They also served the game, but their contributions were lost in history books until the Board thought of resurrecting them. This recognition has rekindled their faith in the system.
Some of them were honoured at Pune, Bangalore and Chepauk in Chennai. Some more will be honoured in Chennai on Sunday.
As recipients of the Board's gesture to present international and domestic cricketers with monetary gifts, they obviously feel proud. Their deeds are documented in cricket history but most of them remain strangers to the current generation. Their cricket was not televised. But those who watched them nurture vivid pictures of quality batting and bowling.
Padmakar Shivalkar, Rajinder Goel, S. Hyder Ali, V. Sivaramakrishnan, Sarkar Talwar, Hari Gidwani, K.P. Bhaskar and Amarjit Kaypee hail from eras when cricket was not a commercial circus. It was a way of life for some and a celebration of talent for others. There were no huddles, no high-fives and no contrived gestures for the sake of television.
They should have worn the India cap. “It would have been nice, but no regrets. Playing the game was more important,” said Tamil Nadu left-hand batsman Sivaramakrishnan, who played 100 first-class matches and aggregated 6,032 runs. He started his career with a match fee of Rs. 100 and finished 17 years later with Rs. 500 per game. He came closest to India selection in 1978-79 but lost out to Chetan Chauhan.
Gidwani has a prized souvenir — a letter from then Board Secretary Ghulam Ahmed asking him to report for the Irani Cup. “You will be paid Rs. 100 for the match,” the letter said.
“Money was never the attraction. Passion was paramount. Cricket was a joy even if tough,” recalled Gidwani, who played 119 matches and made 6,805 runs. Known for his excellent back-foot play, he was acknowledged as India material every time he took guard, but never made it. His 20-year-career ended in 1992 and among his fond memories are the double century against a Karnataka attack boasting of Roger Binny, J. Srinath, Anil Kumble and Raghuram Bhatt.
Goel ‘saab', a classy left-arm spinner, is a legend with 750 wickets from 157 matches. When he bowled the batsman left the crease at grave peril. What if he did not play for India! Sunil Gavaskar proudly included Goel ‘saab' in his book Idols. “I was lucky,” mumbles the humble Haryana veteran, holding those who played for the country in the highest esteem. Padmakar Shivalkar, also a left-arm spinner, also a legend, also happens to be one of Gavaskar's ‘Idols' with 589 wickets from 124 matches in a 27-year career.
Hyder ‘Bhai' was a revered figure in Uttar Pradesh. Hailing from Allahabad, he served Railways with distinction. His career spanned 25 years which saw him figure in 113 matches for 366 wickets. He did not mind sleeping on floors in the stadium dormitory or even a Rail bogey.
Talwar and Amarjit Kaypee were Goel saab's colleagues at Haryana. Talwar bowled off-spin and earned respect from the opponents. A tally of 357 wickets from 106 matches in a span of 21 years is not a true reflection of his potential. “I have no complaints or regrets. I like today's cricket too, T20 and all that. I only request that the dignity of the game should be maintained. The affection and respect for one another should be mutual. We have to protect the fellowship among the players.”
Kaypee aggregated 940 runs with five centuries in the 1990-91 Ranji season but failed to impress the selectors. He ended his 20-year career with 7,894 runs from 117 matches. No different was Hyderabad off-spinner Kanwaljit Singh (369 wickets from 111 matches). When coach Madan Lal and Sachin Tendulkar specifically asked for him in the West Indies in 1997, the selectors put Noel David on the plane. That was the closest Kanwaljit could come.
For Bhaskar, it was fate that he did not play for India. For seven years he was among the standbys. “I was almost there, but never actually there.” When he was picked in the eleven for an ODI at Jammu in 1988, it rained. At Dhaka, he was padded up to go in when riots stopped play following the Babri Masjid demolition.
“I was almost there and that's how it remained, but I am glad our services have been recognised,” said Bhaskar, now a highly-rated BCCI batting coach. Many more, who don't find mention here, played for a pittance, on grounds which had gravel and no grass, stayed in dingy hotels, travelled third-class, but enjoyed it all, never complaining, always appreciating the opportunities.
Importantly, they played with dignity, never for once bringing the game to disrepute. They lived in the shadows of international tag-holders but served the game with no less fervour.
The Board fittingly salutes their contributions at the Chepauk. In unison, they thank the Board for its splendid gesture.