Lt-Col Hemu Adhikari

Cricketer who captained India
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The Independent Online

Hemchandra Ramachandra Adhikari, cricketer: born Poona, India 31 July 1919; married; died Thane, India 25 October 2003.

Hemu Adhikari was a right- handed batsman known for his cool temperament in a crisis, who represented India in 21 Tests over a 12-year period, while also serving with distinction in the Indian Army, a factor that restricted his cricket appearances.

He finished his Test career with an average of just over 30, scoring 872 runs with a highest score of 114 not out against the West Indies in only his sixth Test. Short in stature, he was renowned as a cover point fieldsman, second only to Neil Harvey of Australia at the time, and also bowled useful leg-breaks.

Adhikari made his first-class début in 1936/37 for Gujarat when he was only 17, and was originally a fine strokemaker. He later adapted his game to suit the needs of the national side, adopting a more dour approach.

While his immediate Test ambitions were frustrated by the Second World War, he won domestic honours with Baroda, who took the Ranji Trophy in 1942/43 and 1946/47 (as well as in 1949/50). He made a hundred in each innings (129 and 151 not out) against Nawangar at Jamangar 1945/46 on his way to 558 runs at 69.37 for the season and was named as a Cricketer of the Year by Indian Cricket (1947).

His fine form earned him a call-up for the difficult tour to Australia in 1947/48, where India were blown away by the side that became known as the Invincibles, led by Don Bradman. The Don's 185 was more than the Indian cricketers managed among them in two innings in the first Test, as the visitors were bundled out for 58 and 98 on a sticky Brisbane wicket, Adhikari contributing just eight and 13 from fourth place in the order on his début.

He slipped down the order, but in the fourth Test at Adelaide, he produced the first of several fine rearguards, adding 122 for the seventh wicket with Vijay Hazare, to enable the latter to become the first Indian player to score a hundred in each innings.

His fine 50 earned promotion to third in the order for the final Test at Melbourne, where again he shared in another hundred stand, this time with Vinoo Mankad, and was the top scorer in the second innings, albeit with only 17, as India were shot out for 67.

The following season, in his first Test at home against the West Indies at the Feroz Shah Kotla, New Delhi, he produced his finest Test innings, hitting a determined hundred to help India earn a draw after the visitors had amassed 631. He so impressed the crowd that they started a repetitive chant, "Well played Ad-hi-ka-ri", as he guided India to safety with 29 not out in the second innings. It helped give the side confidence, Adhikari went on to average over 50 in the series and, though largely outplayed in the rubber, India nearly levelled it in the final Test.

India had to wait nearly three years for their next series, Adhikari playing in three of the five Tests against England, with a best of 60 in a losing cause at Kanpur. Unfortunately he missed the next Test at Madras, where India recorded their first win, by an innings and eight runs, though the match was marred by news of the death of King George VI on the first day.

He was vice-captain on the 1952 tour to England, but struggled on the unfamiliar wickets, recording three ducks in five innings. Back on home soil, his form returned, making 81 not out batting in eighth place in the first ever Test against Pakistan at New Delhi (1952/53). His last-wicket stand of 109 with Ghulam Ahmed helped set up an innings victory and remains a national record against any country, but he could play only once more in the series, in the win at Bombay.

His army commitments meant he missed the tour to the West Indies a month later and did not reappear in the Test side until 1956/57, but he struggled against the touring Australians.

At 39 he got a surprise invitation to lead his country for the final Test against the West Indies, who had already won three of the four Tests in the series by wide margins and seen off three Indian skippers. Having been an astute captain of the Services team, for whom he played throughout the 1950s, Adhikari was upset that the call had not come earlier in his career and at first he was reluctant to accept. But a combination of his wife, Kamala, and his army chief eventually persuaded him that his country needed him. So he left his post 7,000 feet up at Dharamsala and travelled to his favourite New Delhi ground.

He played an important part, too, contributing 63 and 40 as he shared century partnerships with Chandu Borde in each innings. Borde eventually fell four runs short of completing a hundred in each innings, getting out hit wicket in the final over of the Test match, but only after a creditable draw had been secured. Just for good measure, having bowled just 14 deliveries in his previous 20 Tests, the captain took it upon himself to do some bowling, sending down 26 overs to claim three for 68.

That proved to be his last Test. He would have been selected to tour England in 1959, but felt that his army duties made it impossible for him to play and practise sufficiently for Test cricket. He played his final first-class game the following season in a career that brought him 8,683 runs at an average 41.74, with a high score of 230 not out for Services v Rajasthan in 1951/52.

He took his military principles of discipline into his management of the Indian team and got the best out of the side, running pre-season training camps and paying more attention to fielding. He was manager of the side captained by Ajit Wadekar that won a famous overseas series win over England in 1971 and in 2000 was honoured for his services to Indian cricket with the C.K. Nayudu award.

Adam Licudi