Hemant Kanitkar, the former India batsman, died after a prolonged illness on Tuesday night at his residence in Pune. Kanitkar, 72, is survived by his wife and sons Hrishikesh, also a former India batsman, and Aditya.
Kanitkar played two Tests but was a stalwart of domestic cricket. He scored a century on his first-class debut for Maharashtra against Saurashtra in 1963-64 at the Poona Club, his home ground. After topping the Ranji Trophy run-charts twice, including in 1970-71 when Maharashtra made it to the final, Kanitkar earned the India call-up for the home series against West Indies.
Facing the West Indies attack lead by Andy Roberts, Kanitkar top-scored with 65 in his debut Test innings in Bangalore. He was dropped following scores of 18, 8 and 20 in his next three innings.
Chandu Borde, who was the captain at both Poona Club and Maharashtra, recollects Kanitkar, his deputy, always maintaining a down-to-earth personality. According to Borde, Kanitkar could never understand why he was dropped just after two Test matches despite making a good start against West Indies.
"He was a solid batsman and a tough wicketkeeper," Borde told ESPNcricinfo. "In fact, he was picked solely as a batsman when he made his Test debut against West Indies. Unfortunately he was not given any opportunity after that (two Tests). He was one of those people, even if he got runs or not he was the same. Cricket never went to his head. He remained grounded."
A makeshift wicketkeeper as well, Kanitkar was renowned for two strokes. "He used to play the late cut extremely well. Also, he could hit a six over extra cover on demand," said Milind Gunjal, former Maharashtra captain who was Kanitkar's junior at the Poona Club. "Few batsmen could play the inside-out lofted drive over extra cover, but it was his trademark stroke. I can never forget the ease with which he executed that stroke.
"When I was first selected as a reserve in Maharashtra's Ranji squad, he was the captain. His calmness was a big influence on me as a cricketer."
After retiring from first-class cricket in 1977-78, Kanitkar served as a coach and selector for Maharashtra, and also chaired the national junior selection panel from 1996-97 to 1998-99. Hrishikesh, who learnt the basics of the game from his father, had said that Kanitkar senior never exerted pressure on him to perform.
"Not once has he ever - whatever match I played - said 'this match is crucial' or 'you have to score runs'. Whether it was school cricket or Ranji, if I had a bad patch, he was the same, if I scored runs, he was the same," Hrishikesh had said in an interview.
"Very sad loss for Maharashtra cricket fraternity," said Surendra Bhave, former Maharashtra captain and national selector. "One of Maharashtra's two greats - besides Chandu Borde. He will not only be remembered as an exceptional batsman but a selector as well. It was an honour knowing him and learning the nuances of the game. He had a sharp analytical mind. Hrishikesh continues that legacy."
"Hemant Kanitkar was a versatile cricketer. He was an outstanding batsman for Maharashtra in the Ranji Trophy for a decade-and-a-half," said Anurag Thakur, the BCCI secretary. "He was also an excellent wicketkeeper. His second innings, as selector and guide to youngsters, was equally noteworthy."