Vijay Samuel Hazare
March 11, 1915, Sangli, Maharashtra
December 18, 2004, Baroda, (aged 89y 283d)
Right hand bat
Right arm medium
Vijay Samuel Hazare died aged 89 after a week on a life-support system. He will be always remembered for his great performance on India's first tour of Australia in 1947-48, when he scored a century in each innings of the Adelaide Test. It was a huge effort against the run of play. Australia had piled up 674 runs, and as Hazare made his second-innings 145, with India following on, six of his team-mates failed to score. Australia won by an innings and 16 runs.
Hazare captained India 14 times and finished his career with a batting average of 47.65 from 30 Tests, but it was his Adelaide effort that seems to have made Hazare's reputation, for he was always at his best when fighting against the odds. In his first match as captain against England abroad, when India were four down without a run scored against Fred Trueman bowling at his fastest, Hazare stopped the rot for a while, scoring 56. Then in 1950 came what he called his "most faultless and best innings" - 115 against the Commonwealth team at Bombay. Jim Laker later recalled that game as his best bowling performance, in the humidity against two well-set batsmen, Hazare and Polly Umrigar.
When World War II brought cricket to a standstill, much of the credit for keeping the game alive in India must go to Hazare, who with Vijay Merchant took part in run-scoring duels that drew crowds of 20-30,000 to Bombay's Brabourne Stadium. Hazare's most productive domestic season was in 1943-44 when he scored 1,423 runs. He made scores of 248, 59, 309, 101, 223 and 87, reaching 1,000 runs in only four matches.
Hazare was not much of a stylist, having been coached in the outbacks of Maharashtra by Clarrie Grimmett, the great Australian spin bowler. In his autobiography Hazare says that Grimmett was against any alteration in his stance: "Purists would grumble at my stance. My hands are said to be too far apart on the handle of the bat to permit a free swing. And they say that as my bat is held firmly between the pads, almost locked between them, my strokeplay must suffer. Grimmett must have seen both these peculiarities of mine. Yet, beyond making a few corrections, he strongly advised me against changing my grip and stance."
While he will be remembered mainly for his batting, it is worth recalling that Hazare, who was known for his low round-arm action while bowling medium-pace leg-cutters, held up the bowling end for India when they lacked pacemen. Indeed, in the 1947-48 Adelaide Test a memorable delivery surprised and bowled Don Bradman, though not before Bradman had scored his double century. However, Hazare must have cherished the other time he bowled Bradman, for only 13, in a low-scoring rain-ruined match at Sydney in which India led for the first time in that series.
He was a difficult man to talk to, always responding to questions with laconic one-liners or monosyllables. I could never get him to chat about the Delhi Test of 1951-52 against England, when he was accused of playing for the record of the highest score by an Indian, which was then the 154 made earlier in the innings by Merchant (Hazare finished with 164 not out). All he would say was his fielders were to blame for dropping catches, denying India the chance to win the Test. Recently, I asked Umrigar what Hazare had said to him after India had registered their first win over England at Madras in 1951-52: "You know, Niran, Hazare does not speak much. He just said, `Well played'." That was typical Vijay Hazare, who let his bat do the talking.
KN Prabhu, The Wisden Cricketer
Vijay Hazare, who passed away at the age of 89 after a prolonged illness, was one of India's early greats who did much on either side of India's midnight to put the country's batsmanship on the map of world cricket. Along with Vijay Merchant, he brought to Indian cricket a determination and a studied approach that complemented its flamboyance. His finest moment was at Adelaide in 1947-48, where he struck two hundreds against Don Bradman's "Invincible" Australians.
Hazare proved adept on all manner of pitches, off front foot or back. Clean strokes - primarily the cut, hook and a glorious cover-drive - punctuated long periods of defence as he tired attacks before pressing forth. This ability to absorb and release pressure in a controlled manner was unmatched by most in world cricket at the time. He often reined in his carefree strokeplay on the grounds that it was exhibitionism. When fires burned, as they did when Fred Trueman had the new ball in England in 1952, Hazare doused them with calculated calm.
But he was no mere accumulator. He crushed spirits with the weight of his runs and the fluency of his batting. In 1943, he struck an extraordinary purple patch in first-class cricket: 264, 81, 97, 248, 59, 309, 101 and 223. The 248 and 309 are significant for his rivalry with Merchant, who bettered the first score by two runs, only to watch the new high score shattered by the triple-century a day later. In 1967, aged 51, Hazare ended his career with a first-class average nudging 58, with 60 hundreds, and a Test average of 47.65.
From the Australian tour in 1948 till Pakistan visited in 1953, he averaged over 70 even when his famed concentration suffered due to the captaincy. It is generally said that he was not a natural captain, and that the stress of leading the side at a time when Indian cricket was particularly turbulent took its toll on the silent, thoughtful man. His nature had not lent itself well to captaining a young side. He admitted using sign language to communicate with his fielders. Merchant later declared that Hazare could have been India's finest batsman, were it not for the captaincy: "It was one of the tragedies of cricket."
Though his international bowling record is modest, his medium-pace was a handful in domestic cricket. He knocked over 595 batsmen - 20 in Tests - at less than 25. But his prized moments with the ball were on that tour of Australia, when he breached Bradman's defences twice - an achievement managed only by a handful. This added to his undoubted batting superiority, and defined him as one of the finest to wear India's shade of white.
Rahul Bhatia December 2004
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