Merchant, Hazare - the classic combination in Indian cricket
CRICKET: There have been many famous combinations of players
batsmen and bowlers, in the history of cricket.
Opening batsmen, opening bowlers, often last-wicket pairs and bowlers
and wicketkeepers have provided the excitement of skill and also the
union, or hostility, of temperament.Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Lindwall and
Miller, Sarwate and Banorjee, and Grimmett and Oldfield have been
examples of each of these categories respectively.
Indian cricket had a famous combination in its four great spin
bowlers. India had two great batsmen, somewhat equivalent, to Gavaskar
and Viswanath in style, though perhaps not in achievement.
It is customary to couple the names of Gavaskar and Viswanath, Vijay
Merchant and Vijay Hazare could also have been linked together. There
are differences between the two pairs of batsmen, Viswanath is more
artistic than Gavaskar while Merchant was more artistic than Hasare.
On the other hand, Gavaskar has scored more runs than Viswanath just
as Hasare did more than Merchant. But these are general
expressions.Merchant was a different kind of stylist from Viswanath; he
was a classicist while Viswanath was a mixture of classicism and
romanticism. Gavaskar was more pleasing to watch than Hazare.
Particularly in the later phase of Hazare’s cricketing career. He is
a world personality, and that Hazare never was. He reserved his best for
the Bombay communal tourney and for the Ranji Trophy. Indian spectators
used to become excited when Viswanath joined Gavaskar at the crease in a
Test. They hoped to see runs being scored not only plentifully, but also
in style and with varying character.
When those who were watching the first Test with England in New Delhi
in November 1951, saw Hazare join Merchant after India, facing an
England total of 203, had lost two wickets for 64, they must have
experienced similar emotions.
But they would not have known that this would be their last sight of
Merchant at the crease, for he retired after this match. Nor, unless
they were statisticians themselves, would they have realised that this
was the first and the last three figure stand between these two great
batsmen in Test matches.
In the hindsight of history we know these facts. That is why the
centuries each of them scored in these innings are memorable.
That series brought India a great moment when, in the final game at
Chepauk, they gained their first ever Test victory; this was in their
25th effort. Nevertheless, it was a disappointing series.
The England team under Nigel Haward, himself a player of little
consequence, were only the second best. Hutton, Compton, Bedser, Evans
and May were all absent.
Yet India, though playing at home, could only draw the series. After
the first three Tests were drawn, England won in Kanpur on an
under-prepared pitch. The Madras victory for India, while historic, only
levelled the series.
India ought to have won the first Test in New Delhi. But poor
captaincy by Hazare and inefficient catching helped England to force a
draw when all seemed lost for them. On a perfect pitch for batting,
England who took first strike, could score only 203.
Shinde, the leg-break and googly bowler, was in magnificent form.
Unusually accurate, he bowled long spells, 35.3 overs, to capture six
wickets for 91 runs. Though India began their reply poorly, losing
Pankaj Roy and Umrigar for 64, they placed themselves in an impregnable
position through the third-wicket stand between Merchant and Hazare,
which added 211, the highest for any Indian wicket in Tests until then.
Hazare closed the innings at 418 for six wickets, then the highest
total India had ever amassed. England seemed beaten, but magnificent
defensive batting by Watkins, a left-hander aided by Hazare’s poor
captaincy which was compounded by dropped catches at critical moments,
brought England an honourable draw.
Merchant’s century was his third, all made against England. In fact,
he played all his 10 official Tests against that country. The 154 he
scored was the highest individual Indian Test score: a “record” which
did not survive a day, for Hazare broke it with 164 not out the next
The partnership lasted five hours and 10 minutes. Statham, then at
the beginning of his great career, Ridgway, Shackelton and Tattersall
beat in vain against the impregnable defence of the two batsmen.But both
Merchant and Hazare batted far too slowly. The former was at the crease
for seven and a half hours.
The latter was even slower, taking eight hours and 35 minutes. It
would be ungraceful and uncharitable to attack and the slow batsmanship
of the two batsmen. Yet, both Merchant and Hazare should have scored
quicker than they did.
After all, both were much accomplished and the pitch was all in their
favour. At tea on the second day, Merchant and Hazare had brought the
total to 153. In the 90 minutes to close of play, they added only 39.
On the third day too the scoring was slow. Hazare was unduly cautious
as captain, self-defeatingly cautious. Normally a captain in his happy
position would have closed his innings at tea on the third day, hoping
and expecting to dismiss one or two of the third and dispirited
Yet it was not until the morning of the fourth day, after the
Englishmen had the benefit of the rest day, that he asked them to bat
again. In the final analysis, however, it was Battaji Gaekwad’s two
dropped catches that thwarted India. On the fourth day, Merchant injured
his shoulder and left the field.
As soon as Gaekwad, the substitute, took his place, he dropped
Robertson off Shindo. Then, when Carr was helping Watkins and 158 for
the fourth wicket in over five hours. Gaekwad dropped another easy catch
Finally, England could score 368 for six wickets. Poor Shindo had an
analysis of two wickets for 162 off 73 overs, of which 27 were maidens.
Vinoo Mankad’s figures invite comparison. He bowled 76 overs, 47
maidens, 58 runs and four wickets. But then leg spin is “unnatural” spin
and the leg-break bowler cannot control it so effectively as a left