UP’s cricketing heroes who missed the Team India bus
Bowlers the world over often complain about the nature of the wicket, its pace or turn after unproductive spells. But Uttar Pradesh pacer Ashish Winston Zaidi never found fault with the pitches. Rather, he showed his mettle with 378 wickets in 110 first-class matches in an 18-year career for the state side.
If Zaidi had the opportunity to bowl on grassy wickets like those available today, he would have taken close to 500 wickets. His achievements, despite bowling mostly on turning tracks or flat surfaces, should be a lesson for young bowlers in India.
Nicknamed ‘Pope’ and ‘Amar, Akbar and Anthony’, Zaidi played his last first-class match against Haryana in 2006 in Rohtak. He tops the list of UP cricketers who couldn’t sport the Team India jersey despite their talent.
“I never bothered to see whether the pitches had grass on them. I focused on my deliveries and took wickets,” Zaidi had said soon after quitting the sport in 2006. “If I had the opportunity of bowling on grassy wickets, I would have broken all records for pace bowlers in India,” he had added.
Zaidi’s 14-wicket haul in a Ranji Trophy match against the Kapil Dev-led Haryana in the 1991-92 season in Faridabad was one of the most thrilling encounters of his career. The 1983 World Cup winning skipper had spoken to Zaidi after the match. It was a dream come true for the UP bowler.
“I was thrilled to bowl because Kapil Paaji was in the opposition team, so much so that I ended up taking 14 wickets in the match. He (Kapil) spoke to me after the game and it was a dream-come-true moment for me,” he recalled.
After spending his childhood with Dynamic Cricket Club on muddy tracks of the Yamuna Basic School in Katghar locality of Allahabad (now Prayagraj), Zaidi was picked for the Guru Govind Singh Sports College in Lucknow before moving to MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, the place Zaidi credited for his transformation into a complete bowler. In-swing came naturally to him, but he learnt to bowl good outswingers at the MRF Pace Foundation.
After a 10-wicket haul in an U-15 game for UP, Zaid made his first-class debut at 17. Although his exploits in the domestic circuit put him in reckoning for Team India, he never received a call-up.
He was one of the probables for the 1992 World Cup and his name was also doing the rounds for the Singer Cup. He had plenty of five-wicket hauls (19 times) in the domestic matches, but luck didn’t favour him. The wicket-machine of UP cricket had to accept this harsh reality of his career silently.
RAJINDER SINGH HANS
Left-arm orthodox bowler Rajinder Singh Hans was in the 14-member Team India squad for the home Test series against Australia in 1979-80 but did not make it to the Playing XI. He was sidelined afterwards.
Despite being a native of Mumbai, Hans enjoyed a 10-year career with Uttar Pradesh till 1986-87 as he had a job with Mohan Meakin in Ghaziabad. “I chose to play for UP as I was working for the company in Ghaziabad, but I never felt like an outsider,” said Hans, who took 340 first-class wickets.
“I was quite sure of getting a chance to bowl for India in the series against Australia in 1979, but Dilip Doshi bowled exceptionally well and my chance never came,” recalled Hans, who said his 9/152 against Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy final was his best performance. “My 9/152 is the best of my life,” says Hans, who played for Central Zone against touring teams and in the Duleep Trophy from 1976-77 to 1984-85.
Besides being a fine spin bowler, Hans was one of the most successful coaches of Uttar Pradesh from 2001-02 to 2006-07. His stint led to UP winning their maiden Ranji Trophy in 2005-06. He also coached Jharkhand Ranji Trophy team in 2007-08 before becoming a member of the Junior National Selection Committee for two years, 2008–09 and 2009-10. He graduated to the senior selection committee from Central Zone in 2012.
Shashikant Khandekar from Kanpur was an elegant opening batsman whose stroke-play was worth going miles to watch. He was a prolific scorer for UP in the Ranji Trophy and came very close to playing for India when he was named the 12th man in the Guwahati ODI vs West Indies in 1983/84.
Once he missed that opportunity, he never got another chance. He played in an era when Sunil Gavaskar was already established and Krishnamachari Srikkanth had emerged as the Little Master’s mercurial partner. But Khandekar had himself to blame. Whenever he got a chance in big matches, he failed to deliver, be it in the Duleep Trophy, Irani Cup or important games against international teams. With a lot of luck and pluck, he could have earned an India cap, but it was not to be.
The only consolation for him is that even today he is UP’s top scorer in an innings with an unbeaten 261 against Railways at Moradabad in 1984-85 season. In his 87 first-class matches, Khandekar scored 5,452 runs, including 12 centuries and 24 half-centuries.
An elegant right-hander from Aligarh, Rizwan Shamshad was a quality batsman of his time who couldn’t play for the country. Shamshad, who belongs to the grand old trinity of AW Zaidi and Gyanendra Pandey, was part of the India under-19 camp with Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid.
“Yes, we played together in zonal under-19 cricket. I was a better performer than many of the cricketers (many of whom played for India later). With my performance in 1995-96, I averaged almost 100 and I was very sure of getting a call for Team India, but it never happened,” recalls Shamshad who is still known as ‘The Wall’ of UP cricket with 7,018 runs to his credit in 108 first-class matches.
Asked who he would blame for his non-inclusion in Team India, he said, “I can say that it was just destiny and nothing else. I have always been a consistent performer, but don’t know the reason for my non-selection.”
Allahabad’s Anand Shukla is the only all-rounder in the list of top five unsung heroes of Uttar Pradesh cricket. A skillful leg-spinner and dependable batsman, Shukla took 300-plus wickets and scored 3,000 runs in domestic cricket.
In his third first-class match in his debut season in 1959-60, Shukla took 7/91 against Vidarbha. This was followed by another superlative performance in 1961-62 against Rajasthan, when he took 7/43 and 3/87 and struck an unbeaten 168, helping UP recover from 88/6 to 356 all out.
Shukla, who also played for Delhi for one season in 1965-66 and represented North Zone in Duleep Trophy, captained Uttar Pradesh in 1963-64 and 1964-65. In 1964-65, in eight matches, he made 567 runs at an average of 43.61 and bagged 41 wickets at of 22.21, guiding Uttar Pradesh making it to the Ranji Trophy semi-finals for first time before losing to Hyderabad by an innings.
Shukla top-scored in each innings with 60 and 83. He returned bowling figures of 3/253 in 63 overs. Earlier, in a victory over Madhya Pradesh, he scored 28 and 96 and took 6/63 and 6/102. He also played for Bihar in 1966-67 and stayed there for nine seasons.
Before coming back to Uttar Pradesh for three more seasons from 1975-76 to 1977-78, Shukla scored two centuries in the Ranji Trophy, including 111 not out in a team total of 205 in the second innings when Bihar lost their quarter-final narrowly to Mysore. Against Vidarbha in 1975-76 he scored his last century, after taking five wickets in the first innings. The next season, also against Vidarbha, he made 59 and 35 and took 5/36 and 6/104.
Shukla’s stats of 4,312 runs and 386 wickets, including 31 five-wicket hauls and nine 10- wicket hauls are proof of his caliber. Although Shukla was also a national selector from Central Zone, none from Uttar Pradesh could make it to the India team then.
“There have been many more like Obaid Kamal, Rahul Sapru, Manoj Mudgal and even Haider Ali, who could have played for Team India from Uttar Pradesh,” said veteran sports writer Santosh Suri.
“Have been following Uttar Pradesh cricket since long and drawing a comparison between many great performers is quite a difficult task, but I still believe that if there was a level playing field for UP players, many more from the state could have played for India then,” he added.