Eknath Solkar

All-round cricketer famous for his fielding

Eknath Solkar was a gutsy all-round cricketer, renowned for his brilliant close catching, who was a regular in the India side during the early Seventies. He finished his 27-Test career with 1,068 runs, including a hundred against the West Indies, at a modest average of 25.42. An adaptable player who could bat anywhere in the order, he was also a bowler, who took 18 Test wickets at 59.44. Sometimes he would be asked to open the bowling with his gentle medium-paced left-arm seamers, at other times to send down his slow left-arm spin. But it was his close-to-the-wicket fielding that made him almost indispensable.

Eknath Dhondu Solkar, cricketer: born Bombay 18 March 1948; married (one son, one daughter); died Bombay 26 June 2005.

Eknath Solkar was a gutsy all-round cricketer, renowned for his brilliant close catching, who was a regular in the India side during the early Seventies. He finished his 27-Test career with 1,068 runs, including a hundred against the West Indies, at a modest average of 25.42. An adaptable player who could bat anywhere in the order, he was also a bowler, who took 18 Test wickets at 59.44. Sometimes he would be asked to open the bowling with his gentle medium-paced left-arm seamers, at other times to send down his slow left-arm spin. But it was his close-to-the-wicket fielding that made him almost indispensable.

In an era when India relied almost exclusively on their spinners, particularly the famous quartet of Bishan Bedi, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Erapally Prasanna, Solkar could find himself fielding at short leg for hours on end. His ratio of two catches per match is unmatched by any other fielder, with 48 of his 53 catches in Test cricket coming off these four great slow bowlers.

The son of the groundsman at the PJ Hindu Gymkhana in Bombay, he came from humble origins, growing up living with his parents and five siblings in a one-room hut at the ground. There he learnt the game, bowling at players in the nets. He was spotted by the Bombay and India wicketkeeper Madhav Mantri, who was impressed by Solkar's enthusiasm, and arranged to send him to school. He made his first-class début for Vasir Sultan Colts during the 1965/66 season and was soon playing for Bombay, helping them to win the Ranji Trophy 10 times.

After he was named as one of the players of the year season in 1967/68, India's captain Mansur Ali Khan, the Nawab of Pataudi, recommended Solkar to his county Sussex, where he had two seasons in the Second XI, playing one first-class game for the county in 1969. The following winter, he made his Test début in the third Test against New Zealand at the Lal Bahadur Stadium in Hyderabad. It proved to be a bizarre match. The umpires forgot to arrange for the pitch to be cut on the rest day, but the visiting captain Graham Dowling refused to allow the error to be rectified when the umpires wanted it cut on the third morning. Batting on a wicket that had not been mown for three days, India were shot out for 89 - their lowest score at the ground - and Solkar had the misfortune to be dismissed for a duck.

Rioting prevented New Zealand's batting that afternoon, while on the final day with the tourists set for an historic first-series win, with India 76 for 7, heavy rain sent the players from the field, with Solkar unbeaten on 13, after battling manfully for nearly an hour. Although he missed the next Test against Australia, he was to play in 24 of the next 25 Tests.

He played his best cricket in 1971 on tours to the West Indies and England, helping India record two historic series triumphs. In the first Test at Sabina Park, Jamaica, he made 61, rescuing his side from a precarious 75 for 5 with a stand of 137 with Dilip Sardesai. In the next at Port of Spain, Trinidad, he took a record six catches in the match, as well as making 55, adding 114 with Sardesai to help set up a telling first-innings advantage that was to lead to India's first Test win over the West Indies in 25 attempts. At Bridgetown, Barbados, they were at it again, with a record seventh-wicket stand of 186, Solkar contributing 65 after joining Sardesai with India 70 for 6.

That rich vein of form continued in England as he made 67 at Lord's and 50 at Old Trafford. He claimed a Test-best three for 28 in the first innings at the Oval, including the wicket of Brian Luckhurst for the third time in the series, but it was his catching which helped turn the game, swooping in to take Alan Knott, England's first-innings top-scorer. Chandrasekhar, reflecting on India's first victory over England that day, said in his biography The Winning Hand (1993):

Then there was Solkar. I cannot imagine how badly off we spin bowlers would have been without him. He was just amazing. His very presence almost had the batsmen thinking twice about pushing forward.

He was equally inspired on England's return visit to the subcontinent, grabbing an Indian record of 12 catches in the rubber, which was again won by his side. Perhaps the best was his catch to dismiss the England captain Tony Lewis. Chandrasekhar described it as "a miscued sweep, but no other person in the world would have kept his eyes on the ball like 'Ekky' did".

India were thumped 3-0 on their tour to England in 1974, but there were one or two bright moments for Solkar with profound consequences. He opened the batting and bowling at Old Trafford, where he somehow got under Geoff Boycott's skin, sledging him with retorts such as "I'll get you, bloody". And get him he did, not only having him caught behind in the second innings, but sending the Yorkshire opener into a three-year voluntary exile from Test cricket, incredulous that Solkar's innocuous seamers had exposed a flaw in his technique.

Without a Test fifty for two years, Solkar came good in the final Test against the West Indies in 1976/7 at Bombay. Promoted to No 3 and coming in after Farokh Engineer had been out for nought, he added 168 with Sunil Gavaskar, eventually reaching three figures in what Wisden described as a "dogged, drab innings, but one which India could hardly have done without".

Surprisingly, the left-handed batsman played in only two more Tests, the last being against England at Calcutta in 1976/77. He retired from first-class cricket in 1981, having played in 189 matches. In all, he made 6,851 runs at 29.27, scoring eight hundreds with a top score of 145 not out, took 276 wickets at 30.00 and 190 catches.

Adam Licudi

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