Remembering KP Bhaskar
I never saw KP Bhaskar play. Yet, curiously, for about ten years starting in the early '80s he remained constantly in my thoughts. He was a dominant figure on the domestic circuit, churning out big scores for Delhi and North Zone with unfailing regularity. He was a right-hand batsman, who, I had read, had modelled some of his strokes on Gundappa Viswanath, who was much shorter in stature. And though I never saw Bhaskar play, I had my own vision of him. And because imagination has the tendency to exaggerate, I visualised his tall figure making room to cut, and withdrawing so much to the leg side that all his three stumps were exposed.
But despite his exploits in the domestic circuit, he merely remained in the periphery of the national team, never quite making it. Between 1983 and 1989, he averaged about 70, chalking off 13 hundreds, yet he was doomed to fail in the matches crucial, not to his team, but to his own selection. He was a standby for India's tour of Sri Lanka in 1985, and I remember following with anxiety the 1985 Irani Trophy match, which, in those days when cricket had a season, was considered a selection trial for fringe players. Bhaskar was picked for the Rest of India to play against Bombay at Nagpur. In the first innings, he came one-down, without a run on the board, and departed without adding to it, being caught behind off Raju Kulkarni. A century in the second innings came a day too late, as the team to Australia had already been announced.
Perhaps, Bhaskar would have never made it at international level. Too many domestic giants have found themselves exposed by the unique demands of Test cricket. Ashok Mankad was a colossus in the Ranji Trophy, aggregating 6619 runs at 76.08, yet his Test career was chequered and dismal. He played 22 Tests spread over nine years and averaged only 25.41. Brijesh Patel, Mankad's contemporary, fared only marginally better in his 21 Tests, managing a solitary hundred. It wasn't perhaps a coincidence that both ended their Test careers during India's tour of Australia in 1977-78, when Jeff Thomson's pace got too hot for a few Indian batsmen, Mankad and Patel included.
Among Bhaskar's contemporaries, there were Ajay Sharma - who, incidentally, found himself in the Test squad against the touring West Indians in 1987-88 by scoring 99 in a North Zone match against the tourists in which Bhaskar failed - and Ashok Malhotra. Sharma played only one Test, and later acquired notoriety for his alleged involvement with match-fixers. Malhotra, whose build and square-cutting evoked even more comparisons with Viswanath, flitted in and out of the national team for four years, playing only seven Tests, though he remained a prolific scorer in domestic cricket till the mid `90s.
All these men had a few things in common. They had reasonable skills and a huge appetite for runs, yet they found their skills and temperament stretched in circumstances more exacting than their comfort zones. In varying degrees, they were all found out by pace, much in the same way that Vinod Kambli and Graeme Hick, two men of whom much was expected at Test level, would be later. But the sore point is that all of them got opportunities to fail, a luxury never extended to Bhaskar. For that alone, he will forever remain a what-could-have-been question for Indian cricket.
Unlike in the case of Bhaskar, I have seen Ramesh Powar play, both at the ground and on television. Last season, he was Mumbai's Lance Klusener, clouting fours and sixes from No. 8 or 9, and that too in three-day matches. His cricket is based on simple principles; he hits straight, hard and clean. And keeps his nerve, as he showed time and again in bailing out Mumbai from dire situations. He took to offspin late in life, at the instance of Vasu Paranjpe, the Mumbai-based cricket guru, and there, too, he keeps it simple. Not for him the contortions of body and wrists patented by the modern offspinners. He ambles in gently, tosses the ball generously in the air, and extracts fair turn. In this season's Irani Trophy, a rare occasion when the Test players turned up for a domestic match, he troubled all the Rest of India batsmen in the first innings with his loop and dip, before Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman took him apart in the second innings.
Counting in runs and wickets, Powar's achievements can only be described as moderate. But there are some intangible qualities - the big heart, a sense of occasion, the ability to stand heat and the nerve to pull out the big strokes when the match is in the balance - that excite the imagination. He is not a prodigious talent by any means, but he is the sort of player who makes you curious. Can he transport his package to the big stage? I am glad that we have a chance to find out.
Sambit Bal is the editor of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine and Wisden Cricinfo in India.