Eknath Solkar, the former Test allrounder and one of India's greatest close-in catchers, has died in Mumbai at the age of 57 after suffering a heart attack. Solkar had been unwell for some time, suffering from diabetes, among other ailments, and passed away on Sunday afternoon.
Solkar, a popular member of the Indian cricket fraternity, was famous for his nimble hands and took as many as 53 catches from 27 Tests, most of them at forward short leg in an era when close-in fielders wore no protective gear. He was especially valuable to the Indian team when the famed spin quartet was in operation. His catch to dismiss Alan Knott, which he took diving full stretch forward, in The Oval Test in 1971, is one of the most enduring images in Indian cricket. It was instrumental in India achieving their first-ever Test victory in England. Bishan Singh Bedi, who was one of bowlers to have benefitted from Solkar's quick anticipation and reflexes, said upon hearing the news of Solkar's death: "We would not have been the same bowlers without him".
He was also a dependable lower-order batsman, and scored more than 1000 runs at an average of just over 25, and took 18 wickets with his slow medium-pace and chinamen. In his first overseas Test, in Kingston against West Indies in 1971, he walked in with India tottering at 71 for 5 and forged a 137-run partnership with Dillip Sardesai to which his own contribution was a plucky 61. He shared another vital partnership with Sardesai in the fourth Test at Bridgetown and helped India to save the match, and eventually win the series. His only century came against Clive Lloyd's West Indies at the deciding fifth Test in Mumbai in 1974-75.
Solkar rose to the dizzy heights of Test cricket from humble origins. He was the son of the groundsman at the PJ Hindu Gymkhana in Mumbai, and lived in one room with his parents and five brothers and sisters. He learnt his basics at the Gymkhana ground and made it to the Bombay team in 1965. He scored a duck in the first innings, but batted out 58 balls in the second as India held on to draw the low-scoring Test. Solkar's commitment to Bombay was exemplified during the Ranji Trophy final against Bengal in 1968 when he helped them gain the crucial first-innings lead, owing to which Bombay triumphed, despite his father having died the previous evening.
Solkar will also be remembered for the fact that he dismissed Geoff Boycott four times in 1971, infuriating the English opener with inimitable sledges like "I'll get you, bloody". Boycott was so disoriented by his gentle and wobbly medium-pace that he withdrew from the Tests. Earlier, he had the gumption to tell Garry Sobers to mind his business. "You play your game and I'll play mine," Solkar told Sobers who was trying to needle him.
A resident of Sportsfield, the building that houses many prominent Indian cricketers including Sunil Gavaskar, Ajit Wadekar and Ravi Shastri, Solkar will be sorely missed in the Mumbai cricket circles where he was a jovial, and sometimes outspoken, presence.