In a country such as India where cricket is considered a religion by itself, representing the country is a remarkable achievement. A fact that lays enough emphasis on a cricketer’s calibre is to be selected amongst the top 15 of the cricket-crazy country.
Most of the top-draw cricketing talents are filtered from domestic tournaments held all through the year. The domestic scenario provides an ideal platform for the selectors to keep an eye out for prospective talents who could go on to don the national jerseys.
One such tournament that provides ground for emerging talent is the Vijay Hazare tournament, an inter-state championship that follows the One-Day international format. Instituted in 2002/03 as a limited-overs format of the ‘Ranji Trophy’, the trophy was named after the famous ex-Indian player, Vijay Samuel Hazare.
Primarily a right-handed batsman, Vijay Hazare served as the captain of the national team for 14 matches between 1951-1953. Apart from his, he was an established first-class cricketer with a plethora of records under his name.
Here, we try to take a sneak peek into his cricketing and personal life on his birth anniversary.
Birth and early life
Vijay Hazare was born as Vijay Samuel Hazare on 11th March 1915 in Sangli also known as the ‘Turmeric City’ of India, an affluent city in the then Bombay Presidency of British India. He was one of eight children to a school teacher and was educated at the Presbyterian Mission Industrial School in Sangli.
All throughout his education and early stages of work, Hazare was never a man who shied away from sports. In fact, he was known to have had a larger interest in cricket and football rather than indulging himself through books.
Hazare made his first appearance in cricket as a medium-pacer who could also double up as a wrist spinner while working for his first employer, Maharaj Vikram Singh of Dewas. Looking to improve Hazare’s cricketing skill, the Maharaj summoned Clarrie Grimmett, a legendary Australian spinner to hone his craft.
After some keen observations and sessions with Hazare, Grimmett insisted that Hazare was better off concentrating on his batting that his skills with the ball in hand.
Ranji debut and first glimpse of Hazare in international cricket
Mentored by the legendary spinner Grimmett, Hazare went on to make his Ranji debut in the tournament’s inception season of 1934/35. Playing for Maharashtra against Mumbai in his debut match and the only game that season, Hazare impressed with the ball, picking up six wickets in the first inning to restrict Mumbai to 286.
He was impressive with the bat too, contributing 65 runs to the team’s total of 260, prior to picking up two more wickets and ended with an impressive tally of eight wickets in the match in addition to his 65 runs with the bat to help Maharashtra draw the game.
Surprisingly, Hazare missed out on consecutive Ranji seasons after his debut but went on to represent India in an unofficial test against Lord Tennyson's side in 1937 where he managed to pick just a solitary wicket and score 28 runs in the match.
Hazare’s fledgeling first-class career
One of India’s most proficient first-class cricketers in history, Hazare’s big break came in the 1939/40 season when he topped the batsmen’s and bowler’s charts as the highest run-getter of the season and the highest-wicket taker of the season.
Playing only his second season for Maharashtra, he single-handedly led his state to the title victory. Amassing 619 runs from just four matches with two centuries and two fifties at a stunning average of 154.75 coupled with 20 wickets at an average of 23.25, Hazare was without a shadow of a doubt, was the player of the tournament and was slowly rising up the ranks.
That season, Hazare also managed to place his name in the record books as the first cricketer to score a triple century in a Ranji match. A man of few words and more action on the field, Hazare’s magnificent first-class career spanned 33 years, right from his debut in the 1933/34 season to his retirement in the 1966/67 aged 51.
When he decided to hang up his boots in 1966, he was a giant in the domestic scenario. The prolific right-hander had amassed 18,740 runs at a whopping average of 58.06 in 238 matches, having played for Maharashtra, Baroda and Holkar during his career. Apart from his magic with the bat, he managed to pick 595 wickets at an average of 24.61 with his cunning medium-pacers and had found a place in the ‘Best all-rounders of domestic cricket’ scenario.
To put it in a nutshell, Hazare was a class apart when it came to the domestic scenario. A man whose all-round abilities went unparalleled throughout his career, adorned with 60 centuries and fifty half-centuries, coupled with a distinction that made him the first Indian to record two triple centuries at the first-class level and the first batsman to record 50 first-class centuries.
Indian cricket’s ambassador during the World War II
At the time when the World War II sent a shock wave throughout the globe and was the major driving force for the cancellation of cricket tournaments across the globe, Indian cricket was surviving and contested all domestic tournaments, unfazed by the effect of the World War.
This was primarily due to the massive efforts which were taken by Vijay Hazare and his team-mate Vijay Merchant, whose combined effort and class spread across to the whole of India. Playing mainly at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, the two men exhibited great skill that brought large crowds to the stadium and kept Indian cricket in focus.
In addition to amassing runs at free will, Hazare’s best domestic performance came in the 1943/44 season when he tore bowling attacks apart with immense aplomb and displayed inhuman batting prowess, racking up two double hundreds, one triple hundred and one hundred to cap off a remarkable domestic season.
Tryst with international cricket – Tour to England and Australia
Consistent performances at the domestic level caught the eye of the selectors and soon enough Hazare was picked to tour England in 1946 and immediately stamped his authority on the international scenario.
In his debut match, Hazare contributed 65 runs to India’s total but managed to pick only two wickets in the match, ending with a modest debut. However, the rest of the series witnessed a rejuvenated Hazare who struck decent form with the bat and managed to deliver his cunning leg-cutters with precision.
Although he did not enjoy the best of debuts, he managed to gather 1,344 runs from 33 matches at an average of 49.77 and 56 wickets at a bowling average of 24.75. The stats were not the greatest by his standards, he managed to grab a few eyeballs and was in the headlines for his magnificent skill.
After the England series, India toured Australia in 1947-48 and Vijay Hazare had donned the vice-captain's role for this series. India went into the series knowing that the matches ahead would be difficult and were given the task of defeating the ‘Invincible’ Aussies led by the prolific Don Bradman.
Hazare enjoyed a rather successful tour, collecting 429 runs from the tour and also inked his name in the records books - the first Indian to score a century in both innings of a test match when six of the eleven batsmen had failed to even get off the mark. Apart from his batting, Hazare charmed the pundits with a remarkable feat – he managed to breach the defence of the great Don Bradman twice with his medium-pace deliveries.
The shy captain – ‘A tragedy’
After the Australian series in 1947-48, post independence, Hazare was given the responsibility of leading the side in 1951. Although he led India to a victory against England in 1951/52, it was his only victory as captain. Such was the stint of his captaincy that Vijay Merchant, his long-time rival and teammate, tagged his captaincy career as ‘tragic’ although Hazare had managed to keep up a healthy average while wielding the bat.
Hazare captained the Indian team for just 14 matches from 1951-53. His first full series was against England at home and he continued his good form, striking form with two centuries from two games. However, a slight miscommunication with manager CK Nayudu led to Hazare losing all his confidence and could not continue his good form for the remainder of the series.
Yet, on the occasion of India’s silver jubilee match (25th match), Hazare produced two of his grittiest innings against a red-hot bowling line-up to help India clinch it's first ever test match victory, by an innings and eight runs.
Never a man who was acknowledged for his captaincy skills, his captaincy was put under the scanner when India toured England in 1952 but was routed 0-3, crushed by the strong performances of England’s premier pacer Freddie Trueman and assisted by his new-ball partner Alec Bedser.
Nevertheless, Hazare went on piling runs albeit India lost all three games and ended with 333 runs at an average of 55.50 including three half-centuries that placed him amongst some of the greatest cricketers.
Sadly, his form as a captain never rubbed off on his team-mates and the calls for his ouster from captaincy was heard loud and clear. As Vijay Merchant later said, “Hazare was always a disciplined soldier, never a commander. Captaincy affected his otherwise unflagging concentration and he was never the same batsman again”.
Hazare’s walk into the evening of his career
Post captaincy, Hazare continued to do what he did best – pile up runs. He was at his dominant best when Pakistan came visiting India. An unbeaten 146-run knock emphasised his class and the fact that he scored that knock on a tough Brabourne wicket highlighted the importance of that knock.
A consistent batsman over the duration of his career till then, the ICC Rankings released in 1952 showed Vijay Hazare occupying the second position, just behind Englishman Len Hutton. However, captaincy returned to haunt Hazare in the West Indies tour of 1952-53 that marked the decline of his form.
While India exhibited an improved performance when compared to the tour of England, Hazare performed rather poorly, managing to score just one half-century from 10 matches that only urged his decision to retire from international cricket, a decision he took once they came back on to Indian soil after the West Indies tour.
After 30 Tests for India, Hazare had done enough, along with his incredible first-class stats, to place himself amongst the greats. In 30 Tests, he amassed 2,192 runs at an average of 47.65 added to his 20 wickets through his medium-pacers.
Post-retirement and laurels
Even after independence, Hazare went on to play in the domestic scenario and continued his rich form. He also served as the selector and chairman of the selection committee, sandwiched between his retirement from international cricket in 1952 and the domestic scenario in 1962, aged 52.
In 1960, eight years after his retirement from international cricket, Vijay Hazare was awarded the Padma Shri for his outstanding achievements while representing India. Apart from his skills on the field, Hazare authored books such as Cricket Replayed, My Story and A Long Innings, he was also a proud holder of an honorary membership of MCC.
In 2002/03, an ODI format of the Ranji trophy was started and named as the ‘Vijay Hazare Trophy’ in honour of the sheer cricketing genius that Hazare was.
Sadly, just a year or so later, the prolific right-hander and domestic cricket genius succumbed to a prolonged illness aged 89.