Rajinder Goel, one of India’s finest left-arm spinners, passed away on June 21, 2020, after battling long-term illness. Goel passed away at his residence in Kolkata.
The 77-year-old never played for India but was regarded as a fine left-arm spinner who played during the era of Bishan Singh Bedi. Goel played 157 first-class matches, most of them for Haryana, and finished with 750 wickets.
Rajinder Goel was a cricketer who holds the record for most wickets in Ranji Trophy, India’s premier first class competition, despite which he was never selected to play for India.
A left arm spinner, he represented Patiala, Southern Punjab, Delhi and Haryana in domestic cricket.
Rajinder Goel holds the record for most wickets taken in Ranji Trophy as he scalped 637, 107 more than S Venkataraghavan who is second on the list. Goel made his debut in the 1957-58 season and went on to play domestic cricket until the age of 44.
In 2017, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) honoured Rajinder Goel with the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award.
The son of an assistant station master in the Indian Railways, Goel came up through the Vaish school and college in Rohtak.
His first major success was for North Zone schools in 1957 when he took four wickets against West Zone in the final of the All-India schools tournament and was declared the best bowler of the competition. He made his Ranji debut in the next season.
Goel credits his early success to his teacher and coach Kishan Dayal. He started his first class career with Patiala, which then evolved into the Southern Punjab team. He moved to Delhi in 1963 and Haryana ten years later.
Goel appeared for India against Ceylon in an unofficial Test at Ahmedabad in 1964-65 where he took 4 for 33 in the second innings. Thereafter, the presence of the “Indian spin quartet”, especially Bishen Bedi who bowled in a similar style, restricted his appearances for India. When Bedi was dropped from the team for the Bangalore Test against West Indies in 1974-75 on disciplinary grounds for appearing in a BBC interview, Goel was selected for the Indian team but was excluded at the last moment. He also took 6-102 and 3-43 against the Australians in 1979-80.
Goel rated his 12-134 against the South Zone in the final of the 1975-76 Duleep Trophy as his most satisfying performance.
Goel went past V. V. Kumar’s Ranji record of 417 wckets in the 1978-79 season. His 600th wicket was Chandrakant Pandit, caught at deep squareleg in the Ranji semifinal against Bombay in 1983-84. He retired after taking 39 wickets in 1984-85 season.
Goel’s 637 wickets is a record by a long way, Srinivas Venkataraghavan with 530 wickets and Padmakar Shivalkar with 589 wickets being the next best. He took more than 25 Ranji wickets in a season fifteen times, including in his last nine seasons. Haryana reached the Ranji semi-final thrice during Goel’s time but lost on each occasion. Their first appearance in the final happened in the season after his retirement.
Goel is one of two non-Test cricketers, the other being Padmakar Shivalkar, who Sunil Gavaskar chose among his “idols” in his book of the same name. “He is the one bowler whom I have really dreaded facing in my life,” he wrote about Goel.
“I have never been able to feel comfortable against his left hand spinners and Goel has been one who, because of his flatter trajectory, has not given me the opportunity to step down the track and drive.” However, Gavaskar considered Bedi the greater bowler overall. During his playing days, Goel was employed by the State Bank of India. He later served as a selector for Haryana and the Indian junior teams. His son Nitin Goel was also a first class cricketer for Haryana.