The ‘rustic' Rajinder Goel, looking dapper in blazer and tie, is a treasure of cricket experience and anecdotes. The left-arm spinner, worthy owner of 750 first-class wickets, remembers each one of his dismissals, just as Sachin Tendulkar can describe every 100-fetching stroke of his career.
He also remembers many lasting moments that decorated his cricket journey, which began in 1957-58 with Southern Punjab at a royal fee of “nothing” except khana-peena (food-drinks) and ended 28 years later with Haryana. His parting match fee was “50 rupees” which he never spent.
Born to bowl
Recently Goel, 70, was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award by the Board. The cheque for Rs 5 lakh was a kind of lifetime earning too for a man who firmly believes that he was only born to “bowl and bowl.”
Long after the team had finished or the game ended, Goel and Bishan Singh Bedi would spend hours at the nets, bowling at one stump, honing their skills, control, stamina, exploring angles. “I often marvelled at how he snared a well-set batsman,” Bedi wonders even today.
Goel has no clue either. “I just bowled, used the crease, varied the delivery point and experimented with the length.” A large-hearted man off the field, Goel was a miser on it, conceding not an inch to the batsman.
Over after over, whether Sunil Gavaskar or G.R. Viswanath (his colleague in State Bank of India) would be drawn forward and left in a defensive prod. “Forward and defence, forward and defence,” was the way. Any adventure of playing back and trying to cut would prove fatal. Many greats discovered it the hard way.
Goel, for all his achievements, remains a humble soul. “We travelled third class, slept in dormitories. Even Tiger (Pataudi) would join us,” he remembered. Those were lovely days when venues, grounds and hotel accommodation did not guide a player's performance.
His exploits spoke for his awesome talent. He once saw a batsman earn seven lives before getting him with a grubber. “You deserved this only. I had no options left,” was how Goel politely sent him off.
Six for 6 against Punjab; seven for 4 against Jammu and Kashmir; eight for 52 against Railways; eight for 87 against Delhi on a green top where Madan Lal grabbed nine for 31. Instances like this are many.
What a pity, such a crafty bowler could never earn the India cap. He should have once, in Bangalore in 1974-75 against Clive Lloyd's West Indies, but the team management preferred two off-spinners and a leggie. In 1980-81, he picked up 12 wickets in the Duleep Trophy final.
Yet, he was not considered for the twin-tours of Australia and New Zealand. Goel stood crestfallen and Indian cricket deprived of a brilliant bowler.
He prides in the fact that he shared space with the likes of Bedi, Hyder Ali, Padmakar Shivalkar, Salim Durani, Dilip Doshi. Born at the wrong time? “I don't know. But I have no regrets,” he smiles.
Best against the best
Goel was best against the best. He got Gavaskar five times, bowled, caught in the slips, lured into a drive; well, Goel was a master. That's why Gavaskar included him in his Idols and paid glowing tributes. “He was one of the greatest I ever played against,” wrote Gavaskar. Indeed he was.
He has a unique achievement of getting four father-son pairs out.
“Pankaj Roy and Pranab, Vijay Manjrekar and Sanjay, M.L. Jaisimha and Vivek.” Fourth instance? “Sorry,” he mumbles. “Add the Amarnath family (Lala, Mohinder, Surinder, Rajinder).”
Natives of Rohtak still see Goel driving around the town on his scooter. “Many greats have been on my pillion,” his hearty laughter reflects the man, unassuming and so unpretentious.