The name, Hari Gidwani, is spoken with deluge of reverence and fondness among the people of cricket fraternity of India. He was one of the finest batsmen of his era, a nimble fieldsman, and the former captain of Bihar team. Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev, two of the greatest Indian cricketers, said that along with Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar, Gidwani was among three cricketers whom they thought should have played cricket for India at an international level. However, Gidwani’s contribution to Indian cricket is not confined to his on-field exploits. After retiring from first-class cricket, he became an influential administrative figure and served as the selector for Delhi.
Reminiscing about his odyssey of cricket, Gidwani says, “I became fascinated by cricket right from the childhood. I was an ardent fan of Sir Garry Sobers, and would never miss listening to the radio commentary when Sobers would be batting. I had the yen to bat, and perform like him, and I started taking cricket seriously.”
Gidwani started his first-class career in 1972-73 and played his debut first-class match against Jammu and Kashmir. It didn’t take him too long to assert his imperious authority at the cricket firmament of India, as he clocked up his first first-class hundred only in his second match against Services. “My debut match was against Jammu and Kashmir, and i scored 30 runs in our first innings. Delhi won the match by 10 wickets, and I didn’t bat in the second innings. I remember, I was slightly uptight before the match but our captain, Bishan Singh Bedi, expunged my anxiety by his lively wit and words of encouragement. I scored my maiden first-class century in the second match against Services. I cracked 104 runs and we won the match by an innings and 91 runs. That innings gave me the confidence that I am here to stay,” Gidwani recalls.
After his match-winning century, Gidwani became the force to reckon with in domestic circuit and played a plethora of matches against the visiting sides. Describing his one such match, he spins an alluring tale, “I played for Indian Universities against the visiting West Indies side, led by Clive Llyod, in 1974-75, and scored 39 and 42 runs respectively. I batted with aplomb and missed out on big scores in both the innings. Anshuman Gaekwad racked up a century in the match. But, he told me that I was playing better than him in both the innings and just one false shot in both the innings prevented me from amassing a big score.”
Gidwani continued to harvest gold with his magnificent batting against the visiting sides. He flayed a century against Sri Lanka in 1975-76, playing for Combined Universities, but didn’t make a cut into the Indian team. “When Sri Lankan visited in 1975-76, I put up a good show and unleashed a century in the first innings and made 48 in the second innings. I was expecting a national call but that didn’t happen,” he says with a hint of faded sadness.
Gidwani took up a job in Tata Steel, and moved to Jamshedpur in 1978-79. He started playing for Bihar, and around this time, he started to become tad disillusioned. “Tata Steel offered me a job as a management trainee; I accepted the offer and moved to Jamshedpur. I started playing for Bihar. When West Indies team visited India in 1978-79, led by Alvin Kallicharan, I played against them representing East Zone. After hit by Malcolm Marshall, I retired, but came back to unfurl defiant 62 runs. But, fate was not my side and I was overlooked when it came to selection in the national team,” Gidwani explains.
The next season, 1979-80, was an eminently prolific one for Gidwani. He chiselled more than 450 runs at a stellar average of over 67. His 164 against Mumbai in the second innings of Ranji Trophy quarter-final averted the outright defeat, Mumbai was pressing for and saved blushes for Bihar. Mumbai boasted of an attack comprising of Karsan Ghavri, Shivalkar and Ravi Shastri. But behind all the glory, there was a dark side which would haunt him for the rest of his career. “Australian team, led by Kim Hughes, visited India in 1979-80. I was in luminous touch and piling up huge scores. I was fancying my chances to secure a berth in Indian squad. When Australian team played against East Zone, we were in a spot of bother as they made early inroads to have us reeling at 27-5. Among the top seven batsmen, I was the only one to go into the double figures. I maintained the composure amidst the bloodbath, and reached 31. I was feeling confident, and was timing the ball with deft felicity. My hopes of converting this into a huge score came crashing down when umpire, Mr. Pilloo Reporter, gave a horrific decision against me. Leg-spinner, Jim Higgs’ leg-break was missed by the wicket-keeper Grahan Yallop, and he flicked the bails off without the ball in his gloves, but Mr. Reporter adjudged me out,” he reveals.
“To make the matters worse, he inflicted another atrocious decision on me in the second innings, when I was batting on 29, and looked set for a big innings. He gave me out caught behind on the bowling of Geoff Dymock whe my bat was no where near the ball. Those decisions were roundly condemned by the media but the damage had been done. Cricket is all about small moments. These small moments, string together and culminate into the full-bloom crowning glory. Sadly, my magical moments were brutally decimated by those two clunkers and my crowning glory remained half-baked,” he philosophies.
With time, Gidwani became more prolific and rattled up runs and centuries galore but the national call never happened. Between 1986-88, Gidwani conjured up five centuries in five consecutive matches; a feat matched by only Nari Contractor and Mushtaq Ali, and was called for India v/s Pakistan ODI at Jamshedpur but didn’t make it to the team. “I was in the midst of phenomenal run-glut during those two years. And I was called for India v/s Pakistan ODI which was held at Jamshedpur in 1987. I couldn’t make it to the team, but it has an honour sharing the dressing-room with some of the biggest names of international cricket,” he says buoyantly.
Gidwani scored 6805 runs with 15 centuries and 32 half-centuries in his first-class career spanning two decades, and he rates his 54 runs against Karnataka, playing for Delhi, in the semi-final of 1974-75 Ranji Trophy and 62 runs against West Indies, playing for the East Zone, as two of his finest innings. “The innings against Karnataka in the semi-final of Ranji Trophy 1974-75 is extremely close to my heart as it came against the genius of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and deceptive guile of Erapalli Prasanna, who were at the zenith of their skills at that time. After I got out, both of them cut a swathe through our batting line-up and we lost the match. The pitch was assisting the spinners, and it gave a lot of satisfaction to have come good against both of those legends. Against West Indies I was hit by ferocious Malcolm Marshall, but returned to score 62 runs. The memories of stinging straight-drive off Marshall still gives me a high. And then of course, 229 runs against Karnataka in 1989-90, which is my highest first-class score. Karnataka had likes of Roger Binny, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, and Raghuram Bhatt in their bowling attack. I was the captain of the Bihar side, and my innings helped the team to overhaul Karnataka’s first innings score and move to quarter-finals. Leading the side from the front and scoring the double-century was a double whammy”he gives blow-by-blow account of the finest moments of his career.
Gidwani was out for 99 in his last first-class match, something which highlights a not so enviable aspect of his career. He was dismissed 14 times between 80-100 in his first-class career.
Gidwani was hailed as a batting artist by his contemporaries, particularly noted for his sublime stroke-play and impregnable technique. None other than, Sunil Gavaskar applauded him for his splendid batting finesse and the old-timers still fondly recollects his glorious cover-drives. Raghuram Bhatt, former Indian left-arm spinner, called him a domestic legend. He continues to shares warm camaraderie with all his colleagues and treasures his friendship with all of them. “Sunil Gavaskar has always been fond of me. We speak on many occasions and he is always gracious in his appreciation towards me. He always makes it a point to ask about my health, and tells me to take good care of myself. Despite being such a big name, he keeps in touch with everyone he cares about. Such is the beauty of this great man,” he fondly describes his bonding with the legend.
Bishan Singh Bedi remembers him as a prodigious talent who could have played Test cricket had he stayed with Delhi side. “Hari Gidwani was a bright, young man when he came into the Delhi side. He was a vital cog of our batting line-up till he remained with Delhi. I think, his decision to move to Jamshedpur, definitely, harmed his chances of representing India. The cricket environment in Delhi was competitive, and that would have kep him in the reckoning. Once, you’re in constant reckoning, all it takes is one chance. But, I’m very fond of him and admire his passion for cricket which borders on obsession, at times,” Bedi says.
Talking about his favourite captain, Bishan Singh Bedi, he says, “He was the best captain I had played under. He injected the professionalism in the Delhi team, and nurtured the youngsters with his exceptional cricketing acumen. He had played county cricket with Northamptonshire and the experience he gleaned there, he poured into all of us. He had an aura around himself and his innate virtue of inspiring the youngsters went a long way in shaping up the careers and attitude of many youngsters of Delhi team. Even now, whenever I meet or speak with him, I call him, ‘skipper’ and he calls me, ‘hero’. He was also the toughest bowler I had faced,” he articulates with hearty gusto.
He also shares a great friendship with Salim Durrani, who once wrote a letter to him eulogising his talent. “Salim Bhai has always been exceptionally fond of me. And the feeling is mutual. He was one of the best talents around in the country during my era. He’s exceedingly affable and always speaks from the heart. He wrote a letter to me once and told me that he is mighty impressed with my batting prowess, and one day I would play for India. It was a great gesture, and coming from him, I regard it as one of the best compliments, I have ever received. I still have that letter with me, and I treasure it immensely,” he tells with unmistakable glee in the voice.
Kapil Dev says that Hari Gidwani is one of the most focused, passionate and dedicated cricketers he has ever played with or against, and he felt that Gidwani should have relaxed and eased up at times. “He was completely consumed by cricket. He would think and talk about cricket all the time. His life revolved around only cricket. At times, he would be so wrapped up in his thoughts, thinking about his performance, his team and hosts of other things, that I found him disconnected with the outer world. He was, no doubt, a thinking cricketer, but there is a life outside cricket, and I feel a cricketer must look or think beyond cricket after a point of time. Having said that, Gidwani’s passion for cricket is an inspiration for youngsters. Another thing which struck me about Gidwani was his high back-lift, which was instrumental in him being a stylish stroke-maker. He was one of the finest batsmen I have had the pleasure of bowling to,” the former Indian captain remembers Gidwani.
Another regnant attribute of Gidwani’s multi-faceted personality is his knack of spotting young talent and then backing them to the hilt, a rare commodity in Indian cricket. In 1997, during his first stint as a selector for Delhi, he recommended four names – Virender Sehwag, Aakash Chopra, Ashish Nehra and Mithun Manhas- to be drafted into the Delhi team. Despite the misgivings and reluctance of other selectors, he stood his ground and made it a point that these talented youngsters became the part of Delhi team. His magnificent vision and conviction were acknowledged when three of them, Sehwag, Nehra and Chopra, went on to become international cricketers of distinction.
Sehwag has often acknowledged the tremendous contribution, Gidwani has made to his career and holds him in high esteem. In fact, Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir fought with DDCA, a couple of years back, to revamp their selection committee and bring Gidwani back as a selector for the betterment of Delhi cricket and youngsters of Delhi. He’s widely known and lauded as the messiah of young cricketers. “Look, I know how painful it is not to represent your country at an international level. It’s not only a misfortune for the talented cricketer, but it’s also a pity for the nation that a prodigious talent goes unnoticed. I endured the excruciating pain of never being able to play for country, so I make an earnest endeavour that a talent never goes waste,” he says with heart-warming humility.
“If I come across a talented youngster, I make it a point to encourage, support and assist him. And when cricketers like Sehwag, Chopra, Gambhir and Nehra play for India and perform well, I see it as my personal triumphant and become overjoyed. They all give me overwhelming respect and regard. I seek happiness in their achievements. The joy they give me mitigates my pain of not playing for India. They all are like my kids,” he bids adieu flashing the fetching smile like a proud father.
This piece is a part of series of eleven articles on cricketers who were fine talent, but due to variety of reasons, didn’t play for India. Here’s the link to others articles of this series:-
Rajinder Goel - The gentle giant of Indian cricket and an Idol to Sunil Gavaskar.