Hazare's Adelaide magic
Like Tchaikovsky's immortal 1812 Overture, Ray Lindwall's movement was all rhythm and grace - a crescendo before a delivery of sublime power. If you looked closely, you caught a glimpse of the bulging muscle at the shoulder. As he delivered the ball it was a wonderful finale to a co-ordinated attack of body and mind. The great Indian batsman Vijay Hazare was more than up to the task, and he launched into a ball of full length and caressed it with the wave of his magic blade, sending it screaming past Neil Harvey at cover before it slammed into the boundary pickets. It brought up Hazare's historic second century of the Adelaide Test match in 1948.
The crowd rose as one, and among them was Hazare's mentor, a little man in a suit and grey felt hat, his hands clasped in victory above his head where he stood in the press gallery near the players' change room, high in the George Giffen Stand. It was none other than Clarence Victor Grimmett, the Bradman of Spin, who was at the Oval to see his protégé Hazare perform his greatest feat on the Test match stage.
Grimmett's last Test series was under the captaincy of Vic Richardson against South Africa in 1935-36 and he took 44 wickets in the series at an average of 14, but he never played for Australia again. He had his heart set on the 1938 touring team but had not selected been. In the wake of that disappointment, Grimmett was offered £2000, plus expenses, to sail to India and coach His Highness the Rajah of Jath. He gladly accepted the offer, for that sum of money was a veritable fortune in 1938, and more than double the fee Bradman's tourists received for the England tour that year.
Apart from coaching the Rajah and his younger brother, Grimmett also took an enthusiastic young allrounder under his wing, the promising 23-year-old Hazare. The old legspinner had always considered himself a pretty good batting coach. Once, he handed me his Jack Hobbs autographed bat and asked me to play a drive. Upon my saying I couldn't bat and wanted to learn about bowling, he replied: "Ah, I taught a young man to play the back-cut on the boat to England in 1930… and Don Bradman was a fast learner!"
During training in India, Grimmett threw tennis balls from close range at Hazare, who later always maintained that the Australia's coaching and encouragement helped him tighten his defence and learn to execute his strokes efficiently. Just before World War II broke out, Hazare wrote to Grimmett:
"Let me note here that this little success of mine in the cricket sphere is entirely due to your valuable instructions which I will never forget, at least in this life. I will also be thankful to you if you will in future, as in the past, kindly help me by giving necessary instructions."
World War II hampered Hazare's progress and he didn't play his first Test until June 1946, against England at Lord's. England debutant Alec Bedser stormed through the Indians with 7 for 49 and 4 for 96. Hazare, batting at No. 4, hit a modest double of 31 and 34. He took 2 for 100 off 34.4 overs in England's 428 - his victims Bedser and Bill Bowes.
Down Under a year and a half later, Hazare hardly troubled the scorers with the bat, until the fourth Test, in Adelaide. It was a game of firsts: Neil Harvey, arguably Australia's best batsman since Bradman, debuted; Lindwall took a career-best 7 for 38 in India's second innings; Bradman hit 201; Lindsay Hassett was unconquered on 198; and Sid Barnes hit a solid 112, but the match belonged to Hazare, after whose two majestic centuries, 116 and 145, Bradman was moved to say: "Hazare is the most graceful batsman it has been my pleasure to watch."
It was a terrific compliment, for Bradman had seen first-hand the artistry and style of Alan Kippax, whose batting was said to have been close to that of Victor Trumper for beauty and style; the glorious England left-hander Frank Woolley; the brilliant George Headley, and many others between the wars and just after hostilities ended in 1945.
Hazare's hundreds came against quality bowling. Lindwall and Keith Miller were at least as good as, if not the best among, all the great Australian fast bowling partnerships - the others being Ted McDonald and Jack Gregory in 1921, and Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in 1974-75. Hazare also had to negotiate the left-arm medium-fast stuff of Ernie Toshack, the offspin of Ian Johnson, and the legbreaks of Colin McCool.
Hazare walked to the wicket with India a precarious 69 for 3 in the first innings - and they were later 133 for 5. With Dattu Phadkar, who made 123, he set about restoring order. They hit 188 for the sixth wicket, but India followed on, since Australia had made 674. In the second innings Hazare came to the wicket with India 2 for 0 and batted like a man possessed. He cruised to 50, playing deft cuts and pulls and wristy shots off his toes, the ball appearing to gain pace the further from the bat it travelled - not unlike the magic of VVS Laxman when he's in peak touch.
Hazare's double in Adelaide brought him hero status back home and huge respect in Australia. Grimmett invited him to his home, Dundula, in leafy Firle, a suburb some 10km east of the Adelaide Oval. They spoke animatedly of their time together in India and enjoyed much laughter. Grimmett stood at the dinner table and raised his glass: "Vijay, a toast. You have made me a proud man today."
Hazare played 238 first-class matches in which he scored 18,784 runs at an average of 58.38, with 60 centuries and a top score of 316 not out for Maharashtra versus Baroda in 1939-40. In 30 Tests he hit 2192 runs at 47.65 with seven centuries. Against Yorkshire at Bramall Lane in 1946, Hazare scored an unconquered 244. Grimmett too liked playing against Yorkshire. In 1930 he took 10 for 37 against them. Opening with Gul Mahomed and playing for Baroda against Holkar in 1946-47, Hazare figured in a world-record stand of 577 for the fourth wicket.
Hazare was one of the modern torchbearers for excellence in Indian Test batsmanship. India's first "great" batsman was Kumar Ranjitsinhji, who played for England at the turn of the 20th century. Hazare came much later but was nearly just as influential, leading the way for Indian batting pride as represented by the likes of Chandrakant Borde, that immaculate and brilliant player of pace bowling; Sunil Gavaskar; the moustachioed and disciplined Ajit Wadekar; and Gundappa Viswanath.
India's batting heroes now include Rahul Dravid, Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar. Only, the modern champions' batting away from home has been cause for concern of late. On this tour the three have batted like shadows of their true selves. In 1948, Hazare made history in Adelaide. Oh for his like at this year's Test. Maybe the cricket gods are waiting for Adelaide to be the venue for Tendulkar to get his 100th international hundred. That would be a fitting finale for the little master's Australian adventures. At any rate, let's hope some of the Vijay Hazare flair and batting steel revisits this Indian team, and soon.
Vijay Hazare letters from Clarrie Grimmett's personal papers, as quoted in Scarlet: Clarrie Grimmett, Test Cricketer by Ashley Mallett, 2008
Ashley Mallett took 132 Tests wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. An author of over 25 books, he has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell