Polly Umrigar

Captain of India who was a 'murderer' of bowlers and scored his country's first double century
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The Independent Online

Pahlan Ratanji ("Polly") Umrigar, cricketer and administrator: born Solapur, India 28 March 1926; married (two sons, one daughter); died Bombay 7 November 2006.

At a time when most of India's cricketers seemed to be slim and small, some almost delicate, Polly Umrigar was a striking exception, a burly six-footer who hammered the ball, right-handed, driving and hooking with the power of a batsman nurtured in Bridgetown rather than on the maidans of Bombay, He was a dominant figure in the Indian teams of the 1950-60 era and captained his country in eight Tests, winning two and drawing two when India were not over-blessed with bowlers.

His natural ability and athleticism were spotted, in his native Solapur, when he was 12, where he learned to bowl swingers, and to bat, on matting surfaces. After the family moved to Bombay he attended St Xavier's College, from where he graduated to the Parsees and then, in 1946, to Bombay. He scored 115 for All India Universities against the touring West Indies in 1948 and won congratulations from George Headley, who predicted an impressive future for the 22-year-old.

Umrigar made his début for India that December in the Brabourne Stadium. Batting at number eight he scored a valuable 30 and, with Dattu Phadkar, averted a collapse after West Indies had racked up 629, Everton Weekes scoring 194, the third of his five consecutive Test centuries. Umrigar did not play again in that series but by the time England arrived, in 1951, he was a regular choice in the middle order, scoring 130 not out in India's innings victory, their first win against England, in Madras in February 1952.

His greatest setback came in England the following summer when he was one of Fred Trueman's victims in the famous devastation at Headingley and suffered such a loss of confidence, and reputation, against very fast bowling, that he ended the series with an average of 6.14. Against other first-class sides he was a powerhouse, scoring 1,688 runs at an average of 48.

Umrigar went home to prepare himself, mentally and physically, working on his technique, to face the West Indies the following January. In Port of Spain he scored 130 and 69, in Bridgetown 56 and 6, added another 61 and 67 in the third Test (again in Trinidad), 1 and 40 not out in Georgetown and concluded triumphantly, in Kingston, with 117 and 13.

He scored India's first double century, against New Zealand, at Hyderabad in 1955 and joins Vinoo Mankad as the only two Indian players to score a century and take five wickets in an innings, Umrigar in Trinidad in 1962. He took four wickets with his off-cutters, including those of Neil Harvey and Norman O'Neill when India beat Australia for the first time, in Kanpur in 1959.

Earlier that year he had toured England again, reminding some critics of his ability and application with a score of 118 at Old Trafford, averaging 55 on the tour and including three double centuries. Like other classical Indian cricketers of his time (Mankad, Phadkar, Fergie Gupte and Vijay Manjrekar) he embellished English summers in the Lancashire and Central Lancashire Leagues. John Arlott described him (1960) as "a poised and skilful murderer of any bowling short of top pace and class".

Until Sunil Gavaskar's arrival, rewriting the records and signalling the emergence of India as cricket's super-power, Umrigar scored more Test centuries, and played in more Tests than any of his country's cricketers. He was enormously respected. Ravi Shastri said of him:

He was the finest human being among cricketers I've known. Like a doctor to patients he was one to the game of cricket.

Umrigar also played hockey and football to a high level and led Bombay to five successive Ranji Trophy victories in 1958-59. He was reckoned to be one of his country's shrewdest leaders and a very versatile fielder.

In 1962 he began a new career in cricket administration as a selector for the Bombay Association, later as honorary secretary, and also managed India teams. When the Bombay Association fell out with the Cricket Club of India, at Brabourne, Umrigar spent most of his time in the building and development of the city's other Test ground, the Wankhede Stadium.

Gundappa Viswanath, one of the generation of Indian batsmen who grew up admiring Umrigar's deeds and demeanour, described him as "a really genuine person. He certainly liked his cricket and gave whatever he earned from it." A contemporary cricketer, Chandu Borde, called him "one of the greatest cricketers I have come across".

Umrigar write a book on coaching and, characteristically, gave it to all schools and clubs who asked. "I just want to give something back to the game, to the younger generation." He played in 59 tests, scoring 3,631 runs at an average of 42.22.

Derek Hodgson