Shiv Sunder Das © Getty Images

Shiv Sunder Das, born November 5, 1977, was one of the many openers tried during India’s uncertain phase in the early 2000s. Despite an impregnable technique, he slipped off the radar for consistently failing to convert starts into big scores. Karthik Parimal looks at the brief career of this right-handed batsman from Orissa.

The years 1999 to 2001 posed a plethora of problems for Indian cricket. In hindsight, it’s incredible how events transpired, one which led to what was unofficially, but aptly, termed the golden era. Match-fixing saga notwithstanding, the dearth of openers in Tests and the search for an able wicket-keeper haunted the powers that be for a considerable length of time. Several players were tried, some, touted as logical answers to the conundrums, fell flat, whereas some went on to prove they were worth the investment. Shiv Sunder Das, hailing from Orissa (As Odisha was known then), unfortunately belonged to the former category, albeit briefly providing glimpses of fitting in as the latter.

Perhaps Das was disadvantaged by the fact that he wasn’t an explosive starter. Run-a-ball scores weren’t still the norm, but most teams at the time were looking to break free, casting aside conventional methods, by bolstering their line-ups with hard-hitting batsmen, especially at the top of the order to extract maximum benefit in the first fifteen overs. Das was more the watchful type, and despite possessing a watertight technique, thwacking bowlers straightaway was certainly out of his comfort zone. He wasn’t a natural limited-overs player; just 4 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) for India provides evidence of that fact.

Around the same time, a certain Virender Sehwag forced himself onto the selectors’ radar, although not as an opener. However, while Das rendered futile more often than not at the top, and Sehwag accumulated runs batting at No. 7 against the second new ball, the head honchos saw it apt to promote the fearless batsman from Delhi. Das’ impregnability as an opener was no doubt an asset when wickets tumbled at the other end, but seldom could he control the rate of scoring, and often, he failed to convert starts into landmarks. Eventually, the poor conversion rate weighed heavily against him.

Early days

Das first started playing for Orissa at the Under-16 level. The conditions there weren’t as urbane as some of the other states, such as Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore or Chennai, but he thrived despite the circumstances — poor turf wickets and outfields to name a few, and was named the captain of India’s Under-17 team. In 1993-94, as a 16-year-old making his First-Class debut, he scored 98 against Madhya Pradesh and was immediately deemed as the answer to Orissa’s worries at the top of the batting order. He was an instinctive opener, owing to relevant experience in that position for his school and club sides.

Das modelled himself on his idol Sunil Gavaskar and attributed his flawless technique to tips passed to him directly by the maestro. He was the recipient of Gavaskar-Border scholarship in 2000, and it was in Australia that his repertoire of strokes increased. No doubt, he was naturally adept off the front-foot, but it was his stint Down Under that helped him add back-foot shots, the cut and pull to his artillery, although some pundits reckon his upbringing on coir matting pitches is also responsible for it.

In the 1999/2000 season, he collected 799 First-Class runs at an average of almost 50, and further strengthened his resume by training at the National Cricket Academy (NCA). In the September of 2000, he smashed 184 against Karnataka for NCA at the Buchi Babu tournament. At this time, the national selectors’ patience had been wearing thin after having tried as many as six different openers. Soon, Das was to be the seventh, receiving a call-up for the inaugural Test against Bangladesh. This lad, many purists deduced by glancing at his technique, would be a long-term prospect.

Shiv Sunder Das: Promising career truncated by inconsistency

Shiv Sunder Das raises his bat during his first Test century against Zimbabwe at Nagpur in 2000 © AFP

A stage too high

Das’s international career commenced as elegantly as some of his drives, smashing a half-century and century against the Zimbabweans (who were considered formidable at the time, although they certainly weren’t in the elite league). Against the touring Australians in 2001, a string of insipid scores ensued, before Gavaskar advised him to change his guard from off-stump to leg-stump. The result was a stoic 84 at Chennai. This adaptability convinced a few in the cricketing circles that Das could indeed be a regular in the side. “Is Shiv Sunder Das the best opening batsman the country has produced in the post-Gavaskar period? I am inclined to answer that in the affirmative,” wrote columnist Partab Ramchand.

However, an opener’s progress is often measured by the yardstick of number of centuries plundered, and Das had gotten into the habit of falling teasingly close to it. In between his first ton and the next (which was also his last) — both scored against Zimbabwe and at the same venue (Nagpur) — he registered noteworthy scores of 84, 82*, 57, 70, 59, 68, 62 and 58. During the same period, Sehwag pummelled bowling attacks from his position in the lower middle-order. In fact, in the 5 Tests Das and Sehwag played together in — 2 in South Africa and 3 in India — the latter outscored the former. The only time they were in the same bracket was when Mike Denness banned the duo for excessive appealing.

While Sehwag slowly moved to the top in limited-overs cricket, Das was being shuffled across the batting line-up in both forms of the game. His prowess against first-rate bowling units was cloudy, since most of his good scores had been notched off average attacks. Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was against West Indies at Bridgetown in a Test in 2002. He was out to the first ball in the match, off Mervyn Dillon, and the shot — bowled through a gap between the bat and the pad — had the selectors scratching their heads. In fact, in the 5 Tests there, he scored just 124 runs at an average of 15.50.

It was, sadly, his last outing in Indian colours in the longer version of the game. He was roped in for a few ODIs, but he could muster just 39 runs in the 4 opportunities he received — not a surprise considering he was never considered a natural in the format. December of 2002 marked his last appearance in international cricket. The squad for the 2003 World Cup was chalked out and Das wasn’t in the plan. Indian cricket moved along swiftly as he simply failed to keep up with the pace.

A triple, but little too late

Although no longer shortlisted by the national selectors in the boardroom, Das reverted back to the domestic circuit and continued to represent Orissa. He was perhaps at the receiving end of a raw deal, for his 250 against Essex in a warm-up game for India in 2002 was overlooked, and Sanjay Bangar got the nod instead.

But exactly four years after he played his last match for India, he bludgeoned 300 against Jammu and Kashmir in a Ranji Trophy Plate League game, in exactly 500 deliveries, inclusive of 40 fours. As late columnist and cricketer Peter Roebuck once said, “A triple-hundred is the work of a lifetime expressed in a single innings. It tells of childhood aspiration and private practices in backyards, speaks of obsession and capacity.” Nevertheless, in this case, it did little to push him into contention for India. It was a record he would savour, but nothing more emanated from it.

A lean trot followed, yet again, and during the 2010 Ranji Trophy, he was dropped from Orissa’s squad midway after bagging a pair in the team’s loss to Karnataka. He then moved to Vidarbha to prolong his First-Class career.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at