Updated: Mar 19, 2022
India is one of the top sides at the moment when it comes to fielding. The fielding standards of the Indian team were raised with from the past two decades. The likes of Robin Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Ravindra Jadeja, Harleen Deol, Deepthi Sharma have made Indian fielding look very stronger. The experience and record of Dravid and Rahane made Indian slips stronger. But it was not the case earlier. In the days, when fielding was considered the least in cricket, one man always played like a live wire on the field. The finest forward short leg, who set fielding standards for Indian cricket and took Indian cricket forward is Eknath Solkar.
Playing 5 decades earlier, he put all that he had on the field in all three departments of the game. He was an all-rounder, who had a century to his name. He was an excellent left-arm spinner, but could also bowl medium pace if required. But his most notable contribution for India came in the department which is least talked about, fielding. He was excellent in fielding at a close position, and his standard position was forward short leg.
The forward short leg is the most dangerous position, but it was his favourite. His super flexibility, concentration, and anticipation helped him grab stunners to dismiss the batters. His heroics in 1971 dismissing Allan Knott and Keith Fletcher with impossible catches at a crucial time in the second innings, helped India register its first test victory in England. Solkar himself considers Knott's catch as his best in his entire career. Likewise, he took 53 catches in 27 test matches, having the highest ratio of catches per match for a non-wicketkeeper. Astonishingly, he did all the wonders fielding at the most dangerous position without using a helmet.
When asked the reason for his Superman fielding, he said "I only watch the ball". His fielding was a result of his childhood practice. Growing up as a child of groundsman of PJ Hindu Gymkhana in Mumbai, he used to update scorecards. Post the match, he used to do his catching drills on a pitch roller, thereby increasing his speed, accuracy and strengthening his reflexes. While playing for his school days, he had captained the side having Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath.
Playing for the Indian side, Solkar's contribution was much more than just his fielding. He scored 1 century and 6 half-centuries playing at the highest level. In the historic Oval test, apart from the 2 blinders, he took 3 wickets and scored 44 runs. He was one of the batters who could bat at any given position. As a bowler, he had little success, but one of his achievements was against Goefry Boycott when he sledged and dismissed Boycott on 3 consecutive occasions.
On one of the occasions, the Australian captain in 1970 was so impressed with Solkar's fielding effort to dismiss Bill Lawry, that he gifted him his own bat to show appreciation. In another instance, Solkar's Sussex teammate and one of the greats to have played the game Tony Greig termed Solkar as "The best forward short leg I have ever seen in my life ". This goes on to show what level of a fielder he was, and what energy he brought to the field.
Every player who plays the game leaves a legacy. Solkar was a great all-rounder, but the legacy in fielding he left for world cricket he left is huge. The spin quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrashekhar, Erapalli Prasnna and Venkatraghavan, with Solkar at forwardingPrasanna short leg made life difficult for batters.
This is why, even 4 and half decades after Solkar's retirement, he is regarded as the best forward short leg to have ever played the game. If the cricketing world sees players putting their efforts into fielding now, it is the result of people like Solkar who raised the bar and set standards of fielding. This is why, till cricket continues to be in existence, Solkar will always be remembered as the player who raised the bar of Indian fielding. On this day, we wish the greatest forward short leg a very happy birth anniversary.
Authored By:- Ashwin Jangam ( Cricket Analyst, Host and Entertainer)
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