A Prince among cricketers
The tributes paid to him when he passed away three years ago today (July 6) were notable for their warmth and sincerity. "He had style, elegance and grace not only as a batsman but also as a man," said the then president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India Raj Singh Dungarpur. Former Indian captain Lala Amarnath called him "a gem of a person." Throughout the length and breadth of India, the tributes poured in from those whose lives he had influenced. And Motganhalli Laxminarasu Jaisimha did touch numerous lives in India and abroad even though he was only 60 when he breathed his last following a long fight against lung cancer.
On and off the field, Jaisimha was the personification of elegance and charm. He could not do a mean thing or play a mean stroke even if he tried. Grace came naturally to him. There was something about him that made Jaisimha the darling of the masses. His slim figure, which he maintained till his last day, the boyish good looks, the inimitable gait, the trademark silk shirt and scarf, the sleeves buttoned at the wrist or the collar turned up - all these attracted immediate attention.
On and off the field, Jaisimha was the personification of elegance and charm. He could not do a mean thing or play a mean stroke even if he tried. Grace came naturally to him. There was something about him that made Jaisimha the darling of the masses. His slim figure, which he maintained till his last day, the boyish good looks, the inimitable gait, the trademark silk shirt and scarf, the sleeves buttoned at the wrist or the collar turned up - all these attracted immediate attention. Indeed, he made cricket seem chic and his style and approach had a tremendous impact on the teenage cricketers of his era, among them the young Sunil Gavaskar, for whom `Jai' was a boyhood idol.
When Jaisimha reached the crease, the attention then turned to his wristy strokes, the manner in which he caressed the ball to the boundary and the way he leapt out to play the lofted drive or pull. Off the field, he was an extrovert. Gregarious by nature, he was the life and soul of any party and enlivened the proceedings with in-jokes or naughty stories, always told within the realms of decency and in his impeccable English and inimitable style, complete with a good laugh at himself, if it was a merry-Andrew situation.
He brought all these extrovert qualities into his cricket and thus there was never a dull moment when he was around. Conservative thinking officials and selectors considered him to be `flashy' and he was frequently dropped down the order. But he achieved success at both positions and it is worth recalling that two of his three centuries in Tests were made as an opening batsman.
In truth, Jaisimha would have made good at the top or in the middle-order for inside that extrovert lay a shrewd cricketing brain. Tactically he was considered the best captain of his time in the country and it is well known that Pataudi and Ajit Wadekar consulted him on matters of strategy while leading the country.
As a batsman and captain, Jaisimha occupies an honoured place in Indian cricket. In 39 Tests from 1959 to 1971, he scored 2056 runs at an average of 30.69. His name is associated with such storybook feats like being the first to bat on all five days of a Test match - while scoring 74 in 390 minutes in a famous rearguard action against Australia at Calcutta in 1959-60 - and hitting 74 and 101 in a Brisbane Test eight years later after arriving two days before in Australia as a replacement.
As a leader, he captained Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy for 16 consecutive seasons and South Zone in the Duleep Trophy for almost a decade. His profound knowledge of pitches and the manner in which he out-thought the opposing skipper made him the connoisseur's delight.
After his playing days were over, Jaisimha kept in close touch with the game he had adorned for so long. From 1977-78 to 1980-81, he served four terms on the national selection committee. He was a popular TV commentator who regaled audiences with succinct comments and analyses. He managed the Indian team to Sri Lanka in 1985. He was prominent among those who encouraged the game at the schools level and was the cricketing ambassador of many leading companies who sponsored such programmes. A couple of years before he died he became the state coach and handled the job with the same shrewdness and enthusiasm that he showed during his playing career.
Above all, Jaisimha will be remembered fondly for his qualities as a person. When he died, there was a sense of shock and a pall of gloom not only in Hyderabad but also among the cricketing fraternity all around the country. For many, it was a personal loss, for `Jai', as he was popularly known, had touched numerous lives with his warmth and sincerity. This was reflected in the tributes that said it all on behalf of those who came in touch with Jaisimha.