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   Even in the early days, there were stories made up... (October 30, 1987)

Even in the early days, there were stories made up about cricketers. It was said about Vijay Merchant that in the nets he used to put English guinea coins on the top of his wicket. The bowler who knocked down his wicket and the coins could collect them. Vijay Hazare, on the other hand, was a poor man. He could not afford to give away guineas, so, naturally, he could not practice as much as Merchant.

The story, of course, has as little truth about it as the famous fights between Gavaskar and Kapil Dev. It may have been that once in his life Merchant had put a guinea on the top of his wicket and challenged a bowler to knock it off.

Merchant and Hazare were the batting rivals of their times, if one scored 309, the other immediately topped it with 354. They were both batting machines, both very consistent and dependable. Merchant was considered as the greater artist, the man with the style, Hazare was the plodder.

Both were small men, slightly above what have say is the ideal size for a batsman (look at the sizes of Gavaskar and Viswanath, or Bradman). Hazare had an ungainly stance, a low crouch. He did not exactly cut a heroic figure, with his sola hat. But then neither does Govaskar, with his skull cap, arm protector. It is their batting we are interested in Few cricketers are gifted with a combination of looks style, ability, talent, success. I can think of only a handful: Imran Khan, Pataudi, Denis Compton, Ted Dexter, Keith Miller. It is a sad fact of life: tennis players are handsome, cricketers are not.

But Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare were India's two biggest-scoring batsmen (with both of them in the same team and batting line-up, we should not have won is difficult to explain). They were know as the two Vijays. Later, a third Vijay Manjrekar. Now, starting with the West Indies tour of India, there will be another Manjrekar on the scene.

Vijay Merchant's opening partner was Mushtaq Ali, a talented batsman but with no technique at all and taking pride in that fact. It made an odd combination - Merchant and Mushtaq, and I have always felt it was wrong to have played them together, just as it is wrong to give Gavaskar a partner like Srikkanth. Because Srikkanth, though just right for one-day cricket, is not a Test batsman at all.

Lala Amarnath and Vinod Mankad were in the same team as Merchant and Hazare and Mushtaq, and the batting included Russi Modi and Abdul Hafeez Kardar. So, as I said earlier, it is difficult to understand why India did not win one single Test with all these, and, in fact, lost most of them…. Badly. As difficult as to figure out why the present Indian team - mentioning no names - is winning so many matches.

The only possible reason could be that the opposition then was much stronger than it is now.

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