Thursday, September 17, 2020

Anil Mittal - The Gentle Fast Bowler

 I met Anil Mittal, or Annie as I used to call him, when I first was selected to play for the state Junior state team in 1984. It was my second-year Intermediate and I was least expecting to play Under 25 because I had only played Under 15 for the state and South zone two years ago. After a year of faring normally in the A division for MCC, I had a great season in 1984 getting wickets against all bank teams. I knew of Anil as the fast bowler who played for SBI and who had once been a junior India fast bowler and was regarded highly by his peers. Anil was next in line to make his Ranji debut, having ticked all the boxes.

But something happened and I suspect it was an injury and Anie lost much of his pace. In the Under 25 nets I found him welcoming as he smiled and made me comfortable. he bowled off his run up and focussed more on swing than pace. I thought that was how one must bowl in Under 25 level and I bowled gently too. Our skipper Manohar watched me for a few balls and asked me why I was bowling slow. I said Anil was pitching up and making the ball swing and perhaps I should do that. Manu told me to bowl normally and let Anil do his thing. Annie and I laughed about it later.

But that was how highly I looked up to him. Ever since that game he was always Annie to me and I was always Harry to him. He would always meet me with a warm smile and a thing or two to say and I could always expect a straight and gentle answer from him. Annie lost out on the Ranji spot perhaps due to that back injury or whatever injury bothered him and he never played. I played a few games and I am sure if Annie had been fully fit I would have had to wait my turn. We played against one another in league matches and had a good time.

My best memory of Annie however was in a match organised by All Saints High School where All Saints played against Rest of Hyderabad, with Azhar, Narasimha Rao, Shivlal, Arshad, Venkatapathi and others We played on opposing sides -- Annie for Rest and me for All Saints. The match came down to the wire. 18 were needed in the last two overs and we had only two wickets in hand. I walked in with little hope because Annie had the ball in his hand and had just got a wicket. I missed a couple ten threw my bat at a ball that was in reach. It connected and flew over mid on for four. Annie came up and bowled another and I flung my bat again and it connected and I got another four. Suddenly we were back in the game. And then, having despatched two good balls to the fence I fell to one outside my off stump and ended up being caught behind. Annie had got his revenge.

The next over, Vidyuth faced his brother Vivek and scored nine runs including an exquisite cover drive to seal the game and we won. I feel I made a significant contribution that day. Of course I'll always be thankful for Annie not to have bounced at me after the first four.

Many lovely memories of the gentle fast bowler and I knew he was coaching. I would see his loving posts on Facebook about his trips, his family, and he was such a devoted family man. Even about his wards. There aren't many like him around. When Noel put up a message last week that he was no more I was shocked. I called him and Noel said he wasn't well for a while. Abhiram messaged me from Bangalore asking me what happened and he recalled him fondly. 

Wherever he has gone, Annie will surely make is a warm and affectionate place. Was brilliant knowing you Annie. Rest in peace old friend. You will always be missed.

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