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The death at the age of 89 of Vijay Hazare, who captained India to their first Test victory – against England in 1952 – has robbed the country of one of the two great figures of the golden era of Indian batting, the other being Vijay Merchant.

Both men finished with an identical, high Test batting average of 47.65. Between 1940 and 1951 they matched each other run for run and, with both named Vijay, meaning victory, their era was known as the age of the two V’s. Hazare became the first home-based Indian to hit a triple century and his huge scores were often made with tail-enders for company. In one match he scored an incredible 309 out of 387.

In another match he helped put on 577 for the fourth wicket, a record for the highest partnership for any wicket in first class cricket, making 288 in 10 hours. That innings illustrated Hazare the batsman, technically correct and monumentally patient. The Hazare-Merchant competition could be counter-productive and may have cost India victory in the first Test of the 1951-52 series against England.

Merchant made 154, then the highest Test score for India. Hazare, the captain and his batting partner, delayed the declaration until he had passed it, reaching 164 not out, and this delay helped England escape defeat. Hazare did win the last Test of the series, India’s first success after 20 years and at the 25th attempt.

Hazare’s batting exploits during The War, when taking advantage of the fact that India as a country was relatively untouched by the conflict, and his great rivalry with Merchant galvanised the Indian sporting public and laid the foundations for the enduring popularity of the game in the country.

Hazare started life as a medium-pacer. In 1937 when he made his debut for India in an unofficial Test against a team led by Lord Tennyson he batted No 9, but took six for 54. His bowling was not negligible, he often opened the bowling in Tests and got Bradman out thrice. He needed luck and patronage to unearth his batting genius. Born in a poor Protestant Christian family – his middle name was Samuel – he was picked up by the Maharaja of Dewas. The prince had once escaped being poisoned by his own father, but was keen on cricket as was his princely brother-in-law, and they hired Clarrie Crimmett, the great Australian spinner.

Grimmett took Hazare under his wing and told him he would never become a leg spinner, but could be a useful medium-pacer. While Grimmett did not like the way Hazare stood at the wicket, hands apart and bat tucked in between the pads, he encouraged his batting by bowling to him with a tennis ball which taught Hazare patience and judgment.

Hazare, after a private tour of England in 1938, was all ready to face England for their planned tour of India in the winter of 1939-40. But war intervened and Hazare finally made his Test debut, aged 31, in June 1946 at a wet Lord’s.

He was dismissed twice by Alec Bedser. England did not see the best of Hazare, as his highest Test score was 44. He confessed that on the slow, green wickets, he had to play on the back foot and could rarely get on the front foot and drive.

A year later on the firmer Australian wickets he finally made his international impact. After a string of early failures, and faced with an Australian score of 674, in the fourth Test at Adelaide Hazare became the first man to score a century in each innings for India, joining what was then a very select club of six members. In the second innings his 145 was made out of 277, with only one other batsman passing 40.

In 1951 while he was playing league cricket in England he learned he had been made captain. Within months India had won her first Test, and Hazare brought a team over to England with great hopes in 1952. But a certain Fred Trueman awaited them and the tour was a disaster.

Hazare the batsman showed great individual courage and technical ability, but as captain he was found wanting. On that dismal tour he came out to bat in the first Test when Trueman had reduced India to zero for four, still the worst start in Test history.

Hazare scored 333 runs at an average of 55.50, but he never seemed to be able to guide, let alone inspire his young side on uncovered pitches. Indians got a reputation for being afraid of pace. It would be a generation before the stigma was lost.

© Mihir Bose

      

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