Roger Binny: an unsung hero

Roger Binny
Roger Binny played a key role in India's triumphs in the 1983 World Cup and 1985 WCC. File photo: PTI

India winning the 1983 World Cup is often hailed as one of the best examples that exemplify the fact that cricket is a team game. The squad led by Kapil Dev had only two players who could truly be reckoned as world class - the skipper himself and Sunil Gavaskar, who besides being in woeful form with the bat during the tournament, did not think much about limited overs cricket at that time. In fact during the course of the championship there was only one instance - the rousing knock of 175 by Kapil Dev against Zimbabwe at Turnbridge Wells - where the outstanding performance of one player directly led to a win. In most of the matches India took on sides which possessed more brilliant players and appeared stronger than them on paper, but the team combined in a magnificent manner to vanquish all opposition to emerge triumphant.

Who were the heroes of the side that lifted the trophy for the first time ever, against all odds? Apart from Kapil, there could be many contenders, starting from Mohinder Amarnath who won the man of the match award both in the semifinals and final. Then there are a few other players who contributed substantially in the final like Madan Lal, who picked up the crucial wicket of Viv Richards, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, who produced a magical delivery to dismiss Gordon Greenidge, and Krishnamachari Srikkanth who top scored with a fine 38. Yashpal Sharma, and Sandeep Patil led with sound performances with the bat, in the first game against the West Indies as well as in the semifinal against England. But my favourite would remain Roger Binny, a cricketer who made a significant contribution with either bat or ball in almost all the matches, besides being the highest wicket-taker in the tournament, with 18 scalps.

Record stand

Binny made his first class debut for Karnataka during the 1975-76 season as an all-rounder, who could open both batting and bowling. He did not set the Cauvery on fire immediately and caught attention for the first time when he was involved in a record breaking unbeaten stand of 451 for the first wicket with Sanjay Desai against Kerala during 1977-78 Ranji season. Binny’s own contribution in the record stand was 211. His consistent performances and all-round athleticism on the field caught the attention of the selectors and he was among those considered for selection to the national side that toured England for the World Cup and the Test series that followed in 1979. After finding a place in the squad when the Australians under Kim Hughes toured India in 1979, Binny made his debut in the first Test of the series against Pakistan at Bangalore.

Roger Binny: an unsung hero
Roger Binny, standing third right, was the top wicket-taker in the 1983 World Cup. Photo: Manorama Archives

Binny was blessed with a unique ability to bowl unplayable balls, which he demonstrated for the first time in the third Test of the series at Mumbai. Coming on to bowl first change after Kapil Dev and Karsan Ghavri, he got Majid Khan to edge one to wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani and followed up with a ball that moved just enough to find the gap between bat and pad of the great Zaheer Abbas to uproot his stumps.

Zaheer had been the chief tormentor of Indian bowling during the side’s tour of Pakistan in 1978 and was a batsman so strong in defence that it was considered almost impossible to clean bowl him. Zaheer himself appeared stunned to hear the sound of timber getting rattled and had a shell-shocked look on his face as he returned to the pavilion. This was in many ways the turning point of that series as Zaheer lost his fluency with the bat and was reduced to a nervous wreck whenever he walked out to the middle, so much so that he was dropped from the playing eleven for the last Test. Binny had a good series with both bat and ball chipping in with runs and picking up vital wickets, and played a key role in giving the much required balance to the side.

However, his career ran into rough weather during the tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1980-81. He had a bad outing during the first Test at Melbourne and was dropped from the playing eleven after that. He fared much better in the One-Day Internationals, which featured a triangular series between India, the hosts, and New Zealand. He opened the innings in most of the ODIs and also bowled a nagging line, besides producing the occasional unplayable delivery. Further, his abilities as an outstanding fielder, who possessed a good throwing arm, added to his utility in this version of the game.

Binny found himself in the cold when England toured India in 1981-82. He was not considered for any of the Test matches and was dropped from the side after the first ODI, despite picking up three wickets in that outing. He was not part of the national squad for the tours of England, Pakistan and the West Indies that took place during the 1982-83 season. At this juncture when it appeared that his career in international cricket had hit a roadblock fate intervened in a decisive manner by providing him with a breakthrough in the form of a place in the squad for the 1983 World Cup.

Stellar role

If one goes through the scorecards of the matches played by India in the 1983 World Cup it would be seen that there were only a couple of games where Binny did not contribute substantially either with the bat or ball. In the first match against the West Indies where India scored a surprise win, it was Binny who broke through the strong batting line-up of the defending champions by dismissing Viv Richards, Clive Lloyd and Jeff Dujon in quick succession. In the next match against Zimbabwe, he picked up two wickets conceding little. He was off colour in the tie against Australia and the return match against the West Indies, where India ended up on the losing side. In the famous game against Zimbabwe at Turnbridge Wells, he walked in when India were reeling at 17/5. It was Binny who provided the initial support to skipper Kapil Dev to steady the innings, taking the score to 77, before being dismissed for 22. He rose to top form in the last pool match against Australia that India had to win to qualify for the last four stage, by picking up four wickets and won the man of the match award.

Crucial strikes

When India took on England in the semifinals, Binny provided the initial breakthroughs by dismissing both the openers after they had taken their side to 69. Similarly in the final, after Balwinder Singh Sandhu removed Greenidge with a huge in-swinger and Madan Lal lulled Richards into miscuing a pull to Kapil at deep midwicket, it was Binny who removed skipper Lloyd, who used to come to the rescue of his side in difficult situations. Knowing that Lloyd was plagued by a pulled hamstring, Binny kept on bowling just short of good length forcing the West Indies captain to drive uppishly to cover where Kapil took the resultant catch. Though he did not pick up any more wickets, Binny pinned the batsmen down without giving them any scoring opportunities and conceded only 23 runs in the 10 overs that he bowled.

Remarkable triumph
Roger Binny, right, rushes in to pick up a stump as a souvenir after Mohinder Amaranth trapped Michael Holding in front of the wicket to complete India's triumph in the 1983 World Cup final. Photo: Manorama Archives

Binny continued his excellent form during the home season where Indian took on first Pakistan, followed by the West Indies. He hit his highest score in Test matches (83 not out) against Pakistan at Bangalore and played valuable knocks, including a couple of half-centuries against the West Indies as well. But his bowling form deserted him and he had very few wickets to show at the end of the season. Thus, he again lost his place in the side when the next domestic season began and had to wait till the Benson and Hedges Trophy for the World Championship of Cricket (WCC) held in Australia in early 1985 to make his mark again. Binny picked up early vital wickets in all the matches that he played and was a major reason behind India reaching the final in style. His bowling spell against Australia, where he produced unplayable deliveries to clean bowl Graeme Wood and Alan Border would remain etched in the minds of all those who saw the match. Unfortunately Binny could not take part in the final as he was laid low by a bout of fever.

Binny made a return to the playing eleven for the Tests during the tour of England in 1986. He struck it rich in conditions that favoured his style of bowling, with his best performance coming in the first innings of the second Test at Leeds where he picked up five wickets. In normal course this should have ensured that he was given a look in when when Australia arrived in India in September, 1986, for a short series but he found himself left out of the Test squad. Though he played in four of the six ODIs, a fall in form led to his exclusion from the side in limited overs version also. Thus, he did not play in any of the matches when Sri Lanka toured India in 1986-87 for a series.

When a full strength Pakistan side under Imran Khan toured India in the early months of 1987, no one expected Binny to find a place in the side as he seemed to have fallen out of favour of the selectors. But he was recalled for the second Test at Kolkata and he surprised everyone by chalking up a brilliant all-round performance. Batting at No. 8 he scored a unbeaten 52 that helped India take their total past 400. When his turn to bowl came, he stunned the Pakistanis with a magnificent display of swing bowling that saw them collapse from 178/2 to 229. Bowling with perfect control and using the gentle breeze that floated in from the Hooghly river, Binny mesmerised the Pakistani batsmen, producing unplayable deliveries almost at will. He dismissed Javed Miandad, Saleem Malik, Imran Khan and Rizwanuz Zaman in quick succession conceding only nine runs and then went on to mop up the tail to return figures 6/56 runs off 25 overs. His performance gave India the upper hand and won him the man of the match award, but unfortunately the side could not convert the advantage created by him into a victory.

Binny played only in two Test matches after that and was not considered for any of the ODIs in that series. He was not selected for the 1987 World Cup and did not find favour with national selectors from then on. He continued playing first class cricket till the 1991-92 season and was one of the first cricketers to play as a professional for another state (Goa) in Ranji Trophy. After his playing days were over, he became a coach and trained the Indian under-19 squad that lifted the World Cup in 2000. He also served as a national selector for a term, but the emergence of his son Stuart Binny into the national reckoning saw him step down from that post following conflict of interest row.

Binny was considered by cricket pundits as a bits and pieces player who could bat and bowl a bit, but was an asset to have on the field, where he would give his life for the side. His exploits as a champion bowler who could dismiss top batsmen of opposing sides have never been given due recognition. His languid demeanour concealed a strong willed fighter who invariably came to the rescue of his side at critical junctures. Indian cricket owes a lot to this modest and unassuming player who had a key role in sculpting the twin triumphs in the 1983 World Cup and 1985 WCC that catapulted the nation to the top ranks in the limited overs version of the game.

(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)