Budhi Kunderan, the former Indian wicketkeeper, has died at the age of 66. He was suffering from lung cancer, diagnosed in October 2005, and had been on treatment, including radiotherapy. He is survived by his English wife, Linda, and two sons.
An aggressive but unorthodox batsman who was highly skilled with the gloves, Kunderan made his Test debut against Australia in 1959-60 without having played a single first-class match. In all, Kunderan played 18 Tests and scored 981 runs at 32.70 with two hundreds and three fifties. Against England in 1963-64, he became the first wicketkeeper in history to pass 500 runs for a Test series.
Immediately after this achievement, however, he was dropped from the next series against Australia as the Indian selectors favoured a lesser-known KS Indrajitsinhji. When Farokh Engineer later became a permanent wicketkeeper, Kunderan found himself recalled in the role of an opening batsman. He played purely as a batsman in the second and third Tests of the 1967 tour of England and, incidentally, even opened the bowling in the third when India's fast bowling reserves were at a bare minimum. This was to be Kunderan's last Test.
Disillusioned by the politics in Indian cricket, Kunderan left the country at the age of 30. In the early 1980s, he played for Scotland in the Benson and Hedges Cup in England. Kunderan had lived in Glasgow, Scotland since the turn of the 1970s.
Ajit Wadekar, who played with Kunderan, had fond memories of the man. "We played for State Bank of India from 1963-70," he told Cricinfo. "I remember playing a match at the Hindu Gymkhana against CCI. Pataudi and Jaismha were playing for CCI and they scored 670 odd runs. We scored that much for three wickets. Budhi scored 150, I scored 200. He was always a team man. We were like brothers."
When Wadekar made the jump to Test cricket, Kunderan was there for him as well. "In my first Test match, Budhi was the wicketkeeper and he told me, 'come on Ajit, this is a good chance for you to make your name in Test cricket, that too against West Indies'," he said. "Budhi was a brilliant attacking batsman, a very dashing opening bat. He was a tremendous athlete and was a good fielder apart from being a great wicketkeeper."
Erapalli Prasanna, the former Indian spinner, also recalled a great individual. "He was one of the first flamboyant cricketers that ever played for India. A brilliant wicketkeeper-batsman, he was also one of the first to show us how to play an attacking type of innings - his 192 against England in the 1963-64 series being the best example," he said. "The aggressive batting that is so common now in Test cricket was completely evident in Budhi's innings that day.
"Another very important thing that Budhi showed to everyone was how to keep against the unpredictable bounce, turn and spin of BS Chandrasekhar. Very early he knew that the conventional way of keeping against spin wouldn't work against Chandra so he made use of his body to defend against the ball. A very jovial character, open to life, a very good dancer [very much on display during the West Indies tour], he enjoyed his life to the fullest. It is just sad that he passed away in a foreign land as I'm sure he would loved to have taken his last breath on home soil."
Chandu Borde echoed both Wadekar and Prasanna in his memories: "He was one of the most stylish and exciting cricketers I played with. A lovabale character of the happy-go-lucky mould," he said. "Even if his cricketing career was a mixture of success and failure he would always try his best to rise to the occasion.
"One such was in Madras when he made that dashing 192 against England. He was pitted against a good competitor in Farokh Engineer, an equally dashing and charming youngster, and one who was better off performance-wise. With the team wanting to fit in Engineer, Budhi at times played as a makeshift opener and despite not being a regular opener he had enough heart and courage to stand up against the new ball."