• Clayton Murzello: Ouch... that other 13-Test season!

    Clayton MurzelloJan 26, 2017, 08:06 IST

    Yajurvindra Singh being helped off the ground after getting hit on his nose in the 1979 Madras Test
    Yajurvindra Singh being helped off the ground after getting hit on his nose in the 1979 Madras Test

    Just like the recent India vs New Zealand and England Test series, the forthcoming India vs Australia four-game contest will see a ‘debutant’ Test venue.

    Pune, after Indore and Rajkot which hosted Tests against New Zealand and England respectively, will open its Test chapter when India’s Virat Kohli walks out for the toss with Australia’s Steve Smith on February 23.

    It will be a red-letter day for the Maharashtra Cricket Association, which in earlier years, was represented by some prominent first-class cricketers. Yajurvindra Singh, the former India player who equalled the then world record of five catches in an innings and seven in a Test — against England on his Test debut at Bangalore in 1976-77 — is one such player.

    A recent picture of Yajurvindra
    A recent picture of Yajurvindra

    He was an important component in Maharashtra’s batting, bowling and fielding machinery through the 1970s. Yajurvindra is glad that Pune will host its first Test, just as he was delighted about Rajkot’s Test status since he represented Saurashtra as well. The ongoing 13-Test season rings a bell for Yajurvindra, who figured in the start of another 13-Test season in 1979-80 when Australia, followed by Pakistan and England (for the BCCI Golden Jubilee Test) came over. But sadly for him, he could figure in only one out of those 13 Tests. The other day, he told me his tale of woes.

    Chennai played host to the first Test of India’s big 1979-80 season. Kim Hughes’ Australians clashed with Sunil Gavaskar’s India in the September heat. Hughes told me recently that the Indians felt the heat more because they had just returned from England while the Australians got acclimatised through their two warm-up games. On the last day of that drawn Test, Yajurvindra, fielding at forward short leg, was hit between the bridge of his nose and eyebrow by a firm Hughes shot. He was led off the field, but the injury was not serious enough for him to be dropped for the next Test at Bangalore. Had he not decided to abandon the visor of his £32 Duncan Fearnley helmet which he bought from England, he may have not suffered such damage. But the visor caused discomfort at times.

    The next Test was in Bangalore. While returning from net practice at Chinnaswamy Stadium on the first day when rain delayed the start by 95 minutes, Yajurvindra was stopped by late journalist Rajan Bala. “Rajan asked me whether I was fit to play. ‘Didn’t you see me batting in the nets, Rajan?’ I replied. I had just a tape on the injured part,” recalls Yajurvindra.

    Australia won the toss and Hughes decided to bat. Yajurvindra continues: “The playing XI was announced the night before. Just as I was tying my bootlaces in between Sunil and Shivlal Yadav, I heard my teammates congratulating Yadav on being picked for his first Test. ‘So which spinner goes out,’ I asked Sunil. I got the shock of my life when he told me that I was not playing. He was apologetic and told me the selectors were not convinced that I was fit to play. I went crazy. I walked out of the dressing room with the rest of the team and vented my frustration at an area nearby where the Board members and selectors would normally sit. The journalists in the press box to the right of the dressing room could see what was happening. I was livid. I was never picked for India again.”

    ‘Tiger’ Pataudi, Yajurvindra’s mentor, happened to be in Bangalore. Pataudi made it a point to meet the 27-year-old angry young man that evening. By then, Yajurvindra was told by the Board to leave Bangalore for Mumbai. He recalls: “It was the worst moment in my cricketing life. There was nothing wrong with my eye which they (selectors and Board members) were bringing up.

    “I visited Dr Jyotish Chandra ‘Joe’ Joshipura, the famous orthopaedic surgeon and ophthalmologist Dr Ra­him Muljiani in Mumbai. Both said there was nothing wrong with me. In fact, I played a club match at Bombay Gymkhana the following Sunday, but the Board just wanted me out. I duly sent the medical reports to the Board.” Pataudi wrote in his Sportsworld magazine editorial that both doctors were “appropriate BCCI doctors in Bombay”.

    He also wrote that, contrary to the doctors who attended to Yajurvindra in Bangalore, Dr Joshipura found no fracture, while Dr Muljiani confirmed that there were no traces of retinal edema.

    The esteemed doctors’ clearance notwithstanding, Yajurvindra was never selected for India again.

    His last innings for India was not pleasant either. Hughes summoned his former captain Graham Yallop, who bowled left-arm spin on Day Three. Yallop bowled a short delivery which kissed Yajurvindra’s glove en route to wicketkeeper Kevin Wright. He returned to the pavilion after a Test innings for the last time with 15 against his name. It was Yallop’s first and last wicket in Test cricket!

    Yajurvindra’s nickname is Sunny, but not everything was sunny in his career. He may still be at his beloved Pune for its debut Test though, just like he was at Rajkot in November.

    mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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