Free Press Journal

Cricket’s lost talents! Narendra Hirwani: From record-breaking debut to oblivion


Which bowler took 16 wickets on Test debut? Which bowler created the world record of taking most wickets in his first Test? To find the answer many people will have to use Google and the answer will be Indian wrist spinner Narendra Hirwani of Madhya Pradesh. Hirwani, who? Many people from the current generation might not have heard the name of Narendra Hirwani and after knowing about his record feat people must think that Hirwani might have picked up 500-600 wickets, but sadly that was not the case and Hirwani just became a part of a trivia and could never fulfil his potential and his career went nowhere after his debut performance.

India is a vast country and every youngster is crazy about the game of cricket and wants to wear blue jersey and represent India. Hirwani like thousands of people was in love with the game and wanted to be part of the Indian team and when he made his Test debut against the mighty and ferocious West Indies in 1988 at Chennai few would have expected that he would pick 16 wickets (eight in each innings) and become a part of a record. Hirwani bowled magnificently and completely bamboozled the Windies and even got the prized scalp of Vivian Richards (1980’s Virat Kohli multiplied by 1000). The performance by the debutant caught everyone’s attention and people started having unrealistic expectations from the bespectacled leggie. India is a very tough country and Hirwani couldn’t live up to the expectations and his performances dropped, but to be fair to the leg-spinner picking 16 wickets in a Test match happens once in a lifetime and you can’t expect any bowler to maintain this ridiculous standard.

Here’s the video of Narendra Hirwani’s record-breaking feat vs West Indies, 1988

Cricket is a great leveller and Hirwani learnt this the hard way and his performances overseas was very mediocre and questions were raised over his inclusion in the team and Hirwani started doubting himself. The leggie from Madhya Pradesh played only 17 Test matches over the course of eight years and played his last Test at the age of 28, shocking, isn’t it! The emergence of Anil Kumble (619 wickets in 132 Test matches), who was also a leg spinner didn’t help the matters and Kumble’s emergence saw Hirwani getting sidelined. Like any cricketer, Hirwani toiled in domestic cricket and picked up 732 wickets in 167 matches. If that is not class then I don’t know what defines this humongous performance and despite that Hirwani couldn’t even pick up 100 Test wickets.

If you do the processes right, the result will take care of itself is the most cliqued phrase used in cricket, but Hirwani’s second coming never came and it pained him very much and during the final stages of his career he became resentful and lost his love for the game. The experts believed that Hirwani’s game was limited and he could only perform on dust bowls and his batting and fielding were nothing to write home about, but if you are a bowler and your primary job is to pick up wickets then the batting and fielding should not matter that much.

The game of cricket moves on and ironically Hirwani became a selector for the national team and the pain of playing so little for India will continue to haunt Hirwani and in a way his 16 wickets on debut became a curse and his name will forever be synonymous with this record, but if you ask Hirwani to trade 16 wickets for 100 Test matches he would choose the latter any day.