Eknath Dhondu Solkar
March 18, 1948, Bombay (now Mumbai), Maharashtra
June 26, 2005, Mumbai, Maharashtra, (aged 57y 100d)
Left hand Bat
Left arm Medium, Slow Left arm Orthodox
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack obituary
SOLKAR, EKNATH DHONDU, died on June 26, 2005. He was 57, and suffered from diabetes. Statistically, Solkar remains Test cricket's most successful fielder, with 53 catches in just 27 matches - of those who played at least ten, the nextbest is Bob Simpson's 110 in 62 Tests, or 1.77 per match to Solkar's 1.96. The top catchers are usually firmly camped in the slip cordon, but most of Solkar's came at forward short leg, where he lurked uncomfortably up close and personal to the batsman. Bishan Bedi, one of the great Indian spinners of the time whose menace was greatly enhanced by this, confirmed: "His close-in catching was really intimidating. We would not have been the same bowlers without him." Tony Greig, an opponent in the 1972-73 series in India, said: "Ekki was the best forward short leg I have ever seen." His catching was often preceded by some very idiosyncratic sledging. "I'll get you, bloody," he advised Geoff Boycott, and he told Garry Sobers to mind his own business. Solkar rose from humble roots. His father was the groundsman at the Hindu Gymkhana in Bombay, and he grew up in a oneroom hut on the ground shared with his parents and five siblings (one of whom, Anant, also played first-class cricket). He impressed the Bombay players with his bowling in the nets, and turned himself into a handy all-rounder, allying adhesive batting to his enthusiastic left-arm seamers - for Indian Schools, who he captained despite his lowly birth; for Bombay, taking six for 38 on his Ranji Trophy debut in 1966-67; for Sussex in one match in 1969; and then for India. Some affectionately called him "the poor man's Sobers", but he outdid even him in India's victory in the West Indies in 1970-71, with six catches and a crucial 55 in the only definite result, India's win at Port-of-Spain. Later in 1971, he played an equally vital role in India's first Test and series victory in England, with 44 and three wickets in a famous triumph at The Oval. There were also three catches, one - in England's second-innings collapse to dispose of Alan Knott, who had made 90 first time around - as fine as any, when Solkar was stationed even closer than usual.
Wisden Cricketer obituary
In the 1970s, when Indian cricket was hovering near the top of the world, the image of Eknath Solkar diving for a catch was as firmly embedded in the collective consciousness of a nation as Sunil Gavaskar's straight drive or the skills of India's spin quartet. "We would never have been as effective without Solkar at short leg," Bishan Bedi once said.
Eknath Dhondu Solkar, who died of a heart attack aged 57, was sometimes called the `poor man's Garry Sobers' because he could bat anywhere, and bowl both medium-pace and spin. As a fielder, however, he held his own. When India beat West Indies for the first time ever, at Port of Spain in 1970-71, Solkar equalled the then world record of six catches in a Test.
His 53 catches came at almost two a match, the best ratio among fielders with over 50 catches. He toured the Caribbean and New Zealand in 1975-76 on the strength of his fielding alone, for by then Solkar the bowler had virtually ceased to exist, and as a batsman he was no longer `Mr Dependable'.
So assured were Solkar's hands - he made catches where other fielders might have seen barely a half chance - that, like a Bradman zero, a Solkar miss made the headlines when he was in his prime. His best catch was the running, tumbling effort that ended Clive Lloyd's fiery 163 in a Bangalore Test. "The ball was dipping away from me," he explained.
In the 1972-73 home series against England, he caught 12 batsmen in the first three Tests and needed only three more to equal Syd Gregory's long-standing world record. He dropped Graham Roope in the fourth Test, and didn't get another chance. While Lloyd made 242 in the Mumbai Test two years later, he dropped him early. Towards the end the stress of fielding in the `suicide position' unprotected (no helmet or shin guards) began to tell on him.
The stress in the early days, when he shared a single room with his parents and five siblings, was of a different nature. Solkar's father was a groundsman at the P J Hindu Gymkhana in Bombay. The legendary allrounder Vinoo Mankad first encouraged him to play a more organised game. He was a left-arm spinner and a batsman good enough to lead Indian Schoolboys. Four years later, he made his Test debut against New Zealand.
The `Mr Dependable' tag was earned early. In the first Test of that successful 1970-71 West Indies series, India were 75 for 5 before Solkar's 61 helped Dilip Sardesai add 137. Three Tests later India were 70 for 6 when the same pair put on 186. In the next series, Solkar's 67 helped India win at Lord's.
Solkar was 28 when he played the last of his 27 Tests, ending up with 1,068 runs at 25.42. Better counselling may have extended his career, and better planning might have seen him concentrate on batting alone. But 30 years ago cricket teams did not travel with psychologists and other assorted gurus, and a talented player was allowed to wither away.
The Wisden Cricketer
Batting & Fielding