Indian cricket is an enigma. While many cricketers have got extended runs despite a string of unremarkable performances, some unfortunate cricketers didn't get adequate opportunities to exhibit their class due to selection intrigues. One such cricketer was the late Ramesh Saxena, a former Test cricketer who only played only one match for the country despite being hailed as one of the most talented batmen of his era.
Saxena burst onto the cricketing landscape by blasting a scintillating century in his debut first-class match, playing for Delhi against Southern Punjab, at the age of 16. He soon gained the reputation of being the best batsman in the country against the spinners. His sparkling stroke-play was a sight to behold and prompted the great Sunil Gavaskar to give him the nick-name, 'Saxy'. In fact, Gavaskar was one of his most ardent admirers and never missed a chance to applaud him. Once, when Saxena didn't turn up for the match against Mumbai due to illness, Gavaskar visibly showed his disappointment at the lost chance to see him bat. His dashing shots and rugged looks earned him comparisons with former West Indies batsman Rohan Kanhai.
One of the greatest offspinners ever, Erapalli Prasanna wrote in his autobiography, One More Over, that Saxena was the best player of spin in India and rated him as the toughest batsman he had bowled to, a sentiment echoed by most spinners. Bishan Singh Bedi gives more insights about the flamboyant stroke-maker, "I cannot recall any other batsman who terrorised spinners in the manner Saxena did. He would dance down the track against the best of spinners and smash them all around the park at will,” he told Cricketnext. "He was an enormously gifted batsman who should have played a lot for India. But unfortunately, discipline was not his forte and he lacked mental application. He didn't have the temperament to back his abundant talent; having said that, I'll always remember him for his resplendent stroke-play and as someone who reduced the best spinners to mere pawns."
Hari Gidwani, his team-mate Bihar, speaks fondly about his former colleague and a great friend. "I've had the honour of watching Ramesh bhai from close quarters. We compiled some fine partnerships and it was a sheer pleasure watching his majestic tour de force from the other end. He was an artist, the MF Hussain of cricket. He could not stay back in the crease while playing against spinners. He had a wide repertoire of shots but his on-drives and inside-out shots were my favourites. And yes, he's the best batsmen against tweakers India has ever produced.
"A lot of spinners didn't want to bowl against him. I remember I had to persuade him to play a match against Saurashtra when he had met with a minor accident two days before the match. He was reluctant to play but I knew that even if he were 10% fit, he would have impact than most of us. And he vindicated my decision by crafting a brilliant hundred. I wish he had realised his true potential and was more disciplined."
Rajinder Goel, whom Gavaskar included in his book, Idols, and described him as the toughest bowler he had faced, asserts that though Gavaskar was the most complete batsman of his era, the batsman who sent shivers down his spine was Saxena. "No batsman other than Ramesh rattled me. It was incredible how he would attack the spinners. It was so demoralising. Gavaskar was the most complete batsmen I bowled to but Saxena was unmatched against spinners."
Despite being massively talented and very popular among his contemporaries, Saxena wasn't as focused and determined as Gavaskar or Gundappa Vishwanath. His insouciant demeanour and carefree approach became impediments.
Saxena played just one Test for India when they toured England. For someone who was known as a wizard against spinners, his only Test appearance, ironically, was at Headingley, the most seaming wicket in the world. He opened the batting, though he was a middle-order batsman, in the first innings and could only score 9. He was pushed down to No. 7 in the second innings and managed 16. He never played again for India. Some people attribute this to his differences with the captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and many are of the opinion that he was a victim of selection faux pas. But Saxena, an unassuming man, never spoke a word against anyone.
Saxena continued to ply trade in first-class circuit till 1982 and amassed 8155 runs at an average of 40.37. He played for Delhi and Bihar. Later, he became a national selector and was part of the selection committee which drafted Sachin Tendulkar into the team for the Pakistan tour of 1989-90.
He passed away on August 16, 2011.
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