March 6, 2001

The curious case of the reborn leg spinner

Narendra Deepchand Hirwani is a character wronged more than once. The latest edition of twists and turns that fate has dished out are especially cruel. When the selection committee met on March 7 to pick the squad for the second Test against Australia to be played at Kolkata they left out Hirwani. Now that would be enough to make the last day's cricket a pointless exercise for Hirwani. How does he respond? By sticking to his guns methodically and scalping five wickets in what was otherwise a run riot. Yet, it's a case of Hirwani being hard done by yet another time.

But let's go back to the beginning for a second. Bursting on to the scene with a 16-wicket haul against the West Indies at Madras in the 1987-88 series, Hirwani quickly became a force to reckon with. However, the blaze of glory was not to last long. One must spare a thought for Hirwani. After claiming 16/136 so early on in his career, what could he possibly do to better that?

Following his initial fame, Hirwani was in and out of the team and then left in the cricketing wilderness for a long spell. Only just before the Australians arrived in India for the ongoing tour did Hirwani's name crop up. With Anil Kumble injured, Hirwani was a strong contender to make a comeback. The selectors dithered plenty and decided to overlook younger candidates like Sairaj Bahutule and WD Balaji Rao. Plumping for Hirwani, the selectors announced the squad for the first Test which had Hirwani and the inexperienced pairing of Rahul Sanghvi and Harbhajan Singh constituting the spin attack. As it happened Hirwani was left out at the last moment and the result was there for all to see.

Having brought the 32-year-old Madhya Pradesh legspinner back into the limelight after a long gap, there was little logic in not playing him in the first Test. Having done so, the selectors could have at least held back till the team for the second Test was to be announced.

Instead, the selectors compounded their earlier gaffe by including Hirwani in the Board President's XI team.

Bowling on a flat wicket, Hirwani was hammered out of sight by an extremely confident Australian batting line up. Now Hirwani was in a rather queer predicament. All eyes were on him the Indian captain from close quarters, the selectors and indeed a nation of cricket lovers. If Hirwani went flat out and used every weapon in his armoury, he might have returned better figures that his eventual 18-5-96-2. However, he would have then exposed himself completely to the Australians. This would greatly reduce the element of doubt if the visitors were to face Hirwani in the second Test. In the second innings of the same game, Hirwani was more penetrative, and that helped him scalp five wickets.

However, if he does not even get a look in, even in the third Test, the whole episode would have been a waste of time. Waste of time is one thing but to Hirwani it would be much worse. The leg spinner might just lose heart in what has been a lifetime's labour.