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Good innings

R. C. Rajamani

Today's television-bred cricket fans can little imagine the charisma of the tall and handsome Polly Umrigar, who died in Mumbai on Tuesday, aged 80. The great Indian all-rounder's innings was over much before the advent of TV in its primitive form, leave alone the crowded satellite channels. One heard about his exploits on the fields through running commentary over the radio. Polly was the first Indian cricketer to reach 3,000 runs, a magical figure in those days of limited tests that were played from season to season and not round the year. His 3,631 runs with 12 centuries and 14 half centuries for an average of 42.22 from 59 tests formed a truly exciting record, not possible to comprehend in today's seemingly endless test matches. When he retired in 1962 after 14 years of active cricket, Polly had all the Indian records under his belt — most tests, most runs, most hundreds.

The word picture provided by the cricket writers of the day and fleeting glimpses of Polly in the good old Films Division's News Reels that were screened before start of feature films in cinema halls were enough to whet the appetite of cricket buffs in towns and cities across the country. Yet, Polly remained a phantom of delight for countless cricket-lovers unable to see him in action. An inveterate Polly fan as a teenager in the 1960s, I met my childhood hero years later, as a student of journalism in 1971, quite accidentally in a moving lift in Bombay. Strictly speaking, `meeting' was not the right word for I only stared at him. It happened in the Express Towers at Nariman Point. I was taking the lift to meet a friend in one of the higher floors. As the lift was about to move, a tall figure rushed in and towered above the rest. One look was enough for me to recognise Polly. Overawed, I could hardly believe it was my hero in flesh and blood! Much as I wanted to speak to him, the cat got my tongue and, before I could pull myself together, Polly got out the lift to go to his office.

Later, I had the good fortune of watching him in action in local matches played at the Bombay Gymkhana and Kennedy Sea Face and also formally met him on several occasions during my cricket assignments as a professional journalist. But the thrill was nowhere near the `lifting' moment at the Express Towers.

(The author, a former deputy editor of PTI, is a New Delhi-based freelance journalist. Feedback can be sent to rajamani_rc@yahoo.co.uk)

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