The most plausible reason for venturing towards an effort of this kind is perhaps because of the impact that Shehan Karunatilake’s novel “Chinaman” had on me. And also the realization of the fact that there has been such abundance of talent which has been lost amidst the undergrowth of the jungle that is international cricket. And as the adage goes “Charity begins at home”, I intend to shed a light on a cricketer who in cricketing lexicon has been dubbed as “bits and pieces”, a certain gentleman known as Vijay Bhardwaj.
Vijay Bhardwaj’s arrival into the international arena was meteoric. And with the obvious baggage the idiom carries perhaps, he disintegrated into smithereens soon enough. Bhardwaj was included into the team on the back of some commendable performances in the Ranji Trophy. 1000 runs and a handful of wickets justifying his India cap, he made his ODI debut in Nairobi against South Africa in 1999.
The tournament, LG Cup featured along with the Indians and Proteans, Zimbabwe and Kenya. India’s below par show in the recently concluded World Cup called for an influx of talent who would replace the ageing Robin Singhs. His ODI debut is more remembered for Sunil Joshi’s absolute blinder of a spell. He gave away only six runs in his ten over quota and snapped a fiver. Those figures remained the best in his bowling career. While everyone was talking about Joshi, Bhardwaj staked his claim with a niggardly spell of 1/16 in his ten overs. He then held his nerve to score an unbeaten 18 to guide India to the win. India made it to the finals of the tournament losing to South Africa. Bhardwaj was adjudged man of the tournament in his very first one. With 89 runs and 10 wickets which made him the highest wicket taker as well.
On the back of such performances he was given a test cap, and he made his debut against New Zealand at Mohali. Bhardwaj failed to capitalize on this opportunity and scored a duck. Eventually his test career ended after two more failed ventures. The last one being against Australia at Sydney which aficionados remember for VVS Laxman’s coming of age 167. Bhardwaj didn’t even come out to bat after India was asked to follow on. The reason? A slipped disc problem which wreaked havoc on his lower back.
Bhardwaj played his last one day international against Zimbabwe at Guwahati. Again almost following a running motif that peppered his career, Dinesh Mongia stole the show with a match winning unbeaten 159, a career highest score and man of the series trophy to go with. Bhardwaj finished with a naught and a 1/32. And like Keyser Soze in “Usual Suspects” he went ‘poof’ from the screen.
He kept on scoring runs and taking wickets in the domestic front but was never “good enough” to make it back. He hung up his boots in 2006 and took up coaching Karnataka, the team he represented all through his career. Perhaps choosing to go by the low profile he has maintained over the years and not becoming a dolled up, epigram-spouting cricket analyst.