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Rediff.com  » Cricket » Remembering the elegant M L Jaisimha

Remembering the elegant M L Jaisimha

July 07, 2007 13:56 IST

The name was a bit complex. For people other than South Indians, that is. But, certainly, not the person.

Motganhalli Lakshminarsu Jaisimha, better known as M L Jaisimha, and affectionately called Jai by one and all, was a cheerful, magnificent man. A gentleman cricketer, if you like. He passed away at the age of 60 on July 7, 1999, but it seems as if he is still with us.

Jai, a name to conjure with. A batsman, nay a stylist, who didn't do even half justice to the rare talent he was blessed with because of a variety of reasons. A shrewd cricketing brain who never got to lead his country. Perhaps, circumstances were against him.

When Jai wasn't picked in the Indian team that went Down Uunder in 1967-68, it was described as a serious 'selectorial' blunder by those who knew his cricket inside out. Of course, blunders of such magnitude have been common in Indian cricket since time immemorial. Many a promising career has been nipped in the bud; many a great player has been victimised without rhyme or reason.

But the selectors found a golden opportunity to make amends, even if belatedly, when Bhagwat Chandrasekhar got injured on the tour. An SOS was sent for a replacement for the leggie. They ended up sending Jai, who was primarily a batsman, by the first available flight. This also could happen only in Indian cricket. A specialist bowler being replaced by a specialist batsman! The matter didn't end just there. Jet-lagged and with just a day at the nets, Jai was pitch-forked into the playing eleven in the crucial third Test at Brisbane.

Batting with care, concentration and character, Jai essayed two classic innings of 74 and 101. Not only that, he nearly pulled off an improbable victory for India. The team fell agonisingly short by 39 runs.

Jai was showered with rich encomia by the otherwise diehard Aussies. Many of them regarded him as a stylist of high order. And they compared him with the legendary Tom Graveney. They wondered how India could afford to drop such a class batsman.

Considering Jai wasn't in the original party, many Australian players and pundits presumed that those batsmen chosen ahead of him must have been uncommonly great! The irony was inescapable, to say the least.

Their reasoning was simple: if the man who was left out in the first place could bat so well under trying circumstances, it was a matter of imagination what others were capable of. And those others included "Tiger" Pataudi, Chandu Borde, Dilip Sardesai, Rusi Surti, Farokh Engineer and Ajit Wadekar.

A compact, forceful bat, Jai was both aggressive and defensive. As a person, he was as articulate as he was artistic with the bat. He had played some really attacking innings. And some painfully slow ones as well. Like the 99 (run out) in the 1960-61 Kanpur Test against Pakistan. Jai was at the crease for 505 minutes. He made just five, scoring strokes in the pre-lunch session on the third day.

"Jai was one of the elegant ones. Being highly intelligent, Jai worked his way against spin initially, getting his runs slowly. Once set, he was a very different proposition. He could collar the bowling, and could lift the ball too. Nobody hit the on-drive off the back-foot wide of mid-on better than he could," writes Erapalli Prasanna in his autobiography One More Over.

Like Mohammad Azharuddin, who also hailed from Hyderabad, Jai was probably a bit vulnerable against brutal pace. Stylish, elegant, wristy and a delight to watch when in full flow, both could be compared favourably.

But, unlike Azharuddin, Jai was endowed with strong intellect. What an irony that Azharuddin captained India in a number of Tests and ODIs, including three World Cups, whereas Jai did not even once. How one wishes it was the other way round.

Being a contemporary of Pataudi, it was probably not in his destiny to lead India. Maybe if he had been selected in the home series against Australia in 1969-70, and if he had scored runs also, Jai would have stood a good chance of captaining India in the Caribbean in 1971.

But nothing of the sort happened, and Wadekar was appointed to the thorny throne. Thanks to selection committee chairman Vijay Merchant's casting vote, of course. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jai, however, did make the Caribbean tour under Wadekar. He proved to be of tremendous help to the new skipper. At a crucial stage in the second Test at Port of Spain in Trinidad, when Prasanna was injured, he reminded Wadekar of the presence of Salim Durrani.

Durrani, the mercurial but moody all-rounder, had not bowled in the first innings. But the previous night, in Jai's room, he promised to get two wickets for India. He kept his promise when Wadekar gave him the red cherry. Durrani took the all-important wickets of Garfield Sobers (0) and Clive Lloyd (15). Those were the wickets that paved the way for India to beat the mighty West Indies, by seven wickets, the first time in our cricket's history.

But Jai's form with the bat was not impressive. He had to be dropped from the tour of England immediately after the Caribbean jaunt.

"I must confess there were occasions in England when I missed Jai's reassuring presence. His experiences at home and on a previous tour of the West Indies were ever at my disposal. I felt unhappy when we had to drop him for the second Test, but he took it like the sportsman that he is and assured me that I could always depend on him. He played his part in warding off the West Indies' challenge in the last two Tests. He held on, though shaken by a barrage of bouncers, to enable us to draw the Final Test," noted Wadekar in his autobiography My Cricketing Years.

That's Jai for you. Jai who was his own man. Jai who was his own master. His views were always independent. And original. So were his ideas. He was a serious student of the game. His knowledge of cricket was profound. He had a brilliant, analytical mind. Not surprisingly, Jai and "Tiger" got along very well. They had respect for each other's cricket and intelligence. They became thick friends.

Coming back to Jai's batting -- watching him you had a feeling he didn't play as well for India as a batsman of his stature was expected to. Nor did he play as many big innings as his class warranted. But then he was frequently in and out of the national side. Although he never admitted it, he was probably always under some sort of psychological pressure.

It was either because of fear of failure or because of the imminent danger of losing his place in the team any time. He was neither very consistent (artists have not been known to be consistent, be it Jaisimha, Azharuddin or even the peerless Gundappa Viswanath) nor the blue-eyed boy of the selectors.

More often than not, even the best of batsmen come a cropper in such circumstances. One is not sure whether to call Jai lucky, or unlucky, that he played 39 Tests (and scored 2,056 runs at 30.68 with three centuries) for his country. It depends on how you look at it.

Jai had two outstanding series against England. In the 1961-62 rubber, his scores were 56, 51, 70 and 127 for a series aggregate of 399 runs at 49.87. And that also as an opening bat, a position he never relished. In the 1963-64 series, he made 444 runs at 44.40, including his highest score, 129, in the third Test at Eden Garden in Kolkata. 

The Englishmen were impressed with Jai's style and technique. Many of them felt he looked capable and set to score more runs than he did in both rubbers. But then till Sunil Gavaskar appeared on the scene with his famous run-scoring spree in the Caribbean in 1971, no Indian batsman was known to score really heavily at Test level. Heavily and consistently, that is.

The problem for Jai was that he didn't have a regular batting position. Even though he always preferred to bat in the middle-order, he was often asked to open the innings. It seemed as if he was hardly or never in an ideal situation or atmosphere to bat in. Also, it appeared as though the selectors had been deriving sadistic joy by toying with what would have been a glorious career of his. For Jai was such a gifted batsman. With a bit of luck, and favour, he would have done wonders.

And Jai was a good bowler, too. His friends said he was, at one stage in his career, coached to be a new-ball bowler. He used to swing the ball well in favourable conditions. Maybe he didn't have the stamina, nor probably the inclination, to be an opening bowler.

So he ended up bowling off-breaks. Being a thinking cricketer, he would bring in a lot of variations in his bowling. He would bowl an away-swinger if he thought it fit to, and also a cutter occasionally, while operating as an off-spin bowler essentially. On his day he would puzzle the best of batsmen with his variations. Sardesai, no less, often found him the bowler, a difficult customer to deal with.

Jai claimed nine wickets in Tests and 431 in first-class cricket. He was a brilliant fielder anywhere on the field, being tall and slim and energetic with a good sense of anticipation.

In all, this delicate strokeplayer scored 13,515 runs for Hyderabad, South Zone and India. He hit 33 centuries and held 157 catches. If had been handled cleverly, and utilised properly, this handy all-rounder could have done much more than he did in a career spanning 23 eventful years.

Fluent in English with an excellent command of the language, Jai was a sweet, eloquent conversationalist. "It's not enough to be merely a good or talented player. You should have a good mind, too. I mean the combination is likely to bring more success. Of course, this applies in other fields also. Cricket is such a game that it's often played in the mind than on the field, if you get me," he told this correspondent in the late 1980s.

They were pearls of wisdom from the man who himself was a rare combination of skills of cricket and qualities of mind.

Jai had established himself as a good broadcaster, too. It was an education to listen to his forthright views and scholarly comments. Dashing, handsome and smart, he was so likeable, so full of love and warmth. He had a large number of friends in cricket and other walks of life. Players and persons like him can never be forgotten.

Haresh Pandya