Without doubt Dilip Vengsarkar is one of the finest batsmen ever to have graced a cricket field. This week we commemorate the feat of Dilip Vengsarkar becoming the 1st overseas batsman ever to score three consecutive centuries in test matches at Lords. It is a landmark that would inscribe a permanent place in the museum of cricket. We also coincidentally celebrate the 35th anniversary of India’s first win at Lords, the mecca of cricket.
What set Vengsarkar or ‘Colonel’ as he was popularly known apart was his flair for executing drives and dominating great pace bowling.Few batsmen ever displayed more flourish or conviction in their drives ,particularly on the onside.Vengsarkar was the best ever Asian exponent of the leg drive. I can’t forget the manner he propelled himself to send a ball crashing when executing that stroke. He also executed the hook and pull with great authority, even against top pace. It was simply a sight to behold witnessing Vengsarkar majestically driving and taking domination of bowling to realms of a truly great player. In some ways Vengsarkar was clone of the Australian great ‘Greg Chappell.’
Vengsarkar with Gavaskar and Vishwanath and Amarnath defined the era when Indian batsman overcame the most lethal of pace .bowlers. At his best few middle -order batsman stood up to Imran at his best or the great Carribean pace quartet of the 1980’s better than Vengsarkar. Without doubt he was one of the finest players of genuine pace of all time.
I have vivid memories of his imperious driving of Imran at his quickest in the 2nd test at Karachi in 1978-79 when scoring 76 out of 199, literally reviving a sinking ship. Even when Gavaskar and Vishwanath failed Vengsarkar exhibited the bravery of a soldier, on a green top. Although he failed for the major part of the 1982-83 Pakistan tour, when scoring 79 at Karachi and 89 at Lahore he gave blemishes of his prowess. Later in a home series against Pakistan facing Imran and Wasim,Vengsarkar was an epitome of consistency, steering India to path of safety on almost every occcasion.With great surety he tackled the guile of Wasim Akram and Imran Khan averaging above 60.
Although facing a second string West Indies attack in 1978-79, Vengsarkar scored a classic unbeaten 157 at Calcutta that almost won the game and averaged above 59.It is to his credit that he was very much at home facing the hostile pace of Sylvester Clarke or Malcolm Marshall who had hardly reached his peak.
In 1983-84 against West Indies ‘Colonel’ topped the batting averages of India averaging over 53 with 2 centuries. Few batsmen ever played the likes of such greats like Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding with such conviction or consummate ease .He scored 65 at Kanpur, when every other batsman failed ,159 at Delhi where possibly a wrong umpiring decision robbed him of his double century and a most clinical 102 at Bombay. He simply expressed relish for the bouncing deliveries and at many structures took the Calypso attack by the sword. Above all his centuries placed India in the drivers seat,inspite of India facing a humiliating 3-0 defeat overall.
In 1987-88 Vengsarkar averaged over 100 against West Indies .He resurrected India from the darkest waters when they were tottering at Bombay, scored a classic 102 at Delhi to save India from a precarious position and a century at Calcutta before being retired hurt, after giving vibrations of a lotus in full bloom. Like in 1983-84 his execution of drives was truly classical, giving merciless punishment to the bad ball.
It must be stated that Vengsarkar was the most prolific middle order batsman in the world against the great Carribean pace battery, surpassing even Javed Miandad.Against the West Indies pace quartet he averaged 44.33 with an aggregate of 1596 runs.
In English conditions, negotiating the moving ball, no Indian middle order batsman fared better till then than Vengsarkar in 1986.He averaged over 100 in the series with majestic centuries at Lords and Headingley.To me it was batting of the Viv Richards or Greg Chappell class.
At Lords ‘Colonel’ scoring an unbeaten 126, steered the Indian innings like the captain of a ship in the depths of despair, giving it the finishing touch of a surgeon performing an operation. He took India from an ambiguous position at 264-8 to score 341 and take a 43 run lead in the 1st innings.Vengsarkar’s knock was the launching pad of India winning its 1st ever test at Lords .He also scored his 3rd consecutive century at the ‘Mecca’ of cricket.
At Leeds in the 2nd test of the 1986 series ,on a pitch soaked with rain and overcast conditions ,Vengsarkar compiled a classic unbeaten 102 out of a total of 237.It took India out of troubled waters, to achieve one of it’s most authoritative win sever in its test history. ‘Colonel’ reminded one of an army battalion enduring the most daunting or challenging conditions to overpower the enemy. Or a surgeon performing an operation in no mans land.It would have been a knock even Viv Richards would have been proud of.
His 2 previous centuries at Lords in 1979 and 1982 were classics in their own right. In 1979 in a 210 run partnership with Vishwanath he ressurected India from the grave. to a position of respectability to save the game, after a 323 run1st innings deficit. I can’t forget his calmness and composure with India in dire straits. In 1982 after India followed on 305 runs behind, Vengsarkar scored 157, in one of the most classical exhibitions of batting at Lords which was displayed with India again facing a grave crisis. I can;t forget his imperious execution of a hook shot and his glorious drives of Willis and Botham.India lost the game, but salvaged self -respect. The sheer consistency and fluidity of his stroke making was a sight to behold.
At home he was at his gregarious best against Sri Lanka and Australia in 1986 when he registered his highest scores of 164 notout. and 166.He averaged over 125 against Sri Lanka .
Sadly he was never at his best in Australia on 3 tours, giving only the occasional flash of brilliance or even in New Zealand. Still I can’t forget his 61 in testing conditions in the 2nd test at Christchurch and fighting unbeaten 52 in the 3rd test at Auckland, in 1980-81. In Australia he was right up there when scoring 78 in the 2nd test at Melbourne in 1985-86 and 78 in the 5th test at Adelaide in 1977-78. .Vengsarkar was also hardly dominant in West Indies in 1983 or 1989, apart from a brilliant 98 at Antigua in 1983.
In his game Vengsarkar had a tendency to move too much towards the offside and mainly was dominate on the leg-side. He was not at his best on the offside.
Dilip Vengsarkar in test cricket scored 6,868 runs with 17 centuries, at an average of 42.13.In 1986, in my view, ‘Colonel’ was the best batsman in the world. From December 1985-December 1987 he scored 1751 runs at an average of 91.2., scoring in a bradmanesque manner .
At his best in my view from 1985-1987 Vengsarkar could join the league of a Viv Richards or Gavaskar ,and carve a niche amongst the very greatest of batsman However overall in his test career feel he would just miss out on the ”all-time great’ tag. He did not score so prolifically overseas and his career was intervened with frequent losses of form. He averaged 55.59 with 3725 runs with 13 centuries at home and 32.73 with 3143 runs, with 4 centuries away.
Arguably ‘Colonel ‘also retired prematurely at the age of 32, younger than many greats like Gavaskar,Miandad,Viv Richards or Greg Chappell.
Perhaps it was the trait of individualism or self -interest in Indian cricket that prevented Vengsarkar from being nurtured into batsman of the very highest bracket. I am really surprised he never scored a double century in his entire career and his highest score was only 166.’Colonel’ posessed all the ingredients of player in registering the highest test score ever .Maybe it was his individualism or inability to emulate the sheer selflessness’ of Rahul Dravid later or Mohinder Amarnath or Vishwanath in his time ,that prevented his potential from fully blossoming. The internal politics within Indian cricket may well have disturbed him and curtailed him from doing complete justice to the talent he was endowed with. Perhaps Vengsarkar never did full justice to his enormous natural ability, and more than often when looking in complete charge, threw his wicket away or contributed to his own dismissal. To me in his own right Dilip Vengsarkar had touches of a genius.
Overall still I would rank Vengsarkar amongst the 10 best Indian batsman of all time and amongst the five best Indian batsmen ever against sheer pace. At his best in the 1980’s I would select him in the world XI. In the modern era I would have backed him to average close to 50 atleast, considering the conditions being more conducive towards batting.
After retirement Vengsarkar has rendered service to the game in the form of a selector and been instrumental in the illustrious careers of many emerging stars. ‘Colonel’ was also an astute judge of the game who voted Viv Richards as the best ever batsman he saw and included Malcolm Marshall, Greg Chappell, Sunil Gavaskar, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Kapil Dev in his all-time test XI.I always admired him for the stemmed he held Gundappa Vishwanath, whom he classed amongst his best batsmen ever. He has been amongst the boldest or most forthright spokesman on the game.
Hope Indian fans could rekindle memories of the historic first win at Lords cricket ground with the flashing blade of ‘Colonel. ‘and great supporting contributions by Kapil Dev with his great burst in the 2nd innings as well as Chetan Sharma,Mohinder Amarnath and Manider Singh .No doubt a red letter day in Indian cricket .
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist.Toured India,particularly Punjab .Written on Mass movements ,,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly .An avid cricket lover too who has posted writings on blogs like Pakpassion Indian Cricket Fans and Sulekha.com