There are some fascinating stories about Deepak Shodhan. To start with, his name itself. His father’s friend gave him the name ‘Roshan,’ which most of his family members and friends thought would have been most ideal for a girl and not a boy. So the nearest equivalent to Roshan was adopted as soon as possible and that’s how he came to be known by his first and popular name: Deepak.
The second amazing story is about the circumstances that hastened his Ranji Trophy debut for Gujarat against the Western India State Cricket Association (WISCA) or Kathiawar in January 1947. The matting specialist bowler Jasu Patel did not show up fearing he would be no-balled and Deepak Shodhan walked into the Gujarat team led by Vinoo Mankad.
And six years later, it was serendipity, making his Test debut against Pakistan at the Eden Gardens, Calcutta, because Vijay Hazare did not show up!
My opinion about him is zero. He was the Chairman of the Combined Universities selection committee in 1954. Chandu Patankar and Nari Contractor were in the team, and though I was the senior-most player, Nayudu made Patankar captain. The team did not have a proper opening pair and they wanted to make me a ‘bakra’.
And then there is the story of how his family derived the surname Shodhan; the 87-year-old, upright but frail-looking man revealed: “It’s got something to do with our family searching (Shodhan in Gujarati) for a high-quality cotton seed or some such material for our textile mill. That’s how we adopted the surname.”
Shodhan spoke to Sportstar for about 90 minutes at his Satyagrah Chavani bungalow in Ahmedabad’s Satellite area. He was blunt and did not hold back his acerbic opinion of Col. C. K. Nayudu, the way some Bombay cricketers treated teams like Gujarat and Saurashtra, an instigated report against him authored by the manager of the Indian team to the West Indies in 1953, Cotah (C. R.) Ramaswamy, and on many more issues. Shodhan also talked about the lack of facilities and encouragement for Gujarat cricketers.
There will never be convincing answers as to why Shodhan, who scored a Test century on debut (110) against Pakistan at No. 8, played only three Test matches and scored 181 runs at an average of 60.33, did not get a fourth Test match. “I was not considered after Cotah Ramaswamy’s bad report against me after the West Indies tour. But I think he was instigated by the players to give a bad report. Ramaswamy was too mild a person. Hazare was also a mild person. It had to be someone else in the team. But I played and enjoyed my cricket,” said Shodhan adding that he had played only on matting wickets, until he turned out for Bombay University in Bombay.
So here, in Shodhan’s own words, is the account of how his career progressed from a road near Churchgate to Ahmedabad and from there to Baroda and the Indian team and how he achieved some milestones. These days he watches the latter part of Twenty20 matches, reads all newspapers and plays bridge twice a week. And he talks cricket with his brother, Jyotindra, 92, who also lives in Ahmedabad.
My father had a textile mill in Ahmedabad. He lost it and we all went to Bombay in 1941. We were staying close to where the Wankhede Stadium came up later. We formed a small cricket club and started playing. I played for Young Marina Cricket Club. Once I scored 14 or 16 in a friendly match and I saw my name for the first time in the Evening News of India. Then very soon our family returned to Ahmedabad and I joined the Chimanlal Nagindas (CN) High School. I was actually going to the St. Xavier’s High School in Mirzapur, but because of riots I stopped going there and joined C. N. High School which had a cricket team. We played a lot of friendly matches; only three schools had teams.
I was a bowler, a left-arm spinner. I had a round-arm action, not really an over-arm action. I could turn the ball on matting surfaces, but not on turf. I was the main player in the school team. My brother (Jyotindra) was also a good cricketer. I was inspired by him. He was also a left-armer. He played Ranji Trophy and went to Karachi. He’s the oldest living Ranji Trophy cricketer in Ahmedabad. We were all self-made cricketers. We didn’t receive any formal coaching.
COLLEGE AND RANJI TROPHY
After school I joined the Gujarat College. We had the best team among the three or four colleges which played cricket. And the very first year I was selected in the Gujarat Ranji Trophy team against the team that was known as the Western India States Cricket Association (WISCA) (Kathiawar). Now the same team is known as Saurashtra. It was all destiny and I believe in destiny. I was in the reserves and we lost the first match. But Gujarat took objection to Gogumal Kishenchand playing for WISCA because he had played for Sind (Karachi). This was in 1947. So this match was replayed... has anyone heard of a Ranji Trophy match being replayed?
Jasu Patel was in the team and I was in the reserves. It was felt that one of the umpires would probably call him for throwing. So Jasu said he was not feeling well and would not play. So I was taken into the side. I took four and three wickets in that match and Vinoo Mankad was also in our team. That’s how my first class career started.
I played four years of university cricket and three years for the Combined Universities team. I also played against the Commonwealth team at the Brabourne Stadium. These matches gave me a chance to come up. Only three players from Gujarat — my brother Jyotindra, Jasu and myself — were in the Bombay University squad. And in a match against Lahore University in Lahore, water had seeped through and my brother had to keep on shouting from the boundary line: “Jasu la bowling dhya.... Jasu la bowling dhya’’ (give bowling to Jasu, give bowling to Jasu) and out of frustration Madhav Mantri gave the ball to Jasu. And Jasu ran through the Lahore side. That’s how cricket was played then... Bombay never bothered about the Gujarat players. A player could rise from University cricket to the West Zone and then to the Combined Universities team. Lahore was a better team than Bombay University. So it was a stepping stone to Test cricket also.
RANJI TROPHY AND RELATIONSHIP WITH BOMBAY PLAYERS
Gujarat did not have many good players. Most of the players were from Ahmedabad. We practised a lot for the college team, but much less as a Ranji Trophy team. The relationship with the Bombay players was not that good... the Bombay team considered Gujarat as a low team and called us “matting players.” Gujarat did not have turf wickets at all. Saurashtra was also down. Maharashtra, Baroda and Bombay were the good teams. On most occasions, after playing one match, the season was over for Gujarat. Bombay played a lot of matches.
THREE SEASONS FOR BARODA (1957-58, 58-59 AND 59-60)
I took up a job in a textile mill in Baroda. I scored the maximum runs for Baroda with a highest of 261 against Maharashtra (at Wadia Park Maidan, Ahmedanagar). Gujarat was not bothered when I left for Baroda.
He was good only on matting wickets.
Col. C. K. NAYUDU
My opinion about him is zero. He was the Chairman of the Combined Universities selection committee in 1954. Chandu Patankar and Nari Contractor were in the team, and though I was the senior-most player, Nayudu made Patankar captain. The team did not have a proper opening pair and they wanted to make me a ‘bakra’. I don’t mind, I said, even though I did not have any interest in the match. I opened and scored 105 in the second innings after getting out cheaply to Peter Loader in the first.
FIRST TEST MATCH
Just as Jasu did not turn up against WISCA at Rajkot and I made my Ranji Trophy debut, (Vijay) Hazare did not come for the Test match (Eden Gardens, Calcutta in 1952) and I made my Test debut. Somebody was ill in his family and he could not travel to Calcutta. I got to know about my Test debut after I reached Calcutta, which was a day or two before the Test match. We used to travel by train those days.
CENTURY ON DEBUT
I decided to play my natural game; I was determined to do that. Myself and Dattu Phadkar ran up a partnership of 54 runs for the seventh wicket. Then came G. S. Ramchand, P. K. Sen and finally Ghulam Ahmed. When Ghulam came in I was batting on 91 and I told him to be steady as I was keen to score a century. Ghulam told me not to worry. In fact he was told to throw his wicket away, but Ghulam was a gentleman. Lala Amarnath had got out in the morning and I went in. It was a virtually chanceless innings. One shot went over the slips, that’s the only bad stroke I played. Lala, who had scored a century on debut, came to the ground... the Bombay players did not... they were not bothered.
PLAYING FAZAL MAHMOOD
He was a great bowler. I have never played a bowler like him. He bowled 40 overs after I went in and he didn’t give me a half-volley... not even one. He had good speed and did not give an inch by way of length.
THE WEST INDIES TRIP
I went to the West Indies as a batsman who could bowl a few overs. I was not well in the last Test, but I had to go and defend and I made 15 not out. Frank Worrell, Everton Weekes and Clyde Walcott, all got centuries... they were really good. Vinoo Mankad took five wickets and restricted them. Our fielding was good. But the Indian team was full of non-performers.
The islands were good, people were friendly and they were surprised that most of us could speak good English. I am a vegetarian, but when I toured I ate non-vegetarian. I started eating fish when I first went to Rajkot.
THREE GOOD CRICKETERS AND PERSONS
Ghulam Ahmed was a good cricketer and a fine gentleman, so was Madhav Apte. Dattu Phadkar was a good chap and also Pankaj Roy. Vijay Hazare was a very quiet man.
CRICKET IN GUJARAT, THEN AND NOW
We used to play less cricket. That’s a handicap for a Gujarat player. There was plenty of talent though and all were self-made cricketers. But no one was there to push us or encourage us. My father, who was a member of the Cricket Club of India, used to take me to Bombay to see the Pentangular tournament. I was very young. I just saw the matches, did not understand what was happening. The league format started during the 1950s, so we got at least four matches to play.
Before the Gujarat v Baroda game in 1952, I got a letter from our manager saying that if ‘A’ and ‘B’ don’t come, I would be the captain!
I am happy Gujarat is doing well now, but only in one-day matches and Twenty20... not in Ranji Trophy. The team should push for that. Gujarat has good players.
I was a natural cricketer and also good at all ball games... played hockey, football, tennis and golf... I had a handicap below 10... now the golf course is far away from home, so I don’t go. There are beautiful golf courses in Ahmedabad.
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