Mumbai: Colonel Hemu Adhikari, former Indian cricket captain who had earned the reputation of being the ‘man in the hour of crisis’, passed away on Saturday at a Thane hospital following a brief illness, family sources said.
He was 85.
A stylish batsman during his playing days, Adhikari was known not only for his fighting qualities, but also for coming to the rescue of his team on a number of occasions in a career spanning almost a decade.
Adhikari, who was the manager in 1971 when Ajit Wadekar’s men won the Test series in England, played in 21 Tests scoring 872 runs. This included a superb hundred against the West Indies in New Delhi in 1948-49.
Adhikari, however, had the most nightmarish Test debut an Indian player could have had, against an Australia side captained by Sir Donald Bradman in Brisbane.
In 1947-48, Test cricket was played over six days with eight balls per over. The Don was at the fag end of his career but he was good enough to score 185 before being dismissed hit wicket by Lala Amarnath.
On an uncovered wicket, India’s match aggregate was less than the home captain’s individual score. The tourists were bowled out for 58 and 98.
Adhikari’s own stay at the crease, two innings put together, lasted 40 minutes during which he scored eight and 13.
Australia won the match by an innings and 226 runs, and the five Test series 4-0, only because the second Test in Melbourne was affected by rain.
But he showed great courage in turning his fortunes around. In the very next Test in Adelaide he made his first half-century and scored a vital 38 in the final Test at Melbourne.
Adhikari was born on July 31, 1919, in Pune. After playing for western India in the Ranji Trophy in 1936-37, his international debut was delayed by the war.
But in the ten years that he played, both in first-class and Tests, Adhikari showed amazing consistency in rising to the team’s needs.
His service in the Indian Army meant he played only 21 Tests in his career, but he scored runs — 872 in Tests including a hundred and four half-centuries — under conditions not suited for batting and when his team needed them the most.
Adhikari scored 8683 runs in first-class cricket when he played for the Hindus, Gujarat, Baroda and also captained the Services.
His only Test ton came against the West Indies at the Kotla. India had slipped to 249 for five in reply to the Caribbeans’ mammoth 631 when the Colonel walked in.
He marshalled the tail brilliantly to make 114 and move the team score to 28 short of the follow-on mark before the innings ended.
In his last series against the West Indies at home in 1958-59, Adhikari showed great maturity when he was made the fourth captain in five Tests to lead the team to a honourable draw, preventing a complete sweep for the visitors who won 3-0.