On a perfect pitch, Salgaokar breathes easy again
There have been many spectacular comebacks in this series. It will be fair to add the name of the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium curator, Pandurang Salgaokar, to that distinguished list.
In the last Test played here, versus Australia in 2017, the first at the venue, the wicket prepared by the former fast bowler became an object of ridicule as the game got over in less than three days.
Away from such unwanted limelight this time, Salgaokar watched the action from his dug out in the West Stand with deep satisfaction. This time he had nailed it, producing a perfect Test wicket, his work praised equally by the Indian and South African players and pundits. It was redemption for the proud former pacer.
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“All my life I have played cricket. Even though I missed out on playing for India, I just played one unofficial Test, but even at this age, cricket has given me back,” said Salgaokar, standing on the wicket with pride after the hosts had wrapped up the game in four days.
“What cricket was there in me came out during this game in this wicket,” he said, still an erect, towering figure. The pitch prepared had venom through all the four days with the pacers getting carry and movement and the batsmen value for their strokes. “I always like grassy wickets.”
He said the weather gods were also kind to him. “I wouldn’t have been able to prepare this kind of a wicket had there not been rains. It’s been raining every day for the last 15 days.”
The pitch fiasco in the Australia Test was followed by controversy over a TV sting ahead of the ODI against New Zealand later in 2017, and his reputation lay in tatters. He was all over news channels with inferences made that he had agreed to share pitch information. But following an enquiry, the International Cricket Council gave him a clean chit.
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“In that match also I was not tense because I didn’t do anything. People tried to get me into trouble; they will have to answer for their karma.
“I didn’t say anything, and hadn’t done anything wrong. When I am fair to myself I have nothing to worry. My family supported me like anything, my sons and my daughter. Because of their support I am still alive.”
The current generation knows Salgaokar as a curator. At one time, he was rated among the fastest bowlers in the country. There are stories of his battles with Sunil Gavaskar. In a Ranji match against Mumbai on a matting wicket at Nashik (1974-75), his delivery had fractured the finger of India’s most successful opener.
In the 1972–73 season, he took six wickets for Rest of India against Bombay (Mumbai) in the Irani Cup, and followed it up by dismissing Gavaskar twice in the Ranji Trophy, for Maharashtra against Bombay.
On Tuesday, he celebrates his 70th birthday. His reputation restored, his family has a lot to celebrate.