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Solkar, fielder nonpareil, is no more

Special Correspondent

Eknath Solkar

MUMBAI: Eknath Dhondu Solkar, India's brilliant close-in fielder of the 1970s, passed away here on Sunday afternoon following a cardiac arrest. He was 57 and leaves behind his wife, a daughter and son.

Solkar, who was suffering from diabetes, died while being taken to the P.D Hinduja Hospital by Jeff Jones, son of late cue sports maestro, Wilson Jones.

In 27 Tests (48 innings), Solkar totalled 1068 runs at an average of 25.42 with one century (102) and six half centuries. He also took 53 catches most of them close to the wicket.

Solkar also scalped 18 wickets at an average of 59.44 per wicket. His career best in Test cricket was three for 28.

The former India captain, Ajit Wadekar, described Solkar as a brilliant fielder, tremendous cricketer, and an epitome of a captain's player, a non-controversial character and a jovial man.

Solkar's rise to fame as a remarkable close in fielder and a India player began at the P.J. Hindu Gymkhana, Kennedy Seaface Grounds, where he retrieved balls hit to the boundary by batsmen playing at the famous L.R. Tairsee nets run by the legendary Vinoo Mankad.

"Vinoobhai was impressed by Solkar's throwing ability and enthusiasm and gave him opportunities to bat and bowl. Since then, the mali's (gardener) son did not look back".

Wadekar was Solkar's captain on the tour of the West Indies and England in 1971. "Ekky was instrumental in India's victory over England in the Oval Test. If he had not taken Alan Knott's catch, I don't know what would have happened. Knott had the habit of touching the bails before taking strike. Solkar had observed this and he removed the bails when Knott's turn came to bat in the second innings to prevent him from touching the bails. And he was out first ball, caught brilliantly by Solkar. He took the catch literally of the inner edge, diving three or four feet towards the batsman".

A captain's delight

"Ekky was a batsman who was willing to bat anywhere in the order. I have asked him to open the innings. I have also asked him to drop anchor and stay put at the wicket, as it happened to save a Test match against the West Indies in 1971. He was a captain's delight".

Dilip Vengsarkar said he played the 1975 Irani Cup match against Rest of India at Nagpur at Solkar's expense. "He's unfit and I got the chance. It turned out to be a lucky break for me. I remember Ekky as a world-class leg trap fielder. I was a schoolboy when Solkar was in the West Indies in 1971. He took a great catch of Alan Knott. I remember listening to the BBC commentary. I also saw him score his only Test hundred against the West Indies at the Wankhede Stadium in 1974. I saw this match from the North Stand. Ekky was not only a great bat-pad fielder, but an outstanding all-round fielder. He used to bowl left hand medium pace and spin. He was a good man".

Our Bangalore Sports Reporter adds

`His fielding was an art'

Disbelief and a sense of loss pervaded as former cricketers struggled to come to terms with Solkar's demise in Mumbai. E.A.S. Prasanna and B.S. Chandrashekar were effusive in their praise for Solkar's fielding skills.

Said E.A.S. Prasanna: "Solkar was one of the best close in fielders I have ever seen and he was also a pretty useful all-rounder too as his gentle bowling often proved to be a nightmare to players like Boycott.

"We, the members of the spin quartet, owe some wickets to him because he put more pressure on the batsman with his mere presence at forward short leg. His demise is unfortunate. His fielding was an art and with his demise, aspiring cricketers have lost someone from whom they could have learnt the finer nuances of fielding."

B.S. Chandrashekar said: "I am so sorry to hear about Solkar's demise. He was an amazing fielder. His flexibility, movement and eyesight helped him to pull off some unbelievable catches at forward short leg when we spinners were bowling. In fact even in the outfield, he was a great fielder. I last met him a few months back."

A personal loss

"I have played for many years with him. We have fielded in positions that normally people will not accept. He was a gutsy cricketer. Coming from such a humble background, he made a name for himself. His death is a personal loss to me", said S. Venkatraghavan, the former captain and a member of the famed spin quartet, in Chennai.

Key to success

Bishen Singh Bedi also paid glowing tributes to Solkar saying the quartet would not have been so successful without Solkar's fielding. "He was a great close-in fielder and his close-in catching was really intimidating", said Bedi. "We would not have been the same (successful) bowlers without him"

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