June 22, 2021
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The Palm-Tree Hitter

The strongly built man with palms like buckets strode the Indian cricket field like a colossus at a time when self-belief of the team was not even half as high as it is at present.

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The Palm-Tree Hitter

Polly Umrigar, who died in Mumbai on November 7 aged 80, strode the Indian cricket field like a colossus at a time when self-belief of the team was not even half as high as it is at present.

The many intrigues and in-fightings that were part of Indian cricket in those days resulted him in captaining the country in only eight Tests when he, with his shrewd cricket sense, deserved to lead in many more matches.

A strongly built man with palms like buckets, the right-handed Umrigar was essentially a front-footed batsman who had all the strokes in the book.

Making his debut against the all-powerful West Indian side led by Trevor Goddard in 1948, Umrigar created a few national records which were etched in gold till they were erased by the likes of Sunil Gavaskar much later.

Umrigar, born on March 28, 1926, was the first Indian batsman to score over 3,000 runs in Tests and the first to cross double figures in the number of Test tons.

In all, he scored 3631 runs in 59 Tests, the then Indian record in times where Test matches were few and far in between, and made 12 centuries and 14 fifties, averaging just over 42 per innings.

Nicknamed the 'Palm-tree hitter' by the West Indian crowds, Umrigar and his close friend Gulabrai Ramchand - who passed away before him - qualified for the term all-rounder quite well in the 1950s.

Umrigar, who used to bowl off spin with which he grabbed 33 wickets, was a safe catcher in the slips too and pouched 35 of these in his career.

The man with the booming voice toured England (1952 and 1959) and the West Indies twice (1952-53 and 1962) and Pakistan once on the country's first-ever visit in 1954-55.

Umrigar also led India in eight official Tests and was one of four captains in the bizarre happenings during the five-match series against the West Indies at home in 1958-59.

He was the mainstay of a middle order which was prone to frequent collapses against the fast bowlers in the days when there were no protective equipment to talk of barring leg pads, batting gloves and abdomen guards.

Umrigar, who also represented India in 17 unofficial Tests between 1949 and 1956 amassing 1263 runs at just over 52 per innings, turned his attention to cricket administration and pitch preparation after his playing days were over.

He was part of the Mumbai Cricket Association's administration, was its secretary too, before becoming manager of Indian teams - notably to the West Indies in 1976 and Australia in 1978 where his calm demeanour and playing experience stood the team in good stead.

He later became a pitch curator, often preparing wickets for Tests and domestic first class matches at the Wankhede Stadium, national selection committee chairman before becoming the Indian cricket board's executive secretary in the mid-1980s.

For his services in various capacities to the game, he was conferred with the C K Nayudu award by the BCCI in 1998.


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