The recent crop of excellent fielders in the Indian cricket contingent includes very famous names. There was a time though when the Indian team’s fielding prowess was considered much less in comparison to the likes of South Africans, Australians or English cricketers. There were though some shining names, gracing the cricket field in whites and the blue borders, representing a not-so-keen-on-fielding side, India. Among those names, one will always stand out Eknath Dhondu ‘Ekky’ Solkar. Rated as ‘the perfect team man’ by his captain Ajit Wadekar, Eknath Solkar was a gifted Indian all-rounder from Bombay (present day Mumbai). He remains arguably the best close in fielder in cricket, famed for holding numerous stunning catches from the bowling of the famous Indian spin quartet. ” Ekky”, as he is fondly called in Indian cricket circles, took 53 catches in 27 matches, at an almost unbelievable rate of 1.96 catches per match. Quite obviously he had the distinction of having the highest percentage of catches per match.
He revolutionised close-in-fielding in cricket. The record of 1.96 catches a match is staggering more so considering the fact that he was mostly stationed in his favourite specialist close- in forward short leg or silly point and not in the slip cordon where other prolific catchers like Rahul Dravid, Bob Simpson, Mark Waugh, Mark Taylor, Graeme Hick held most of their catches. Coming from a very humble background, he shared the dressing rooms with Nawab of Pataudi, an excellent cover fielder himself. He lived in a one room hut with his siblings and parents and his father was a groundsman at the Hindu Gymkhana and Eknath used to assist his father by changing the score on scoreboards. His agility in the field, his anticipation and accuracy to hold on to the cricket ball must have come from his keen observation of the game from beyond the boundary line. The days when live close-camera analysis was a thing of science fiction and televisions were not a household thing in India, the radio commentaries of Solkar, lunging himself to pick up a catch from even as near as the boots of the batsman, created an aura of legend around him. He could bat with courage, bowl when team wanted him to and according to Sunil Gavaskar, ‘had no enemies anywhere’. In a time when the fielding standards match the skills of acrobats, Solkar’s contribution in removing the ‘bad-fielders’ tag from an emerging cricketing nation hold even more significance. His achievements became a thing of folklore. His simplicity and yet fierceness in the field won him the hearts, he so rightly deserved. The iconic English all-rounder Tony Greig and the spinning great of India, Bishan Singh Bedi rated him as the best forward short leg fielder ever to have played the game.