First Mushtaq Ali then Eknath Solkar. Two stalwarts of India Cricket passed away within a week. The latter took fielding (The most neglected aspect in cricket) to new heights even before the likes of Azharuddin & Rhodes came onto the scene.

The quartet of our spin bowlers that played the most important role in our victories against WI and England in 1971 always gave Solkar his due credit; for were it not for his awesome fielding abilities they would’ve never bagged the wickets they did. In an era where there was no protection and helmets around, Eknath Solkar stood close to the batsman in the dreaded forward leg position and took some of the most stunning catches.

Sadly, India did not produce his class of fielders consistently cause there is no ‘glamour’ attached to the job. Most find it a thankless job. The fielding was brought live again by Azhar and Rhodes and its importance realized only after the emergence of Aussies and SA as the teams to beat in ODIs, who easily saved 20-30 runs due their fielding alone. Just as crowds flocked to see Jonty Rhodes for his fielding alone, same was the case with Solkar in those days.

An incident I recollect which I had read in one of the sports magazines a long time ago. So much was Solkar known for his fielding abilities especially at the forward short-leg that it has sent alarm bells to a great batsman like Vijay Manjrekar. In a local match where they were pitched up against each other he said to Solkar in Marathi
‘Eknatha tu tikde khadda khanun ubha rahilas na tari tula me majhi wicket denar nahi’
which in English meant
‘Eknath, even if you dig a hole there and sit all day, I will not give you my wicket’

It was not a gibe at Eknath but it reflected the respect Vijay Manjrekar had towards his fielding!
May he inspire more to pick up his art. May his soul rest in peace.

For more on the man read here and Harsha Bhogle’s tribute here.