December 3, 1999

Navjot Sidhu: From 'Sid who?' to 'Sixer Sidhu!'

Navjot Sidhu's long career came to an end when he officially announced yesterday that his playing days were over. The Sardar had great success in both Test and One Day cricket. In the shorter version of the game, Sidhu began his career at number three when he burst on the scene in the 1987 World Cup. His scores of 73, 75, 51, 55 and 22 signaled the beginning of a long successful career.

In the very next tournament he played at Sharjah Sidhu came close to making his first century in limited overs cricket when he made 88 against the Kiwis. He finally had to wait 24 matches before he could proudly wave the bat to the audiences after notching up three figures. His 108 against Pakistan in the Champions Trophy was the first of six hundreds in a career that spanned 136 games and yielded 4414 runs.

Of all the innings he has played, Sidhu remembers his 134 against England at Gwalior most fondly. When making the announcement about his retirement Sidhu called it the most memorable day in his cricketing life. England batted first and scored 256 thanks mainly to a 129 at the top of the innings from Robin Smith. Scoring 257 was always going to be an uphill task.

When Sidhu lost his opening partner Manoj Prabhakar for a duck, his heart must have been in his mouth. Soon after, Vinod Kambli fell to Devon Malcolm for two. India were two wickets down with just four runs on the board. From then on there was no looking back. Navjot 'Sixer' Sidhu and Mohammad Azharuddin forged a 175 run partnership that took the game away from the English. Sidhu launched himself into the England bowling attack and made them suffer for any loose deliveries they bowled. He was especially severe on the slower bowlers - Dermot Reeve and Graeme Hick. Reeve went for thirty seven runs from his six overs and Hick's two overs were blasted for eighteen runs. When Azhar was dismissed with the score on 179, Sidhu must have once again felt the momentum tilt towards England. The opener soldiered bravely on despite losing Sachin Tendulkar, Ajay Sharma, Kapil Dev and Kiran More for just 8 runs. When the seventh wicket fell India still needed 52 runs for victory. Sidhu realised that this was the time to take the initiative and pushed hard for victory. He found a steady partner in Anil Kumble and saw India through to victory with two overs to spare. Sidhu's unbeaten effort won him the man of the match award. The win was crucial to India as it helped them take an unassailable 3-2 lead in the 6 match series.

Sidhu made a remarkable resurgence in the last part of his career and established himself as one of the better fielders in the Indian side. His efforts chasing the ball aggressively and diving around earned him the nickname 'Jonty' among crowds and journalists alike.

Sidhu was one of a kind in Indian cricket. From being a man who was referred to as 'Sid who?', he became 'Sixer Sidhu.' Whenever he walked out to bat the crowds would begin chanting "Sixer! Sixer!" More often than not, the Punjab opener obliged. After starting off as a compiler of runs rather than a flashy stroke maker, Sidhu has ended his career as a prolific batsman in the shorter version of the game. This, if anything is a testimony to Sidhu's grit and determination.