DateLine: 25th August 2006
Vijay Mehra died in New Delhi on Friday following a heart attack at the age of 68. His chief claim to fame is being India’s youngest Test cricketer for as long as 27 years. He was 17 years and 265 days when he made his debut against New Zealand at Bombay in December 1955. Even for a country that was known to give a few gifted teenagers the big break this was considered almost sensational at the time. But Lala Amarnath who had become chairman of the selection committee earlier that year was set on a youth policy that he hoped would benefit Indian cricket in the long run. Mehra a right-handed opening batsman was among the first of several young players who first wore the India cap thanks to this far sighted policy.
There was no storybook start to his career though. He opened with Vinoo Mankad and was out for ten. Retained for the next Test he improved to 32 with a new partner in Nari Contractor who had made his debut along with Mehra at Bombay. The two shared an opening stand of 68 but by this time the general view that Mehra had been rushed into the big league. He was dropped and Mehra went back to playing Ranji Trophy cricket. He represented three teams in the national competition – Eastern Punjab, Railways and Delhi.
Over the next few years Mehra who was a solid batsman with a good defence and crisp strokes tightened up his technique. Having made his first class debut in 1953 he was considerably more experienced when the selectors brought him back for the fourth Test at Calcutta against England in 1961-62. He impressed too in getting 62 and holding the top order of the innings together after the early fall of Contractor and Vijay Manjrekar. Mehra figured in a 95-run third wicket partnership with MAK Pataudi but what really attracted notice was his courage in continuing to bat after fracturing his right thumb early in the knock. This necessitated his coming in at No 11 in the second innings.
The injury saw Mehra miss the final Test at Madras but guaranteed him a place in the Indian team to tour West Indies in 1962. He played three Tests and had one notable moment when in the fourth Test at Port of Spain he scored 62 and added 144 runs for the second wicket with Salim Durrani. Mehra impressed in getting behind the line of the ball and faced the formidable attack of Hall, Stayers, Worrell, Sobers and Gibbs with a composure that won him a lot of admiration. He also scored a valuable 39 in the final Test at Kingston.
Mehra retained his place for the series against England in 1963-64 but scores of 17, 26, 9 and 35 were not exactly the kind of figures associated with a specialist opening batsman. He was also considered too dour in his approach and the selectors opted for a more charismatic and entertaining opening pair in Jaisimha and Kunderan after the first two Tests. That remained the extent of Mehra’s Test career and his overall figures are modest – 329 runs from eight Tests at an average of 25.30 with two half centuries. In the Ranji Trophy however Mehra was quite prolific scoring 3222 runs with at an average of 38.35 with ten hundreds and a highest of 167 not out.
After his playing days were over Mehra had a seven-year tenure on the national selection committee from 1975 to 1982 and was also active in Delhi cricket administration. He was also an expert commentator on radio and television. Incidentally Mehra remained India’s youngest Test cricketer till December 1982 when Maninder Singh first played for the country on the tour of Pakistan when he was 17 years and 193 days. Mehra’s son Ajay played first class cricket for Punjab and Rajasthan in the 90s.
(Article: Copyright © 2006 CricketArchive)