Obituary, 2005

VS Hazare

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HAZARE, VIJAY SAMUEL, died on December 18, 2004, aged 89. Vijay Hazare was one of the few Indian batsmen of his time who could translate prolific domestic form into success at Test level, and who could perform equally well on turf and on matting pitches. Despite coming late to international cricket because of the war - he was 31 when he made a subdued debut in England in 1946 - Hazare went on to play 30 Tests and score seven centuries and, above all, skipper India to their first Test victory, over England at Madras in 1951-52.

Hazare was one of eight children of a Maharashtra schoolteacher and, unusually in India, was not merely Christian but Protestant. He was picked for the first unofficial Test at Lahore against the very strong touring team brought over by Lord Tennyson in 1937-38, mainly for his medium-paced bowling, but was only allowed two overs, and batted No. 9. He soon, however, became a protégé of the Maharaja of Dewas, who took him on his personal staff and brought Clarrie Grimmett over as well, hoping he might make Hazare into a leg-spinner. Grimmett soon decided that would not work; but what he did teach Hazare, according to the historian Mihir Bose, was patience and judgment as a batsman.

He succeeded in that. In January 1940, Hazare became the first Indian (excluding Duleepsinhji, who was playing as an Englishman) to hit a triple-century: 316 not out for Maharashtra against Baroda at Poona. He made 619 runs in five Ranji Trophy innings that season, and Indians proclaimed that the great Vijay Merchant had a rival. It was the age of the two Vs. Unlike the silky, stylish Merchant, Hazare was a functional batsman with few flourishes, and his habit of tucking the bat between his pads in the stance worried the purists. But he liked to hook and cut, and in an age of formidably high scores in Indian domestic cricket vied with Merchant on the topmost peaks. They exchanged the batting record in the Bombay Pentangular tournament - then as important as the Ranji Trophy - four times in the early 1940s, including three times in a week late in 1943. Hazare was helped by a move to Baroda, where princely patronage enabled him to devote himself to cricket. This paid off when he put together an extraordinary sequence from March 1943 to February 1944 of 264, 81, 97, 248, 59, 309, 101, 223 and 87.

That 309, in the Bombay Pentangular final, was an extraordinary innings, made out of a total of only 387 as the Rest followed on against the Hindus. He shared (if that is the word) a stand of 300 with his brother Vivek, who scored just 21. The Hindus still won by an innings. Three years later, playing for Baroda in the Ranji final against Holkar, Hazare made 288, and put on 577 for the fourth wicket with Gul Mahomed, the highest partnership in all first-class cricket.

When Test cricket returned to England in 1946, Hazare made his debut in front of a packed Lord's; his first real flourish as a Test batsman came at Adelaide in 1947-48 when he scored two centuries in the match. These also came in an understandably losing cause: Bradman had made 201, and Hazare's second-innings 145 was more than half the total. But this made him a member of what was then a very exclusive club, and the feat enhanced both his own reputation and India's. A century at Bombay against West Indies a year later left India six runs short of their maiden Test victory.

It was nearly three years before they had a chance to try again, and by now Hazare was captain against what was not much more than England's third team. He made big but slow centuries in the first two Tests, at Delhi and Bombay, and India's win finally came - at the 25th attempt in all - in the Fifth, at Madras. But this was the prelude to their disastrous 1952 tour when the full England team blew them away, and Hazare's reputation as a leader never recovered. "With all due respects to Hazare, a thorough gentleman and a great cricketer," said Wisden, "he was far from the ideal captain. His shy, retiring disposition did not lend itself to forceful authority." Indeed, according to Bose, he was a ditherer, taking 15 minutes to decide whether to bat or field before he scored his century against England at Bombay, and then being ordered back on to the field by the chairman of selectors, C. K. Nayudu, after hooking a bouncer from the fiery Fred Ridgway on to his pith helmet and trying to retire hurt.

Merchant later observed: "Hazare was always a disciplined soldier, never a commander. Captaincy affected his otherwise unflagging concentration and he was never the same batsman again. It was a tragedy of Indian cricket." But he made another Test century, at Bombay against Pakistan, and regained the captaincy for the 1952-53 tour of the West Indies, when the team performed respectably, though his batting indeed went to pieces. He still averaged more than 47 in Tests overall and 58 in first-class cricket, and was also an underrated bowler, whose 20 Test wickets included Bradman twice in 1947-48. But he will be remembered above all for his batting. "He had an impregnable defence and a wide array of strokes," said the Indian cricket eminence Raj Singh. "The manner in which he held the bat, hands spread slightly apart, made him different. He had great hands, and could move them up or down the handle, like a flute player."

© John Wisden & Co