June 5, 2000

Talent that never received its due

Considering the potential he first displayed at the University level and then going by the promise he held out on the basis of his first innings in Test cricket, Ambar Roy's international career could be termed as a disappointment. Only four Tests, all played in the course of a single season and just 91 runs at an average of 13 are poor returns from a cricketer from whom much was expected. But on his 55th birth anniversary which falls today, it is worth making a rational anlaysis of his career and examine whether it could have been better.

In the mid sixties, Ambar was considered to be one of the most exciting young batsmen in the country. A left hander, capable of making dazzling strokes all round the wicket coupled with natural elegance, he not only made tall scores but got them handsomely. A nephew of Pankaj Roy, Ambar had the pedigree too to back him up and it was taken for granted that an India cap would be his ere long. But it took Vijay Merchant's youth policy to get him into the national side. The chairman of the selection committee was determined to invest in young cricketers when he took over in the late 60s and among those who he backed was Ambar.

The left hander from Bengal, then 23, made his debut against New Zealand at Nagpur and straightaway showed his class. In reply to New Zealand's total of 319, India were floundering at 150 for six when Ambar came in on the third morning. Soon a seventh wicket fell at 161 and Engineer joined Ambar with only Prasanna and Bedi in the pavilion.

Despite the grim situation and ignoring the fact that it was his first Test innings, Ambar batted with gay abandon. He even outscored the flamboyant Engineer and against a varied New Zealand attack - Dayle Hadlee, Bob Cunis, Headley Howarth, Vic Pollard and Brian Yuile - he made a number of attacking strokes. When he had reached 48, he had hit as many as ten boundaries, a remarkably high proportion. He was last out - trying for the stroke that would hurry him to his half century - but in the meantime had succeeded in stretching the total to 257. The critics ran out of adjectives in describing the little gem of an innings and hailed him as a new star on the batting horizon.

In the next three innings however Ambar had scores of 2,0 and 4 though it must immediately be said that the pitches were difficult. He was omitted for the next two Tests but Merchant, convinced that he deserved another chance brought him back for the third Test against Australia at New Delhi. Another duck followed in the only innings he got and in the next Test before his home crowd at the Eden Gardens, he had improved to scores of 18 and 19 in conditions which favoured bowlers. He was however dropped but it was taken for granted that the chop was only temporary and Ambar would be back.

Ambar was one of the contenders for the middle order batting slots for the tour of West Indies in 1971 but missed out narrowly. His name was never considered after that even though he remained a pillar of strength for Bengal and East Zone. In the Ranji Trophy, he scored 3817 runs (49.57) in a long career which lasted almost two decades. A look at these figures, along with his class, talent and pedigree and one is convinced that he was discarded too soon. Ambar was certainly a cricketer who deserved more chances.

In later years, Ambar became a national selector before he died following a heart attack in 1997. He takes his place alongside the many cricketers who did not receive a fair deal from the authorities.