DateLine: 29th November 2006
Hanumant Singh who passed away in Mumbai on Wednesday at the age of 67 following a brief illness was one of the tragic figures of Indian cricket. A descendent of the legendary Ranji he was immensely talented, had strokes of silken excellence based on technical soundness and a shrewd cricketing brain that saw him emerge as one of the best captains in the country.
For a cricketer of such credentials to play only 14 Tests and finish with an average of just over 31 is a travesty of justice. But I shall come to the melancholic part of his career later. Let me dwell for some time on the happier aspects and his contribution to Indian cricket in various ways. He emerged on the first class scene in the late fifties as a dashing stroke player and ere long his regal batsmanship was wowing the connoisseurs. By the early 60s he had done enough for Rajasthan and Central Zone to warrant a place in the Indian team. And when he got in he wasted little time in proclaiming his royal approach to the art of batting. Against England at New Delhi in February 1964 he became the fifth Indian batsman to get a hundred in his first Test. It was an innings that was a whiff of fresh air for here was a youngster who played all the strokes with refreshing abandon coupled with technical excellence. The suppleness of his wristwork and his nimble footwork marked him out as an exciting, even classy, prospect. He was hailed as a messiah and later that year missed a notable double by just six runs when he was out for 94 in his first Test against Australia at Madras. His inimitable brand of attacking batsmanship – he drove, pulled, hooked and cut with equal relish - against New Zealand in 1964-65 and against West Indies two years later made him an integral part of the Indian middle order and on the tour of England in 1967 he enhanced his reputation notably during a 134-run fifth wicket partnership with his captain Nawab of Pataudi in the first Test at Leeds, Hanumant’s share being a delightful 73.
A tour of Australia lay ahead in 1967-68 and Hanumant longed to play `Down Under’ where he knew the pitches would encourage his brand of stroke play. Astonishingly he was one of the many shock exclusions and his was the most contentious. He had always been a picture of fitness but was ruled out through a dubious fitness test. A keen student of the game and almost fanatically enthusiastic about cricket, Hanumant took his non-inclusion pretty hard. Though he came back to play a solitary Test against New Zealand at Bombay in September 1969 he was not the same player. Moreover as he related in an interview some years ago he was going through some acute family problems and his mind was just not on the game. Scores of 1 and 13 meant that he did not play for India again and a career that had held out so much promise came to a limp end for no fault of his. Affable by nature and a true gentleman cricketer in keeping with his royal bearing – he was the Prince of Banswara - Hanumant bore the cross cheerfully. He certainly had much good cricket in him even during the early 70s but there was no recall.
Not one to dwell on bygones Hanumant concentrated on helping Rajasthan to win the Ranji Trophy and Central Zone to lift the Duleep Trophy. As Rajasthan captain he saw his side make the title clash three times but each time they stumbled at the final hurdle. However there was no stopping Hanumant from achieving his ambition of making Central Zone Duleep Trophy champions. As a captain he was a deep theoretician spending a lot of time analyzing various aspects of the game and spotting the strengths and weaknesses of opponents. This thoroughness was rewarded with Central Zone ending the hegemony of West and South Zones in 1971-72.
There was never much hope of a recall to India colours but Hanumant loved the game passionately and this kept him playing first class cricket till he was almost 40. By the time he finally quit he had amassed 6170 runs in the Ranji Trophy at an average of 50 and at the time of his retirement his aggregate was second only to Vijay Hazare. In the Ranji Trophy final against Bombay in 1966-67 he became the first Indian to score a century and double century in first class cricket. That season he scored 869 runs at an average of 124.14 hitting four of his 15 centuries in the national competition. At the time it was the second highest aggregate in a season next only to Rusi Modi’s 1008 in 1944-45.
Could someone like Hanumant ever sever his ties from the game after retirement? He found various creative roles that kept him in touch with cricket. He managed the Indian team to the West Indies in 1983 and the players hailed him as one of most caring and effective officials. In the 90s he emerged as one of the early ICC match referees and earned a reputation for fairness and firm handling of contentious issues. In the new millennium he served as chairman of the Bangalore-based National Cricket Academy. Younger players no doubt benefited immensely from his vast knowledge about the various nuances of the game.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 CricketArchive)