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November 29, 2006
Hanumant Singh spent his career walking, with no mean dexterity, the tightrope that allowed him to stand apart from both the casual elegance of his peers among Rajasthan's princely community and the heavy style of his colleagues in the Indian team. Till he was tripped up by that age-old leveler, the machinations of boardroom politics, and a career that promised much was spent largely in the domestic game.
The Rajasthan team of the 1960s comprised, in the main, several players from princely clans whose passion for the game - and the pleasure they derived from it - was not accompanied by any high individual ambition. Despite their tremendous presence in the National Championship for the Ranji Trophy, hardly any of them made the Indian team.
Hanumant Singh, scion of the small state of Banswara, crossed that barrier early into his career with a Test century on debut against Mike Smith's England team in 1964. He was the type of batsman that captain Tiger Pataudi was looking for in the highly disappointing series, in which all five Tests were drawn. Hanumant's range of classic strokes included the on-drive, which was executed with a silken smoothness that immediately revealed his proximity to the Ranji lineage.
His knock of 105 - easily rated the best of the series - made him only the third Indian to score a Test century on debut after Lala Amarnath and Deepak Shodhan. That century on debut was almost followed by another when Hanumant - nicknamed "Chhotu" on account of his height - was out for 94 against Bobby Simpson's Australians.
He then did quite well against New Zealand and the West Indies, the brilliance of his stroke-play, footwork and style standing out in an era when there were more plodders than one could count.
However, when the Indian squad for the tour of Australia in 1967-68 was announced, Hanumant Singh's name was missing. When the media raised the issue, the chairman of the selection committee offered the explanation that Hanumant had failed to pass the fitness test. Till this day, no one knows what fitness and what test were involved.
That omission seemed to have broken the momentum and one failure against New Zealand in 1969 spelt the end of his international career.
Happily, it didn't end his involvement with the game. He went on to play first-class cricket until the end of 1979 - undermining the doubts over his 'fitness' and becoming one of the few cricketers with a 22-year long first-class career.
An excellent student of the game, Hanumant was in great demand as a coach, instructor and administrator. He filled in almost every position, including that of a national selector. He was, until 2002, on the panel of ICC match-referees and handled quite a few controversial issues with great tact that respected as much the spirit of the game as it did the stature of the players.
SK Sham is a veteran cricket writer based in Mumbai
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A collection of fine cricket writing on great cricket feats, and never mind the omissions
Plays of the Day from the first ODI between South Africa and India in Johannesburg