Rajinder Goel never played for India. Yet, everyone who played with him and against the left-arm spinner felt he should have. Goel passed away aged 77 at his home in Rohtak, in the northern Indian state of Haryana, on Sunday.
Talking to ESPNcricinfo, three former India players - Bishan Singh Bedi, Gundappa Viswanath and Sanjay Manjrekar - paid tribute to Goel and explained his legacy.
Gundappa Viswanath - 'He kills you as a batsman'
He was a very difficult bowler [to face]. I can tell you that - I have played a lot of left-arm spinners, but he was one of the top. It was never easy to get away from him especially when the pitch was a little helpful when he was more dangerous.
I have faced both Bishan and Rajinder. The difference between them was Rajinder was so tight in his bowling, his line and length were so accurate. With Bishan, at least he flighted the ball, so you had a chance to use your feet. Rajinder was fastish, and with a little bit of help from the pitch, he would turn the ball which did not make it easy to step out and drive in front.
The thing that was difficult batting against him was that nagging length he hit. He kept you always there and thereabout by hitting the right spot. That was the hallmark of his bowling. He kills you as a batsman. You had to wait for loose balls, which were very rare. You had to think about ones and twos facing him. Yes, he tested your patience. You had to be [mentally] present all the time. You couldn't relax.
I was fortunate to have played not just against him but also with him, at State Bank of India where Ajit [Wadekar] and Hanumant Singh were captains in the Times Shield [in Mumbai league cricket]. It was three-day game in those days and bowled about 30-35 overs each innings and never complained.
"Goely', as I called him, was a much better bowler than me. Honestly. I was just lucky that I got the break [to play for India]." BISHAN SINGH BEDI
He was a tremendous bowler. It is very unfortunate he couldn't' play for India because Bishan was there at the same time. Bishan [himself] said that he was better than him. That's a great tribute.
In fact, Rajinder just missed out playing for India when Bishan did not play the first Test of the West Indies series in 1974-75 in Bangalore due to disciplinary reasons. I don't remember why Rajinder became the 12th man. Bishan said that if Rajinder had played India would have had a chance to win.
Rajinder was a very, very lovely man. Very godly person. He never talked about his bowling, his cricket. Never. He is the highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy. He never showed that. He was humble.
Bishan Singh Bedi - 'Goely was a much better bowler than me'
The art of spin bowling does not come easy. Rajinder Goel is an example of that. You have to bowl long, long, long spells to have control and confidence. These two things emerge at the same time. And they emerge after a fairly long haul of practice sessions.
'Goely', as I called him, was a much better bowler than me. Honestly. I was just lucky that I got the break [to play for India]. I was very fortunate. That is where Goely might have missed out. But I rated him very highly.
Goely was few years [four] senior to me. We played together at State Bank of India for some time and that was when we met for the first time. While he was withdrawn off the field, on it he was so accurate. He was very robotic.
Once he got the rhythm, which was after the first or second over, he delivered with mechanical precision. He was very difficult to bat against. He would be flattish and quickish in the air. That did not mean he was not able to toss the ball up. He had a fairly round-arm bowling action and was technically very sound and was a side-arm bowler. He wouldn't allow batsmen to leave the crease. Batsmen like [Sunil] Gavaskar and Vishy will vouch for that. He was loath to be expensive.
Goely was a tireless workhorse, day in and day out just kept on pegging away without moaning or complaining. He was any captain's delight: never asked for any particular end, never asked for any field placement. Bas ball pakda, phekana shooru kar diya [just held the ball and bowled]. You have to remember that both of us bowled for teams which, if we could count ourselves lucky, would score 225-250.
Goely was terribly introverted and not a good cricket conversationalist. But he was a lovely man to have on your side. You need such selfless performers who will do the job entrusted to them without ever moaning.
One of Goely's qualities I would have wanted was his consistency. And he took his cricket very, very seriously. Even in local league matches in Delhi, he was never fooling around. If I were to tell today's youngsters one quality they must learn from Goely, it would be commitment to the job. I never saw him running around after taking a wicket, prancing around. He would just do it and that's it.
Goely was also a very content man. I used to envy him for that. He was remarkable. I don't think his record in Ranji Trophy will ever be broken.
Sanjay Manjrekar - 'The loose ball never came'
The only time I encountered Rajinder Goel was during my Ranji Trophy debut, in what was a big match - the 1985 quarter-finals. It was played on a real turner. It was a home game for Haryana so they prepared a pitch that would suit their plans because they had Sarkar Talwar and Goel as their two prolific spinners while Mumbai did not have a great spinner.
I had come into the Mumbai team on the back of some good form in University cricket. My first realisation of playing Goel immediately was he was at you constantly. I mean you couldn't afford to get on the back foot even to a delivery that was reasonably short [as] he was damn quick off the pitch.
While he didn't look the most athletic or somebody who looked like a panther in the field, the machinery of his bowling was well oiled. He had a very economical bowling action. It was all very well set, very smooth and something that he would have done a million times: came in and delivered on that one spot.
He had the ball that would come back in, so he actually troubled you also with the inside edge more than the ball leaving you. So you had to be really careful of getting the bat forward because a slight lapse in concentration and the ball would hit the pad. So as a young player coming through the first introduction of quality bowling was that the loose ball never came.
I had faced bowlers who had other strengths, but what really struck me about Goel was how accurate he was. He could keep bowling with the same intensity. At other levels you got loose balls after a while, with Goel it never came. It was just incredible. Even a full toss or a half tracker were impossible. At the most what you got was a slightly over pitched or a slightly short ball. And this is no exaggeration. And this why he was so great.