Shivalkar remains a contented man

Padmakar Shivalkar remains content

Nearly Men

Padmakar Shivalkar

For someone who had never held a cricket ball in his hand until he went for trials in Mumbai, Padmakar Shivalkar did exceedingly well in his eventful career. From his debut in 1962 to his last year in 1988, Shivalkar claimed 589 first-class wickets in 124 matches at an average fewer than 20.

Unfortunately for Shivalkar, his best years coincided with the period when the famed spin quartet ruled the roost in 1960s and 70s. From Subhash Gupte to Anil Kumble, from Vinoo Mankad to Ravindra Jadeja and from EAS Prasanna to R Ashwin, Indian cricket team has been served well by a number of spinners of great variety and exceptional skills. However, as many as got to play for India, a big chunk of them never earned that call despite their performances in domestic cricket complementing their obvious talent.

Shivalkar figures prominently among them along with Rajinder Goel, who also practiced the same craft. The fact that their careers overlapped each other's for a better part, made that period that much more interesting. Shivalkar and Goel would have walked into any side of their time except the Indian team which had the famed spin quartet then. With Shivalkar and Goel waiting in the wings (eventually in vain) and several others, who played fleetingly for the country during this time, in the horizon, this was perhaps the golden period of Indian spin bowling. In fact, Shivalkar himself had to wait for at least five seasons to play consistently even for his State team as Mumbai's left-arm spinning all-rounder Bapu Nadakarni featured in the scheme till the late 1960s.

Shivalkar turned 80 just a couple of weeks ago, but his voice is still firm and memory quite sharp. When he says that at this stage of life, he has started forgetting all those things, he isn't talking about age-related issues. He is merely pointing out the futility of that exercise.

"What do I gain by (thinking about) that," he says when you ask him about missing out on playing for India. "There is no point in thinking about it. Many of those bitter memories have been erased over the years. Whenever I thought about those days, it only made me sad. I just think about good moments. The matches that we (with Mumbai) won out of nowhere. They keep me happy and peaceful," he offers.

Shivalkar, who helped Mumbai win against Tamil Nadu in a low-scoring 1973 Ranji Trophy final in Chennai (then Madras) with a match haul of 13 wickets, fondly acknowledges the role played by Vinoo Mankad in his career. 

"When I first held the cricket ball, I wondered how do I bowl with this," recalls Shivalkar. "My first two deliveries were wayward and then my friend, who had taken me for the trials, scolded me in Marathi and asked me to bowl at stumps. With the third ball, I had knocked off the stumps. After watching me for a while, a gentleman walked up to me and asked me if I wanted a job. I was desperate for a job and said yes. That man was the great Vinoo Mankad, who was holding trails for his company's cricket team. He gave me just one advice: 'Don't try to copy me, if you do, you will be finished.'"

Indeed Shivalkar developed his own style and carved a niche for himself in Indian cricket. He may not have played for India at the highest level, but that takes little sheen away from his glittering career.