The idea of a partnership transcends all possible genre of human activities. And in sports we, perhaps have seen the most iconic examples of camaraderie or partnership between individuals who are masters themselves. There is a lesson of life that one gathers from those instances and that lesson is of the need to find an accomplice to accomplish a feat which is for the team, for a group of individuals set to achieve a common goal. One can seek and build such a partnership, sometimes it happens and it stays in our collective memory as a feat achieved by two individuals. Those are the moments which bring to us memories of not one master, but two, planning, plotting, crafting an outcome to achieve the desired goal. In the sport of cricket the partnership is often connected with the batters who come to crease together, score runs for themselves and run for each other, help each other. There were instances of great bowlers, bowling in tandem, building a partnership of life time. The list is huge. Another partnership, which is not so common, but essential nonetheless is between a bowler and the wicket-keeper. The element of trust that is required for a bowler to shell out the best deliveries, knowing that there is someone behind the wicket who will not let the ball go out of the secure gloves, is of paramount importance. This essay will highlight one such partnership in the history of Indian Cricket.
In the late 70’s & early 80’s, there was a popular dismissal which appeared on the opposition scoreboard quite frequently in test cricket. It was between the great Indian all-rounder Kapil Dev often dubbed as The Haryana Hurricane and the ever agile Syed Mujtaba Hussain Kirmani, lovingly called as Kiri by his teammates. Dev emerged as one of the most beautiful and crafty exponents of swing bowling who would induce edged mishits from the batters by his banana outswingers which was a god’s gift to him and Kiri, with his typical acrobatic style and exquisite glovework would pouch them. He was often called as “the keeper of India’s fortunes.” Kapil’s deadly away-moving deliveries were a nightmare to many batters then. Kapil found the most wonderful partner for himself behind the wicket where his bowling got the apt supplement of Kirmani’s neat glovework. The joy of seeing on the scorecard, beside the name of the dismissed batter, ‘caught Kirmani – bowled Kapil’ was a sense of pride for a nation whose representative team was still trying to find the necessary respect among the peers. It gave hope to those young spectators that something might happen when Kapil is bowling and Kirmani is keeping. That partnership raised hope, that partnership gave joy. The game after all, in its purest form mimics life. One person’s craft is not perhaps enough to achieve a collective goal, it requires the essentially significant contribution from the others. Kirmani’s agility behind the stumps matched the skills of Kapil Dev, running up to the crease in silken rhythm, a fast bowler in a generation of spin-masters. That image of the two still stands as the iconic change in the overall outlook from the point of view of Indian cricketing consciousness. Later fast bowlers and keepers from India formed bonds, knowing that it would bear fruit.
Kapil was the most natural cricketer in the world. Kapil took 290 wickets of his overall 434 test wickets in Indian conditions where the pitches were most flat, docile, placid, devoid of any grass and bounced barely upto waist high at best. Most of the Indian pitches were slow turners then. Syed Kirmani, who had great love for sleeping, which Sunil Gavaskar has written in his memoir called Idols, that if the team wasn’t fielding and he wasn’t batting, he would take naps in the pavilion. On one occasion in 1971, when Kirmani was a young guy, his manager Ram Prakash Mehra woke him up and instructed him to watch the celebrated English Keeper Allan Knott keep wickets. Mehra went away after that and Kirmani went back to sleep. One of his teammates covered for Kirmani as he told Mehra that the young stumper was sitting close to the sightscreen to get a better view. Kerry Packer’s world series cricket were interested in recruiting his services. Although Kirmani was ready to take the offer, the move did not materialise.
Kirmani himself was prolific in his own craft. He is 3rd in the list with 38 stumpings in test career. He has the record of most dismissals in a Test innings for India against New Zealand in Christchurch in 1976. IN that match he effected six dismissals, which included five catches and a stumping during the 2nd innings. This remains a record till date for the most dismissals by an Indian wicketkeeper in a test innings. Much later MS Dhoni and Wriddhiman Saha equalled it with six catches in an innings. He was adjudged the best wicket keeper of the 1983 Prudential World Cup and was given the best wicket keeper award by Godfrey Evans. Kirmani’s longevity matched to that of legendary Sachin Tendulkar himself, as he could boast of playing with Sunil Gavaskar and ended with Rahul Dravid. One can say Kirmani’s playing career spanned a generation. In 2016, he was awarded the Col. C.K. Nayudu lifetime Achievement Award for cricket in India.