Armed with outstanding footwork and very soft hands, Nayan Mongia the man who held the flame for India’s wicket keepers before MS Dhoni was born on December 19, 1969 in Baroda, Gujarat. Gritty and old-fashioned, Nayan Mongia is arguably one of the top names when we make a list of the best wicket keepers to have played for India. Despite having played in an era where a wicket keeper’s role was largely just keeping wickets, Mongia impressed with an uncanny ability to score runs lower down the order, with India having a fairly large tail for a large chunk of his career.
During his early days, Mongia made a name for himself while playing for Baroda, which ironically was the same team for which former India stumper Kiran More was also plying his trade.
The opportunities for Mongia to make his mark were far too less to impress the selectors, precisely only when More was on national duty. However, the gutsy and modest player from Gujarat managed to make a mark and booked his ticket for the England tour in 1990.
Mongia didn’t have many opportunities on England tour, but England ‘keeper Alan Knott was quite impressed by the then 22-year old, terming him as a natural ‘keeper.
In 1994 he made his long-awaited Test debut against Sri Lanka in Lucknow, and scored 44 runs in the first innings as India cantered to an innings victory over the near neighbours.
The same year and against the same opposition, Mongia also made his ODI debut. His competent batting in the lower order along with his sharp reflexes behind the stumps made him an invaluable asset to the team.
Taking a cue from other teams, India also tried to be a more flamboyant team by using Mongia as a pinch hitter to complement Sachin Tendulkar’s ability at the top of the order. The results were reasonable, with Mongia managing to give momentum to the innings.
Apart from his batting, Mongia was unwaveringly reliant and a perfect ally to the Indian spinners, particularly Anil Kumble on spin-friendly tracks at home.
The icing on the cake came in the Delhi Test against Australia in 1996, when Mongia, surprisingly opening the batting, played a calm and serene innings of 152 against an intimidating attack comprising of Glenn McGrath and Paul Reiffel.
During his entire career the ever-smiling ‘keeper also created a controversial image of himself. There were some allegations of match-fixing against him when Mongia along with Manoj Prabhakar played painstakingly slow knocks against West Indies in October 1994. India lost the match and both players were suspended for the tournament. Worse was still to come though, as Mongia’s name cropped up in the ugly match-fixing probe in 2001, which prominently featured bans for Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Jadeja.
He finished with 107 dismissals. In the Durban Test of 1996-97 he held 8 catches, setting a new Indian record. He equalled that at Eden Gardens in 1998-99. Only MS Dhoni has managed to emulate the feat.
Unable to show his old form, Mongia was eventually dropped from his state team Baroda in 2004. The stumper duly announced his retirement from all formats of the game later the same year. In all Mongia scored 7,736 First-Class runs at 38 and had 396 dismissals to his name.
After retirement, he took the responsibility of coaching the Thailand National team in 2004. Of late, he has also been working as an analyst on various platforms.