In any other cricketing era in India, left-arm spinner Rajinder Goel, who died on Sunday, would have played Test cricket. Such was his calibre, but the accident of birth had him competing with some of the finest practitioners of spin bowling ever, like Bishan Singh Bedi, B S Chandrasekhar, E A S Prasanna and S Venkataraghavan. He never complained, but continued his labours on the domestic fields, finding joy in every little accomplishment.
There was a tragic beauty to his narrative, as you would find with a raft of such players across sports. A parallel can be drawn to the Caribbean pace-bowlers from the late ’70s to mid-’80s, mean machines as good as Malcolm Marshall or Michael Holding, but who could not break into the team or command a permanent spot. Like the strapping Barbadian tearaway Sylvester Clarke, the only bowler Viv Richards admitted he ever felt “uncomfortable” facing. Graham Gooch had his helmet split down the middle. Or his fiery fellow Bajans, Wayne Daniel and Franklyn Stephenson. Similarly, an army of Australian batsmen was confined to playing county cricket in the mid-aughts, thanks to a brigade of high-quality exponents. Stuart Law batted just once in a Test match — remained unbeaten on 54 — but ended up forever on the fringes, despite gathering 27k runs in domestic cricket. Or Jimmy Maher, Jamie Cox or Michael di Venuto. Similarly, so overflowing was Spain’s talent pool in the late aughts that they couldn’t accommodate Gabi, and Mikel Arteta.
It’s the mischief of golden generations. How West Indies cricket would have pleaded to have someone like Clarke or Daniel in this era, just as Spain would wish they had Gabi or Arteta. Between Bedi and Ravindra Jadeja, India handed Test caps to men whose talents were inferior to Goel’s. In German football they have a term: Unvollendeter, an unfulfilled person. It seems harsh, for those who are remembered and revered, as in Goel’s case, despite not representing their country. For, there was a glorious dignity to their labours, making them legends nonetheless.
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