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The Rediff Special/John Arlott
A man with 'no nerves at all'
December 21, 2004
John Arlott was one of cricket's greatest writers and was one of Vijay Hazare's admirers. He wrote this account during India's 1946 tour of England.
Vijay Hazare, tiger-hunter, all-round cricketer and captain in the State Army of Baroda looks, at first encounter, none of these things. A slim man with a shy, gentle smile, much averse to walking in the rain, hiding within himself at social functions, rarely speaking unless spoken to, one could take the impression of an impractical recluse. See his stance at the wicket: one hand at the extreme top of the bat handle, the other at the extreme bottom pressing against the blade, the bat between the pads so that it cannot be moved straight forward or straight back, the batsman's entire weight thrown down upon it, right shoulder pulling round to set him foursquare to the bowler. How on earth can a man with such a stance, the perfectly wrong stance, make runs?
But see him stripped, without an ounce of spare flesh, sinew and muscle sliding rhythmically -- not the dragging muscle of brute strength but he fine, delicate athletic machine, carefully tended -- and recognise fitness for speed. Watch his grim antagonism at the wicket when the state of the game is against his side, the watchfulness that looks for every possible subtlety in the bowling, and recognise the quality of resistance.
Watch that awkward stance gradually melt as his square-cut finds the off-side gap, or his hook the leg-boundary, and see a batsman always difficult to dismiss, who seizes his runs as they come: taking no risks, but only a toll. Modelled in his run-scoring strokes on Merchant, Hazare is never satisfied with his score, is incapable of throwing away his wicket. The century mark, the double-century mark, are only milestones in an unvarying pace of scoring. Few critics will become lyrical about his batting style, but that will not worry Hazare: he is concerned with scores and is developing into a most capable machine for making them.
As a bowler, he spends the major portion of his twelve yard run-up gazing at the long-on boundary. His delivery is low and slingy and his pace varies between medium and fast-medium. At this speed he bowls the in-swinger, out-swinger, off-break and leg-break. And the leg-break is finger-spun. No, it is not cut, it is not rolled -- it is finger-spun -- fingerspun with the full four-finger flap. This delivery, fortunately for the batsmen who oppose him, is usually somewhat short of a length and pitched on or outside the off stump so that it leaves the batsman sufficiently for him to abstain from it.
The greatest tactical value of this delivery is the surprise of the batsman at finding it bowled at all. But, once he has identified the unconceivable action with which it is bowled, there is the 'one which doesn't'. For sometimes Hazare imparts the spin only for the ball, at its appreciable speed, to final to 'bite' and to run straight through after the batsman has shaped for the leg-break. Hazare was coached by Grimmett for a period and his leg-break is Grimmett's leg-break speeded up. Hazare was always playable because although he could make the ball come off the pitch at fair sped he was inclined to bowl just short of a length. He usually took wickets as soon as the batsmen attempted to force the pace, and, with or without the encouragement of wickets, he would bowl as long as asked and never slacken.
He has the finest type of temperament for a cricketer: not a man with 'no nerves at all' but a man with nerves which key him to the peak of his powers when the situation most demands it.
The final figures for the tour show Hazare second in the batting averages and second in the bowling averages. This is a fair measure of his value to the team but he achieved these positions unsensationally, almost obscurely. He captures runs and wickets, but not the imagination -- a fact which, I am sure, does not disturb him a scrap.
Hazare has the qualities of truth and gentleness: I suspect that after waiting without stirring for three nights at the lure to shoot a tiger, he gives his dead victim an apologetic smile and explains that his is an exceptionally good gun.
Reprinted from An Indian Cricket Omnibus, edited by T G Vaidyananthan and Ramchandra Guha, Oxford University Press, 1994, with Ramachandra Guha's kind permission.
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