In March 1947, just few months before India gained freedom, two Indian batsmen rode merrily to a world-record, one that stood for sixty years until a pair of Sri Lankan batsmen bettered it recently. A great domestic rivalry, the final of the premier domestic competition, a polo ground, and a matting wicket formed the setting when a short, swashbuckling left-hander, all of five foot five inches tall, and a technically superior master made merry under the Baroda sun. As Gul Mohammad and Vijay Hazare frolicked in the middle, the Maharaja of Baroda, all padded up, had to wait for 538 minutes before he could bat.
It was once said that a fish could not slither out of Gul Mohammad's hands. Like a tiger on the prowl in the covers, he ranked among the best fielders India has ever produced. But it is with his bat in the hand that he starred on that March day. "Mohammad was an attractive batsman, a player you would go to watch because he would be always doing something, "Raju Bharatan, the veteran Indian journalist recalls. "A lively operator of the new ball, then he would move to covers where he was an outstanding fielder. He always had his chest open, giving an impression of an aggressive mian. He was not a high scorer, his motivation used to run out after a century. So this was one noteworthy partnership. Hazare also should take some credit for this partnership. He was the perfect foil for the attacking Mohammad."
Hazare had already shone with the ball before he showcased his batting prowess. Moving the ball off the seam he utilised the matting track effectively, claiming six wickets, to wipe out Holkar for 202. CK Nayudu, one of Holkar's favourite sons and India's first captain, replied in kind, prising out three top-order wickets with his medium-pace, leaving Baroda at a wobbly 91 for 3. Enter Hazare and Mohammad to instigate a Holkar black-out.
Three years earlier, under another hot March sun, the duo had racked up a 300-run partnership for Bengal Cyclone XI against Bijapur Famine XI, where they'd thwarted a Test-class attack comprising Lala Amarnath, Amir Elahi, Chandu Sarwate and Ranga Sohoni. A special call from Maharaja of Baroda had attracted Mohammad to shift from Northern India to Baroda and he justified the move with, what some witnesses termed, "a display of fantastic hitting". Sarwate, talented young spinner nurtured by Nayudu, was again on the recieving end. Suffering along with him were Hiralal Gaekwad, who ended with 374 first-class wickets at 23.62, Madhavsinh Jagdale (72, 25.77), and the legbreak bowler CS Nayudu (647, 26.54).
The duo went on for eight hours and 53 minutes, almost sticking adhesively to the mat in the middle. Mohammed, as his wont, attacked merrily, driving and hooking with flair while Hazare, in his stay of 638 minutes, was customarily assured. Vivek Hazare, Vijay's brother and one who played in that game, recalled that nearly 6000 people came to watch the game and cheered Baroda on. He remembered the scenes at the end: "The word soon spread that it was a record and many ran into the field."
Both fell to the same combination - c Jagdale b Gaekwad - but not before going past Frank Worrell and Clyde Walcott's 574 for Barbados against Trinidad at Port-of-Spain in 1945-46. It took 50 years for anyone to threaten the mark - when Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama came within a run of equaling it in Colombo - and only nine years later was it eventually beaten. With a massive 582-run lead, Baroda's bowlers, led by Amir Elahi scythed through the Holkar line-up, and ran away to a memorable title triumph.
A few months on, Hazare and Mohammad were to take divergent routes. Hazare went on to have an illustrious international career and captained India in 14 Tests - he even led them to their first Test victory. On the other hand, Mohammad, who'd earlier earned his India cap on the trip to England in 1946, didn't set the international arena on fire. In an interview many years later, he was critical of the Nawab of Pataudi's captaincy, alleging that no-one apart from Vijay Merchant was given a reasonable run. He played against Pakistan in their first two Tests against India in 1952-53. He later migrated there and represented Pakistan in one Test against Australia - as an interesting aside, Mohammad was the only Pakistani to have played against Don Bradman. He had toured under Lala Amarnath and an Australian critic had described him as "a daring batsman who often made one's heart leap into the mouth".
Sriram Veera is editorial assistant of Cricinfo