Just hours before India’s second ODI against New Zealand at Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune, the sport was rocked by allegations that pitch curator Pandurang Salgaoncar had allowed undercover reporters posing as bookies access to the pitch and had promised to tailor the pitch according to their needs.
In a sting operation aired by India Today, their reporters, who allegedly told Salgaonkar that they were bookies, can be heard telling the former cricketer that they wanted the pitch to favour certain cricketers.
The sting had raised questions over whether the match should be allowed to go ahead.
Salgaoncar had also copped flak earlier this year when the first India-Australia had ended inside three days with a 333-run hammering for the hosts.
Wednesday’s sting operation, however, has shone the spotlight firmly on Salgaoncar, who used to be one of the most feared pacers on the domestic circuit back in his playing days.
The 68-year-old claimed 214 wickets for Maharashtra in 63 matches between 1971 and 1982 and is widely considered as one of the best bowlers never to have played for India. He has also had a stint as the chief selector of the Maharashtra Ranji Trophy team.
Legend has it that Salgaoncar used to be so fast in his playing days that he once hit the legendary Sunil Gavaskar on the index finger of his right hand during a Ranji Trophy match in the 1973-74 season. Consequently, Gavaskar, representing Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy then, was forced to miss one of India Test against West Indies in the 1974 series.
Salgaoncar was part of the India squad that toured Sri Lanka back in 1974. While he never played for the national team, he did get to play against a West Indian side comprising players of the calibre of Vivian Richards and Alvin Kallicharran back in 1975 as part of Ajit Wadekar's benefit match.
Salgaoncar had earlier made waves back in 1972 when he impressed during a Duleep Trophy semi-final game. Playing for West Zone against South Zone in a match which featured many of India’s biggest cricketers of that time like Farokh Engineer, Salgaoncar scalped the wickets of Gundappa Viswanath and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi
Notably, the performance had come on a Chepauk wicket which was a square turner of a pitch. Salgaoncar ended the first innings with five wickets for 55 runs, having bowled 18 overs. In the second innings, South Zone were bundled out for a paltry 97 runs as Salgaoncar claimed another five-for.
In the final against Central Zone, spurred by his 7 for 72 in the first innings, West Zone inflicyted an innings defeat on their hapless rivals.
Despite that, Salgaoncar was never given the chance to don India colours.