December 20, 1999

HT Dani is dead at 66

Hemchandra Tukaram `Bal' Dani, who passed away in Nasik on Sunday following a prolonged illness, was one of the giants of Indian domestic cricket whose international experience was very limited.

Dani, who was 66, played his only Test in the inaugural series against Pakistan in 1952-53. He played in the third Test at Bombay's Brabourne stadium. His talent was recognized early and he was given this big break at the age of 19. He was taken as an all rounder - a stroke playing middle order batsman and a more than useful right arm bowler who could bowl an assortment of medium pace, leg breaks and off breaks. The irony was that he never got a chance to bat. He was marked down at No 8 in the order and centuries by Vijay Hazare and Polly Umrigar saw to it that Lala Amarnath, the Indian captain, could declare late on the second evening of the four day Test at 387 for four. He did however get a chance to bowl and in fact opened the attack with Amarnath. He bowled four overs in the first innings and six in the second and his second spell was enough for him to take his only wicket in Test cricket - and a prized one at that. He had Nazar Mohammed caught at slip by Umrigar for a duck. Only in the previous Test at Lucknow had Nazar Mohammed carried his bat for 124 in notching up Pakistan's first ever Test hundred. Dani also took a catch to dismiss the Pakistan captain AH Kardar. India incidentally won that Bombay Test by ten wickets.

Inexplicably, Dani never got another chance to represent the country but he was a tower of strength to Maharashtra and Services in the Ranji Trophy. For two decades, from the early fifties to the late sixties, Dani batted and bowled himself into the record books and when he retired, he had one of the best all round performances in the history of the national competition - 4757 runs at an average of 48 and 145 wickets at 19 apiece. He hit 15 centuries with his highest score being an unbeaten 166 for Services against Delhi in 1955-56. His best season was in 1959-60 when he scored 528 runs in five matches (eight innings) at an average of 66. Like wine, he grew better with age and he was probably at his peak in the sixties, when he was a shrewd captain of the Services team for many years, leading them several times to the knock out stage from the highly competitive North Zone, repeatedly beating back the challenge of other strong contenders in Railways and Delhi.

After retirement, Dani served on the National selection committee from the late sixties to the early seventies. He was a member of the selection committee which chose Ajit Wadekar as captain to end Pataudi's long reign and he had the satisfaction of seeing India winning the series in both West Indies and England during the `India Rubber Year' of 1971.