Eknath Solkar: The Indian cricketer who turned fielding into an art form

Fielding in close-in positions is very dangerous as if a ball is hit towards you percentage of getting injury is very high. Fielders should have audacity levels of highest degree or rather should be mad. One Indian was expert in fielding at positions like short leg, silly point and make his name by catching some blinders for which others would take evasive action. Fielder is none other than Eknath Solkar.

Eknath Dhondu Solkar was born on 18 Mar 1948 in Bombay (now called as Mumbai). He was the son of the head groundsman of PJ Hindu Gymkhana and lived in a small room behind the ground. For matches played at the ground, Solkar used to change the scoreboards. He learned the game by playing on the Maidaan. He leads a school X1 in 1964 to Ceylon. Future Test cricketers Mohinder Amarnath and Sunil Gavaskar were a part of that team as well.

Solkar was a left-hand batsman and left-arm spinner. While batting he always put a price on his wicket. Solkar made his test debut against New Zealand in 1969-70 and volunteered to field at short leg. Solkar redefined the standards of fielding. He was a perfect team man. He was ready to bat anywhere in the batting order and with no second fast bowler available, he along with Abid Ali shared the new ball for 11-12 overs and from there on the spinners will take charge.

For his all-round contribution, Solkar was called “Poor Man’s Sobers”. As his test match career went one he became more and more famous for his close-in fielding. In his 27 tests career, he took 53 catches, which is the best ratio for catches per test-match among non-wicket-keepers with 20 or more Tests. When asked about the formulae of his close-in fielding he said: “I only watch the ball”.

He played county for Sussex where his teammate Tony Greig once said that “Ekky was the best forward short leg I have ever seen”. Solkar’s nickname was Ekky. In 1971-72 tour of England, playing at Oval which is remembered for Bhagwat Chandrashekar’s spell of 6/38, Solkar has taken his best catch of England wicketkeeper Alan Knott by a diving full length. His effort can be judged by expression of Farooque Engineer and Sunil Gavaskar from behind the stumps. In 1969 Australian tour of India he had taken catch to dismiss Bill Lawry of Bishen Singh Bedi. Brilliance of catch can be judged by the fact that Bill Lawry gifted Solkar his bat.

He had his way of verbal duels, one which many remember is :

“I will bloody out you” –was Solkar’s challenge to Boycott. He got under his nerves and induced a false stroke from Geoffery. Ajit Wadekar gave Solkar a special party for this feat.

He scored a test century also against mighty WI’s but that effort was such a painstaking one that he lost his place in National team. Some present at stadium says that Solkar was stranded in the 90s for eternity. Post his retirement he lived a very low profile life and breathed his last on 26 June 2005. He died due to heart attack.

Solkar was widely respected in the cricketing fraternity as the best forward short-leg fielder. Solkar’s reflexes coupled with his anticipation were correct on most occasions. The powers of concentration were unbelievable. Bow down to the man who had the courage of doing which others don’t even dare to dream.