Here is why you need to know more about India”s Gary Sobers: Talking about fielding in cricket, the first name that would occur to anyone is that of Eknath Dhondu Solkar, who had specialised the art of fielding and was a menace to most of the world class batsmen, positioning himself at the precarious position of forward-short leg.
He made fielding, at such a vantage point, look so simple by scalping as many as 53 catches in 27 Test matches in his career of 8 years.
Solkar received immense respect on and off the field, from renowned players. He was a true all-rounder of the game and was affectionately called “poor man”s Gary Sobers” owing to his ability to bat in any position as also bowl, both, left-arm medium-pace and orthodox spin, combined with his brilliant fielding at the feared “suicide position”- the forward short leg.
His fielding achievements were during an era when the safety gears like helmets, shin guards were unheard of.
Having represented the country in 27 Test matches (48 innings – unbeaten on 6 occasions), Solkar had aggregated 1,068 runs at an average of 25.42 with 102 as his best contribution. One century and 6 half-centuries are also credited to him.
Rolling over his arms, he had picked up 18 wickets from 44 innings at an average 59.44 and an economy of 283 with 3/28 and 3/38 being his best performance in an innings and in a match respectively.
In bygone days when ODIs were very far and few, Solkar had featured in 7 games and picked up 4 wickets.
The famous Indian spin quartet of Bishen Singh Bedi, Erapali Prasanna, Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar owe a lot of their success to the exemplary catching abilities of Solkar at the ‘vantage point’.
The spin-quartet together with the ‘ace catcher’ formed a devastating force, challenging many of the world”s great batsmen and winning numerous matches for India.
“We would never have been as effective without Solkar at short leg,” Bishan Bedi had once said.
Asked about his ‘close in fielding,’ Solkar had remarked. “I only watch the ball.”
Ekky, as he was called by his teammates, played a very crucial role in India’s victory against the then mighty West Indies in 1970-71. In the second Test match played at Queen’s Park Oval, Port of Spain, Trinidad, he scored useful 55 runs in the first innings. He also took as many as four catches in the first innings and two in the second.
India went on to win the match by 7 wickets. This was the only game that produced a result with the other four matches ending in a draw. India won the series 1-0.
Solkar also played a stellar role in India’s first ever series victory against England in 1971. In the third Test played at Kennington Oval, London, he went on to score 44 runs in the first innings and picked up three wickets. This also included one ‘caught and bowl’ victim in England’s wicket-keeper, Alan Knott (90). He also took two more catches in the second innings in addition to the three in the first.
India won the three-match series 1-0 with the other two Tests ending in a draw.
England legend, Late Tony Greg, alongwith whom Solkar had played for Sussex had once remarked, “He was the best forward short leg, I have ever seen.”
It would be interesting to note that in 1965-66, Solkar captained a school team against London schools. The team also included the likes of Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath.
For his immense dedication to Indian cricket, E.D. Solkar was awarded the prestigious Arjuna Award in 1972.
Eknath Solkar, who was the first Indian Test cricketer to be born in the post Independence era, breathed his last on 26th June, 2005, at the age of 57 years.