It is a commendable gesture on the part of the BCCI to nominate Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel for the prestigious Col. C.K. Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award this season. There could not have been a better way of acknowledging their enormous contribution to the game of cricket in India. This may have come as a pleasant surprise to the duo, but no sensible cricket lover will grudge them this proud moment in the evening of their life.
Few sportspersons could be as unfortunate as the two left-arm spinners. They never played for their country despite being prodigiously talented and equally successful. The sole reason was, of course, that they practised the same craft and were contemporaries of Bishan Singh Bedi, a champion left-arm spinner who had firmly cemented his place in the national side in the 1970s, when they had been going great guns in first-class cricket in India.
“I blame nobody but my own stars. Maybe I was born at a wrong time. How else can I console myself?” Goel told me a few years ago. “Sometimes, certain things are just not in your hand. I tried my best to impress the selectors but, perhaps, it was just not in my destiny to play for my country. But it never blunted my enthusiasm to play cricket. I was happy playing at the first-class level and taking wickets fairly regularly.”
Unlike Goel, Shivalkar appeared to be a bit more philosophical about never getting to play for the country when I interviewed him in Rajkot, where he had come with a Mumbai team as an administrator, several years ago. “It is just that I was very unlucky,” he said matter-of-factly. “I was not the only one who did not get to represent India. Rajinder Goel was equally unlucky. So was Uday Joshi. In fact, there were few other unfortunate cricketers.”
In a way, both Shivalkar and Goel were victims of circumstance. No discerning cricket critic ever doubted their genius and ability to bowl on any wicket and win matches on their own. In a first-class career spanning a shade over 25 years, Goel took 750 wickets at 18.58, including a record 637 in the Ranji Trophy. Shivalkar’s career, too, lasted over 25 years and his tally of 589 wickets at 19.69 was a testimony to his class.
Many former players, including Sunil Gavaskar – who paid a glowing tribute to Goel and Shivalkar by featuring them in his book Idols, containing 31 leading cricketers of the world – have said on more than one occasion that the duo would have played Test cricket with distinction for any other country. The Test cap may have eluded them, but there was nothing that they did not do or achieve on the field. They really had nothing to prove anything to anybody.
The closest Goel came to representing India was in the first Test against the West Indies at Bangalore in 1974-75 when Bedi was “suspended” following a controversy on the previous disastrous tour of England under Ajit Wadekar. But it was not to be. It rained in Bangalore and the Indian captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi decided to play two off-spinners, Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivas Venkataraghavan, in addition to leggie Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.
“I have a feeling that the selection committee was not prepared to play him because if he had taken a few wickets, Bishan’s return to the team would have been delayed for some more time and it would have been quite embarrassing for the selectors concerned,” wrote Gavaskar in Idols. The sole consolation for Goel was that he got to play in the “unofficial” Test against Sri Lanka, not a full member of the ICC at the time, and to his credit he put up a fine bowling performance.
Shivalkar, a simple, unassuming man, was the deadlier of the two, especially on rank turners, when armed with the ball. Those witness to his bowling in the 1972-73 Ranji Trophy final between Mumbai and Tamil Nadu in Chennai still remember with awe how he mesmerised and massacred the home batsmen. It was Shivalkar at his devastating best, bamboozling the hapless batsmen on a wicket conducive to his kind of bowling.
Batting first, Mumbai (featuring stars like Gavaskar, Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai, Eknath Solkar, Ashok Mankad and Sudhir Naik) were bowled out for 151. In reply, Tamil Nadu were sitting pretty at 62 for 3. But Shivalkar, who had already consumed two batsmen, literally blew the hosts away to finish with dream figures of 17.5-10-16-8, giving Mumbai a vital lead of 71 runs.
Mumbai fared even worse in the second innings, getting all out for 113. With only 185 runs to score and plenty of time at their disposal, Tamil Nadu appeared to have a golden opportunity to win the championship. But Shivalkar had some other idea. After Solkar removed the openers, he simply ran through the Tamil Nadu batting line-up, taking 5 crucial wickets for 18 runs in his 15.1 overs. Solkar shared the rest of the spoils.
Both Shivalkar and Goel had wreaked such havoc on many occasions during their phenomenal first-class careers. The Mumbai maestro claimed five wickets in an innings on 42 occasions, and he bagged 10 or more wickets in the match 13 times. Goel, always accurate and immaculate, a la Bedi, claimed 5 wickets an innings on 59 occasions and scalped 10 or more victims in as many as 18 matches.
It is a fair guess that both Shivalkar and Goel would have taken at least 200 wickets in the heavyweight division of cricket, if they had been lucky enough to represent India or any other country. “Bowlers like Padmakar Shivalkar and [Rajinder Goel] ….. belong to the top-bracket. In any other country, they would have played Test cricket long ago. Yet the way the selectors have treated them is a crying shame,” wrote Prasanna in his autobiography, One More Over, in 1977.
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