Syed Kirmani – the only Indian player to score a Test century as ‘night-watchman’: Making his Test debut in the first Test of the 1975-76 series against New Zealand, Syed Mujtaba Hussain Kirmani, equalled the world record of ‘six dismissals in an innings’, from behind the stumps, in the first innings of the second Test played at Lancaster Park, Christchurch.
He held on to the catches of the New Zealand skipper, Glenn Turner (117), Richard Hadlee (33), Richard Collinge (0) off the bowling of Mohinder Amarnath, wicket-keeper, Ken Wadsworth (29) and Dayle Hadlee (10) off the bowling of Madan Lal.
Kirmani also effected the stumping of Bevan Congdon (58) off the bowling of Bishen Singh Bedi.
Further when New Zealand toured India in the subsequent year, Kirmani’s batting prowess came to the limelight. He had aggregated 198 runs from 3 Tests (3 innings), at an average of 65.33 and topped the batting average table.
Although he was the deputy for Farookh Engineer in the 1975 edition of the World Cup, he was dropped for the second edition of the tournament in 1979, on account of his poor form, behind the wickets, against Pakistan and West Indies in 1978-79.
Bharat Reddy was preferred over Kirmani.
However, the 1979-80 home series against Australia saw Kirmani make a comeback into the Indian team.
The sixth and final Test played at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, saw Kirmani become the third batsman to score a century, as ‘night-watchman’ after Nasim-ul-Ghani (101) in 1962 and Anthony Lungford Mann (105) in 1977-78.
Having lost the wicket of the skipper, Sunil Gavaskar, at the fag end of Day 1, Kirmani was sent in as night watchman. He held on and ended the day with Vishwanath (9*) at the other end and India with 231 runs for the loss of Chetan Chauhan (73), Dilip Vengsarkar (6) and Sunil Gavaskar (123).
On Day 2 Kirmani added 32 runs for the fifth wicket alongwith Yashpal Sharma (8), 46 runs for the seventh wicket alongwith Kapil Dev (17) and a record (the then record) 127 runs for the eighth wicket alongwith Karsan Ghavri (86). Incidentally this was Ghavri’s highest individual Test score.
Occupying the crease for 306 minutes, facing 206 deliveries, Kirmani scored an unbeaten 101* runs with the help of 17 hits to the boundary. This was his maiden Test century.
This innings helped India declare their first innings at 458 runs for the loss of 8 wickets. Australia were made to follow-on and India, eventually won the match by an innings and 100 runs.
Having featured in 88 Test matches, Kirmani had aggregated 2,759 runs at an average of 27.04 with 102 runs as his individual best. He has 2 centuries and 12 half centuries to his credit.
He has held on to 160 catches and effected 38 stumpings in his career.
In the shorter format, Kirmani featured in 49 games, scoring 373 runs at an average of 20.72 with an unbeaten 48* as his personal best.
To him are credited 27 catches and 9 stumpings.
Incidentally, Kirmani’s second Test century also was scored at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai, when England toured India in 1984-85.
In the first Test match, winning the toss, England opted to bat and put on 195 runs in their first innings with Lakshman Sivaramakrishnan picking up 6 wickets, giving away 64 runs in 31.2 overs.
In reply, with India having lost 6 wickets for 218 runs, Kirmani joined Ravi Shastri in the middle. The duo put on a massive partnership of 235 runs for the seventh wicket.
Playing an innings of 319 minutes, facing 230 balls, hitting 10 fours, Kirmani notched up 102 runs, when he was caught by Alan Lamb off the bowling of Pat Pocock.
Ravi Shastri scored 142 runs. These innings helped India take a crucial first innings lead of 270 runs. Restricting the opposition to 317 runs in the second innings, India scored 51 runs against the target of 48 runs and won the match by 10 wickets.
Thus Kirmani’s both the century innings came in a winning cause.
The diminutive wicket-keeper also played a key role in India’s first ever World Cup victory in 1983.
In the first league game against Zimbabwe, Kirmani held on to the catches of Ali Omarshah (8), Jack Heron (18), Dave Houghton (21), Robin Brown (6) and Peter Rawson (3). In the process he equalled the then record of five dismissals in an innings.
Later in the return league match against Zimbabwe, played at Nevill Ground, Turnbride Wells, when, India batting first had lost Gavaskar (0), Srikkanth (0), Amarnath (5), Patil (1) and Yashpal Sharma (9), with just 17 runs in the board, Indian skipper, Kapil Dev alongwith Roger Binny (22), steadied the innings to a certain extent.
Thereafter a 62-run eighth-wicket partnership between Kapil Dev and Mandan Lal took the score to some respectable situation.
Finally Kirmani joined Kapil Dev in the middle and they both went to put up an unbroken partnership for the ninth-wicket of 126* runs that enabled India to post a decent and defendable score of 266 runs for the loss of 8 wickets in 60 overs.
Kirmani remained unbeaten on 24* runs off 56 deliveries with 4 fours while Kapil remained unbeaten 175* runs off 138 deliveries with 16 fours and 6 sixes.
Restricting the opposition to 235 runs, India won the match by 31 runs.
For his excellent performance behind the stumps, Syed Kirmani, was awarded the Best Wicket-Keeper of the Tournament by Godfrey Evans.
An injury sustained during a World Series Cup match virtually ended Kirmani’s career, who made way for players like Chandrakant Pandit, Kiran More etc.