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January 17, 2021

The Chhattisgarh

Beyond The Region

Rajinder Goel, one of the best never to play for India

Former left-arm spin legend Rajinder Goel, whose record Ranji Trophy wicket haul of 637 scalps still stands, passed away in Rohtak due to age-related illness on Sunday. He was 77. Goel, who played for Haryana, Punjab and Delhi, was a towering presence in domestic cricket during a 25-year first-class career that began in the 1958-59 Ranji season and extended until 1984-85, when he was 42. Goel finished with 750 first-class wickets.

Goel and contemporary left-arm spinner, Padmakar Shivalkar of Mumbai, dominated batsmen in the domestic circuit for three decades. They were unlucky their careers ran parallel to that of Bishan Singh Bedi, who formed the famous spin quartet with off-spinners Erapalli Prasanna and S Venkataraghavan, and leg-spinner Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.

Although Goel and Shivalkar were two of the finest spinners produced by India never to play for the country, their longevity and sustained success attested to their class. Shivalkar, who is 80, took 589 first-class wickets in a career from 1961-62 to 1987-88.

Goel’s domestic popularity was even acknowledged by a dacoit. Bukha Singh Yadav, who was serving his term in the Gwalior jail, wrote a letter to the spinner, congratulating him for taking 600 Ranji wickets.

Pundits acknowledged that Goel’s misfortune was being the contemporary of Bedi while the spin stalwart himself acknowledged that with a philosophical refrain “yeh sab kismet ka khel hai” (this is all fate playing its hand).

While Goel’s average of 18.58 shows how miserly he was as a spinner and the defensive approach of batsmen of his time, his level of success is reflected in his 59 five-wicket innings hauls and 18 10-wicket match hauls in first-class cricket.

Born in United Punjab’s Narwana town in 1942, Goel played his first Ranji game for South Punjab in 1958-59, going on to mostly represent Haryana as well as Delhi. For Delhi, Goel bowled alongside Bedi, their action contrasting each other’s with the former hailed for his economy of movement and accuracy and the latter for his action described as poetry in motion. Goel though found his best bowling rhythm after moving to Haryana.

“I used to play for my pleasure and when I got wickets it used to feel good. Haryana won many matches and the state grew from strength to strength. There were so many spinners but only one left-armer could play for India and Bishan Bedi was the man,” he told espncricinfo in a 2001 interview. Bedi finished with 1560 first-class wickets, including 266 in Tests.

Goel came the closest to playing a Test when he was called up, in the absence of Bedi, for the first Test against Clive Lloyd’s West Indies at Bangalore in November, 1974. Famous for Viv Richards’ debut Test, Goel though was not included in the playing eleven. “I was called… when I was in form and bowling very well. (Bedi) was removed from the team for some reason. I was sure I would play but the evening before the Test when the team was announced, my name was missing,” he said in the interview.

Before the 1979-80 Test series against Kim Hughes’ Australia, Goel took nine wickets in a side-game against the visitors, including six in the first innings, but an India break still eluded him.

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