You've got to feel for them

Updated: Jun 25, 2020, 12:28 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Meeting players who missed out on an India cap can leave you with a lump in the throat, memories of which came up as Indian cricket lost another domestic giant in Haryana-based spinner Rajinder Goel.

Bihar and East Zone wicketkeeper-turned Punjab Cricket Association Stadium curator Daljit Singh with Rahul Dravid in Mohali on October 27, 2005. Pic/AFP
Bihar and East Zone wicketkeeper-turned Punjab Cricket Association Stadium curator Daljit Singh with Rahul Dravid in Mohali on October 27, 2005. Pic/AFP

Clayton MurzelloWhat can be more crushing for a cricketer than to be on the cusp of a Test debut — because the side's similar type of bowler and main left-arm spinner is dropped on disciplinary grounds — and then discovering that he is not needed in the playing XI?

This is exactly what happened to Rajinder Goel, who passed away on Sunday in Rohtak. The same Goel went on to claim a record 637 wickets in the national championships.

In his Ranji Trophy game before that India v West Indies Test at Bangalore, where he missed out, Goel, then 32, bagged 10 wickets in the match to help Haryana beat Railways by five wickets.

Sunder Rajan, the late formidable sports writer, in his book on the 1974-75 series, wrote how wrong the selectors were right from the time they picked Goel because he felt Padmakar Shivalkar would have been a better choice. The wise men, according to Sunder, committed another blunder by announcing on the eve of the Test that two off-spinners — Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan — would be in the XI. "If only they had waited till the morning of the match, they would have realised that Goel could have served India well," wrote Sunder. The start was delayed by rain and the author felt there was no one in the Indian attack to exploit the wet conditions.

That was the closest Goel got to playing Test cricket for India. Surely, he missed out in the most incredible fashion, but those who spoke to him, found no trace of bitterness.

"My dad brought up only three things: 1. He was born at the wrong time. 2. There was no harm if two left-arm spinners played in the same XI and 3. He was destined not to play for India," his son Nitin said to me on Wednesday.

I didn't have the good fortune of meeting the deceased spin great although I once spoke to him over the phone. But I've met and interviewed a few like Goel, who missed out on an India cap.

I interviewed Shivalkar at his Bombay House office a few days before his benefit game in 1995. Naturally, the topic about him not playing for India came up. He stressed that if two offies could play in one team, so could two left-arm spinners. "If you cannot play the highest grade, you can always play at a lower level and be helpful to that team," he said as my colleague, the late J Dey (who was assassinated in 2011), photographed Shivalkar gripping a ball. I saw a man who, despite being dealt a bad hand, was philosophical about his disappointment.

Vijay Bhosale, the former Maharashtra, Baroda and Mumbai batsman, didn't disguise his sadness over not being given a chance to represent his country in the 1960s. He told me in 1995 how he would pray and weep before his deity and ask: "Why are you doing this to me?" The disappointment of not making it to the highest ranks prevented him from watching cricket at either Brabourne or Wankhede Stadium until the first floodlit ODI at the latter in 1996. Bhosale, of course, was at the ground when he was the Mumbai team's manager and a senior selector in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The right-handed middle-order batman fancied his chances for the 1967-68 tour of Australia.

He revealed how he told off a senior member of the Indian team during a West Zone v South Zone Duleep Trophy match in the 1960s: "I don't play good shots to faltu bowlers." Wonder whether that played a role in him not representing the country.

The most memorable interaction I had with a player who could have played for India was during the 1994-95 Mumbai v Punjab Ranji Trophy final at the Wankhede Stadium. During our post-day chats, Daljit Singh, the coach of the Punjab team (before he became a famous curator) revealed how he narrowly missed a berth in the Indian team for their historic tour of the West Indies in 1971. Daljit was wicketkeeper for East Zone which clashed with South Zone in the 1970-71 Duleep Trophy final at the Brabourne Stadium. East Zone captain Ramesh Saxena was stopped as he was walking out for the toss with Venkataraghavan. Saxena was told that chief selector Vijay Merchant wanted to see him immediately and the toss could wait. Saxena hesitantly agreed, went up the pavilion stairs and met Merchant, who told him that Rusi Jeejeebhoy should keep wickets for the final. Jeejeebhoy, it must be noted, did not figure in the semi-final against North Zone at Kolkata.

The national selectors apparently wanted to have one look at how Jeejeebhoy kept wickets. Daljit agreed to play as a batsman as a mark of respect for Saxena. Jeejeebhoy claimed only one catch in the match but was among Ajit Wadekar's warriors in the West Indies. In fact, both wicketkeepers who figured in that Duleep Trophy final were picked for the tour. "I heard later that Merchant told Ramesh that he too was in the running for a place in the West Indies-bound team but they left him out. Ramesh played the best innings of that Duleep final — a brilliant 90 in the first innings — on the day he was told of his recall chances," said Daljit, reminding me that Saxena played only one Test for India. "As Ramesh was heading back to the Leeds pavilion after England scored 550 in 1967, Ramesh was told to open the innings – a middle-order batsman was asked to open. In all my years in this game I've never seen a more gifted player than Ramesh," Daljit said to me on Wednesday.

I was surprised when Daljit first narrated his tale of woes to me in 1994, but the player who moved me was Pradeep Sunderam when I met him at his Union Bank of India office in Fort many years ago. The injured Chetan Sharma was unable to play the Leeds Test on India's 1986 tour of England and the team management pulled out S Madan Lal from the Lancashire league despite Manoj Prabhakar being in the squad. Sunderam, who said he was the first standby for the tour (after his 10 wickets in an innings for Rajasthan v Vidarbha in 1985), was told by an official that they couldn't find him. But he was around, playing league cricket in Surrey. It was a reason that was obviously hard to believe. But that's how some stories are of cricketers who missed out on the India cap, Goel being a heart-wrenching example.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello

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