It's been a season of farewells in Indian cricket. First it was Rahul Dravid, followed by VVS Laxman. More recently, Sachin Tendulkar decided that enough is enough and ended his one-day international cricket career at 463 ODIs. All these three stalwarts played international cricket with Sanjay Bangar, the domestic battler, who made the most of his international chances.
It would be fair to say that Bangar (40) is a product of Mumbai cricket although he chose to play for the Railways in the Ranji Trophy. The all-rounder made it to the Indian team by sheer weight of his performances and his hundred which helped India win the Nagpur Test against Zimbabwe (2001-02) ought to have got more rave reviews. Ditto his unbeaten 57 in company with centurion Rahul Dravid which helped India reach their 325-run target against the West Indies in the Ahmedabad ODI in 2002.
Earlier in the year, he experienced his finest hour in Test cricket — at Headingley, Leeds against Nasser Hussain’s Englishmen. He scored 68 in bowler-friendly conditions and put on 170 for the second wicket with Rahul Dravid whose 148 can be considered as an epic. Those ended up being match-winning efforts.
The 2003 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack reported: “The game had started slowly after Ganguly, fearlessly going against all Headingley precedent by picking two spinners, won the toss and batted. Sehwag gloved a catch in the seventh over; Dravid and Bangar settled back and worked to rule - the first 50 came up ten minutes before lunch, to much foot-shuffling in the crowd. Dravid was immaculate from the start, watching each ball like a seamstress and ignoring the ones which thudded into his shoulder, helmet or chest. Bangar was an admirable sidekick but his demise was greeted with excitement as the crowd prepared for Tendulkar.”
Tendulkar went on to carve out a century (193) which was significant in terms of value and history. It took him past Sir Don Bradman’s 29 Test centuries and he didn’t forget to mention Bangar’s contribution: “Sanjay Bangar played beautifully for his 68 and he put on a good partnership with Rahul Dravid, who played superbly. I remember going to bat after tea and Andrew Flintoff was bowling a lot of short-pitched stuff round the wicket.” That provided some idea of what Bangar and Dravid had to endure that testing day in August.
Ganguly went on to become India’s third centurion of the innings. As captain, he must be given credit for agreeing to Bangar opening the innings.
Bangar also claimed the wickets of Mark Butcher and John Crawley to hasten India’s innings and 46-run win.
Bangar went to the World Cup in 2003 and couldn’t get a game. But he extended a helping hand especially before the crucial game against Pakistan at Centurion. Coach John Wright remembers Bangar emphasising the point in a team meeting that the Indians must turn on the aggression big-time against the old enemy. They did. They won.
Bangar did not get the opportunities his fighting qualities deserved. Probably, another case of flair being preferred over true grit.
His domestic journey for Railways was not a pathway of comfort and some of his stories may be similar to the ones which cricketers had to put up with in a bygone era. Hence, his overall contribution to the game shouldn’t be underestimated.