A loud voice in the western stand of Lal Bahadur Stadium would scream: “Jai-Simha!” In response everyone else around the stadium would chortle “Ooohhh!”
The callout was to Hyderabad’s most charismatic cricketer M L Jaisimha. The accompanying “Ooohhh” was just a random cry, but it could also have been a lament that Jaisimha did no justice to his phenomenal talent. We’ve all seen Sachin Tendulkar’s wonderful straight drive – and Sunil Gavaskar’s straight drive earlier was even more gorgeous – but Jaisimha’s straight drive was absolutely out of this world.
Jaisimha’s drives, and everything else about him, had an allure and appeal that will be hard to surpass. I can still visualize him walking out to bat with a raised shirt collar and a colourful handkerchief tied around his neck. An exquisite leg glance could follow that delicious straight drive … but the very next ball Jaisimha could be trapped plumb in front of his wicket! And he would walk without even looking at the umpire.
Jaisimha played his cricket like that. He could bat or bowl like a supreme genius one day, or throw it all away the next day. His test batting average is just over 30, and he got just 9 test wickets – hardly the sort of figures that indicate a prodigious talent. But that’s because he was a Hyderabadi; someone who entered the cricket field to play a beautiful game, not to win it.
So what was it about Jaisimha? Why was he so loved? How does Jaisimha compare with contemporaries like Vijay Manjrekar or Chandu Borde? Manjrekar was a more solid batsman averaging almost 40 in tests; Borde had more test runs and more test wickets … but this duo always seemed dour, dull and slightly boring. Jaisimha, on the other hand, compelled attention. Only his good friend Nawab of Pataudi had a greater aura.
I don’t have a great answer to explain Jaisimha’s popularity. Last week my brother Harsha wrote of the joy that accompanies West Indian cricket and cricketers. Perhaps Jaisimha brought a similar sort of joy on the cricket field; which other cricketer could have been bundled out of bed, put on a plane to Australia, and scored 74 and 101 at Brisbane with effortless ease?
I can still vividly recall my joy when Jaisimha would turn up to play league cricket on the Osmania University ground, close to where I used to stay. In an era when cricketers came to the ground by bus or bicycle, Jaisimha would drive in accompanied by a convoy of cars. I would peep shamelessly through every car window looking for Jaisimha … and then swoop down towards him with a dirty scrap of paper to get his autograph. Jaisimha always obliged.
The outcome of the Sunday match largely depended on Jaisimha’s mood; league cricket was so easy for him that he could do pretty much what he wanted! I’ve seen Jaisimha loft straight sixes, or dismiss the entire opposition top order on days he felt like doing it. On other days he would simply retire into his nawabi shell.
This nawabi andaz was also visible when Jaisimha fielded; every time the batsman patted the ball back to him Jaisimha thrust his foot into the ball so that it popped up for him to catch. It didn’t behove M L Jaisimha to bend down to pick up the ball! Fielding was for commoners, not for the game’s magicians.
I still remember a lofted pull by the New Zealand opener Murray that looked likely to land around square-leg in the 1969 India-NZ test at Hyderabad. Jaisimha was fielding slightly deeper and would have required an ungainly dash, and possibly a dive, to take the catch. So instead of attempting the catch, Jaisimha took three steps back, caught the ball first bounce, and stylishly threw it back to the wicket-keeper Indrajitsinhji.
This was a terrible test for Jaisimha: he scored ducks in both innings on his home ground, and his test career was all but over. He did return to tour the West Indies in 1971 under Ajit Wadekar but the magic was rapidly fading. His last master move was to ask Wadekar to give Salim Durrani a bowl in the Second Test at Port of Spain. Durrani would provide the breakthrough leading to a famous Indian victory.
— For some of the best stories of Hyderabad cricket in the 1960s and 1970s see Stumped!