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August 4, 2000
These days, when there is so much uncertainty about the wicketkeeper's slot in the Indian team, there is nothing better than taking a trip down memory lane and recalling the happier times when this was one position which was naturally and comfortably filled by cricketers worthy of their place in the side. From the fifties (Naren Tamhane and Nana Joshi) to the sixties (Farokh Engineer and Budhi Kunderan) and from the seventies and eighties (Syed Kirmani) to the nineties (Kiran More and Nayan Mongia) there was never any problem in filling up this vital slot.
In the formative years, there was much uncertainty about the stumper's slot and in the first 13 Tests, India had five wicketkeepers on duty. Probir Sen was perhaps the earliest to give the position a hint of permanency and he was the first to appear in all five Tests of a series. He appeared in 14 Tests in all, representing the country from the late forties to the early fifties. But it was not until Tamhane appeared on the scene during the 1954-55 series in Pakistan that it was obvious that India had acquired their first world class 'keeper.
On the occasion of Tamhane's 69th birthday today, it is worth recalling the work of this neat, efficient wicketkeeper who was the country's first choice from 1955 to 1960. Those were the days when Test matches were not as frequent as they are now. And yet Tamhane played in 21 Tests, finishing with an impressive tally of 35 catches and 16 stumpings. He held all the major Indian wicketkeeping records till Engineer and Kirmani came along and a major reason for this was the fact that they played many more Tests.
Tamhane started off with 19 victims in his first series. It is a record that stands till this day and has been equalled only once by Kirmani during the six Test series against Pakistan in 1979-80. The Indian wicketkeeping slot was safe in Tamhane's steady hands. He was not one of those flamboyant characters. He believed in doing his work with quiet efficiency. Neat and tidy were the adjectives chiefly used to describe Tamhane's stints behind the stumps. If he was not showy or brilliant, he was also not known to drop catches and miss stumpings. Tamhane read the spin and guile of Subash Gupte, Ghulam Ahmed and Vinoo Mankad so well that it was said he could have fared better against them in front of the stumps than some of the batsmen from the opposing team. But he was equally adept at keeping to medium pace bowlers and struck a good combination with Phadkar and Ramchand, Desai and Surendranath.
Tamhane was not yet 30 when he played his last Test against Pakistan at Calcutta in 1960-61. It was not that he had become slower in his work but the selectors decided to go in for the better batsman, even if his work was not up to Tamhane's class in keeping wickets. So he gave way to Kunderan and that was the end of his international career which, with the benefit of hindsight, came about too soon, for Tamhane still had much to offer Indian cricket. In these uncertain days, we could do with one of his kind.