that Kapil summoned Binny. He settled things with three quick wickets, including both set batsmen and stand-in captain David Hookes. He eventually finished with 4 for 29, won the Man of the Match award, and Australia were crushed by 118 runs.

He was in the thick of the things in the semi-final as well; after Graeme Fowler and Chris Tavare put up 69, Binny came on and removed both. England never got going, and were knocked out. He did his bit in the final with the wicket of Lloyd (and the catch of Desmond Haynes), and finished at the top of the rung. He was, quite rightfully, named an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year.

Shining with the bat

The twin home series turned out to be disasters for India. They did not win a single Test; they got away with a 0-0 draw against Pakistan, but were decimated by the vengeful West Indies by a 0-3 margin. Binny was one of the few who shone that winter, with both bat and ball.

The first contribution came against Pakistan at Chinnaswamy: after India had been left reeling at 85 for 6, Binny (83 not out) and Madan Lal (74) added 155 for the seventh wicket. It was then the record seventh-wicket partnership for India against Pakistan (though it has been bettered by Sourav Ganguly and Irfan Pathan, who added 178). Binny followed this with 54 at Jullundur, helping Anshuman Gaekwad put up 121.

When the West Indians came along, Binny showed his mettle with the ball at Ahmedabad. In a brilliant new-ball spell he removed Gordon Greenidge, Haynes, and Richards; unfortunately, he had to restrict himself to 6-0-18-3. India lost the Test despite Sunil Gavaskar’s 90 and Kapil’s 9 for 83.

It was with the bat that Binny made a difference in the otherwise disastrous series. With 39 at Green Park, 52 and 32 at Kotla, 65 at Wankhede, and 44 at Eden Gardens, Binny showed that he could put up a great fight against the most lethal attack of the era.

Top of the World: the sequel

Crushed on all corners, India reached Australia for the World Series Cup of 1985-86 — once again as underdogs. Classified as a swing bowler, Binny proved his worth on the hard, bouncy Australian wickets, and was easily one of the heroes of the tournament.

The journey started with 4 for 35 against Pakistan at MCG; he followed it with 1 for 33 against England at SCG, 3 for 27 against Australia at MCG, and 1 for 28 in the semi-final against New Zealand at SCG. He missed the final through an injury, which was the only reason for him missing out on being the highest wicket-taker in India’s second world triumph.

Eventually, he finished with 9 wickets (joint-second with Kapil) at 13.67. Laxman Sivaramakrishnan led the way with 10, thus ensuring Indians shared all three top spots. Binny also finished second on averages, next to only Joel Garner (6 wickets at 12.50).

Beating England in England

Given his performance three years back, Binny was an obvious pick for the 1986 tour of England. Four wickets in the famous victory at Lord’s were an indication of what was in the store as the teams moved to Headingley for the second Test. India reached 272 before Kapil, after the initial overs from himself and Madan Lal, summoned Binny.

Binny found Mike Gatting’s edge early, and had Allan Lamb caught shortly afterwards. He moved the ball around in the gloom of Leeds, and finished with 5 for 40 as England were skittled for 102. Vengsarkar’s sublime 102 not out (his finest, according to many) then left England with the nigh-impossible task of chasing 408. They were never in the match, and lost by 279 runs; Binny finished with 2 for 18.

He scored a defiant 40 in the third Test at Edgbaston, thereby making an impact in all 3 Tests. Then, all of a sudden, everything went wrong.

An abrupt end

Binny did not have a poor season thereafter, though he could not make a huge impact. With Madan Lal vanishing from the scenario, one would have still given him a chance, but the selectors preferred the pair of Manoj Prabhakar and Chetan Sharma to assist Kapil.

He had one last hurrah, against Pakistan at Eden Gardens in 1986-87. I was there, all of nine years, watching in awe as Binny made use of the famous breeze that sometimes blew across the historic ground. On an absolutely flat pitch, Binny used the conditions to perfection: he took a career-best 6 for 56 as Pakistan, cruising at 178 for 2, were dismissed for 229. He added 2 for 45 in the second innings.

Surprisingly, despite the excellent performance, Binny bowled only 3 more overs in his Test career. He injured his ankle at Jaipur and could not bowl; he missed the fourth Test at Motera; and was asked to bowl a mere 3 overs in the final Test at Chinnaswamy. He never played another Test.

He was in the squad for the 1987 World Cup, and played in India’s first match against Australia at Madras. He clean bowled Allan Border, but went for 46 in 7 overs. India drafted in Chetan for the rest of the tournament, and Binny’s international career ended came to an end.

Back to domestic cricket

Binny played on till 1991-92. Even as late as in 1988-89, he scored 140 and 138 in consecutive innings, but with both Ravi Shastri and Prabhakar opening batting at times, the batting all-rounder’s role was also ruled out. He was dropped from Karnataka, and moved to Goa for his final season.

The tenure for Goa started with 102 out of a team score of 165 against Hyderabad, where the tourists were bowled out twice by the spin trio of Shivlal Yadav, Arshad Ayub, and Venkathapaty Raju. Playing for a weak team did not do his cause a lot of good, but he still finished with 346 runs at 38.44.

Personal life and post-retirement

Binny went on to become the coach of India’s Under-19 side that won the World Cup in 2000; it turned out to be a watershed moment that triggered a rise in India’s young brigade in the 2000s. He coached the Bengal Ranji Trophy side, became the part of Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) management, and became a national selector in 2012 — a role he is still employed in.

Binny married his childhood love (and friend’s sister) Cynthia; they have three children, Laura, Lisa, and Stuart. The youngest currently plays for India, and holds the best ODI figures by an Indian (4.4-2-4-6 against Bangladesh at Dhaka in 2014). Stuart is married to popular sports anchor Mayanti Langer.

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