Former India wicketkeeper-batsman Surinder Khanna remembers his finest moment in international cricket
Quiz question: Which Indian wicketkeeper-batsman played two one-day internationals in Sharjah; was man of the match in both of them and did not play for his country in the desert again?
The year: 1984
The tournament: The inaugural Asia Cup.
The answer: Surinder Khanna
Surinder Khanna attempts to run out Pakistan opener Saadat Ali at the 1984 Asia Cup at Sharjah. Pic/Patrick Eagar (MiD DAY Archives)
Khanna (57) remembers his finest moment in international cricket as if it was yesterday. After a fine performance against Sri Lanka in the opening game (51 not out) chasing 97 for victory, he slammed 56 off 72 balls (3x4, 2x6) to top score in India's total of 188 before the Zaheer Abbas-led Pakistan were bowled out for 134. Khanna's response to his two man-of-the-match performances was laced with modesty: "It is a team sport. I was fortunate to be man of the match and to have done well."
He recalls: "I was making a comeback in the Indian team (after 1979). Sunnybhai (Gavaskar) captained the side and that was the only time Sharjah had green tops. After that, there were only run-scoring feasts. Khanna was included in the playing XI because of his ability to open the innings and score quick runs apart from his wicketkeeping. He replaced illustrious stumper Syed Kirmani.
Kirmani left out
"It was a big decision to leave Kiri out and play me and I was glad to live up to expectations and perform," says Khanna, who was Bharat Reddy's understudy on the 1979 tour of England for which Kirmani was left out. Khanna however kept wicket during the 1979 World Cup. He slammed the decision to drop Kirmani: "It was one of those decisions which was not taken in the interest of Indian cricket.
I wish I had gone as understudy to Kiri." Back to Sharjah 1984. "I was in good form; I had a good domestic season," he says. "I knew what to expect from the fast bowlers. The first ball I faced in the Sri Lanka game, I hooked Vinothen John to the ropes. I was told that Kapil Dev, who was in the commentator's box then because he was not playing due to his knee operation in America, said, "That's the kind of form he is in."
Khanna's international cricket career was over by the end of 1984. The regret in his voice is palpable when he says, "I had a hamstring injury in Pakistan and was never called back to play." Getting runs against a Pakistan attack comprising Sarfraz Nawaz, left-arm pacer Azeem Hafeez, Mudassar Nazar and Abdul Qadir in Sharjah makes him feel proud. "Sarfy we all know was a great seam bowler. It was a big challenge facing him on a green top.
Hafeez was a good bowler and there was Mudassar, the wily campaigner," he says. In those days when player earnings were not flashy, Khanna's prize money for the two man of the match awards and the player of the series award totalled $10,000. "I gave it (money) to the team manager and it was shared then and there in Sharjah. Money was never important. I played the game for love of the sport, the passion for the game.
Representing the country meant a lot. We always felt that there should be more money in the game, but we didn't know that when it arrived, greed would increase and lead to a situation like what we are seeing today. All this (spot fixing) is so unfortunate," he says. The former cricketer is now a Deputy General Manager (Head of Sports) with Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL). He is proud to be part of his firm's sporting thrust which has led to setting up football and archery academies as well as the popular SAIL golf tournament.
Unlike now, India's fielding was top drawer in 1984 and well-travelled writer R Mohan waxed eloquent on Khanna's exploits in The Sportstar (April 28, 1984): "A solid hook stroke, which he is never afraid to employ, completes the picture of a batsman ever willing to take the battle into the opposing camp." Of the fielding, Mohan wrote: "The Indian fielding with Ghulam Parkar being outstanding was competent throughout the tournament. Once again a collective effort had seen India through." Alas, the same cannot be said of Kohli's men in Bangladesh.
> In 1984, Khanna made a comeback in the Indian team
> The think-tank decided to drop Kirmani for Khanna
> The total prize money Khanna received was USD 10,000