At 87 Dattajirao Krishnarao, aka ‘DK’ Gaekwad (born: 27.10.1928), is India’s second oldest living Test cricketer. (The oldest is Deepak Shodhan, born just nine days earlier.) Hale and hearty, Dattajirao reads newspapers, watches television and sits behind the wheel of his car to go to the bank when traffic permits him in an otherwise congested area near his Polo Ground residence in Baroda.
Dattajirao’s son, Aunshuman Gaekwad, a former India opener, coach and National selector, has probably heard a lot from his father, especially about the royal start to the game of cricket in the early 1930s. The conversation is in English and Marathi, and on occasions Dattajirao jogs his memory before responding to questions pertaining to events that took place in the early part of the 20th century and before and after the Partition.
After his active days in cricket, Dattajirao spent a lot of time coaching budding talents at camps organised by the Baroda Cricket Association and the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
These days he makes it a point to catch all the action on television and it becomes obvious that, although he is not averse to watching T20 cricket, he doesn’t like some of the shots played in the format. “Look at the different techniques — reverse sweep shots that we never played during our time and never lifted the ball to hit 6s. Yes, times have changed with the advent of ODIs and Twenty20. It’s entertainment for the public, not for people like me. Money is there now... I got Rs. 50 for a Test match... Today cricket has become a profession; it’s a good thing that cricketers are getting more money now. And so have the injuries increased because so much cricket is played,” Dattajirao says with surprise.
It is incredible that Dattajirao played only 11 Test matches in nine-and-a-half years (1952-1961). He did not even have a reasonable Test career to speak of, but was made the captain of the Indian team for the tour of England in 1959. He made his debut against England at Leeds in June 1952. Freddie Trueman too made his debut in that match and Dattajirao faced the first ball sent down by the England fast bowler in Test cricket.
Dattajirao is a trifle disappointed that he did not get a permanent batting position, but says he has no regrets.
What does he cherish the most in his career?
“When I got the Test cap in 1952. I was very young then. I would always put on the cap, blazer and look at myself in the mirror. Then, when I was the captain of the Baroda team that won the Ranji Trophy (1958) and then when named captain of the Indian team,” he recalls.
He was one of the few who began playing cricket because of his father’s employment and relationship with Baroda State’s royal family. No wonder, he says, that without the patronage of the royal family cricket would not have been what it is today in the city, which is part of Gujarat now.
His early days: I started playing cricket during the time of Maharaja Pratapsinhrao Gaekwad. He was the Yuvaraja of Baroda; Sayajirao Gaekwad III (Maharaja of Baroda) was also there then. They used to stay at the Pratap Vilas Palace, which is now the Railway Staff College. The Yuvaraja’s son, Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad, was also fond of cricket. So at the age of six or seven, I used to go to the palace to play cricket.
We used to play on the cement road and not on a proper cricket wicket. They had a pitch at the Lal Bagh Palace too. I was drawn into playing cricket because of the royal family; they encouraged me to play cricket.
My father was the Chief of the Military Staff of the Baroda army and ADC to Sayajirao Gaekwad III. My father was not very fond of cricket; he was fond of tennis, polo and shooting. So, he was not the one who inspired me to play cricket. My father and Pratapsinhrao were close friends. They were also related. That’s how I got access to the royal family and thereupon began playing cricket.
I did not receive formal coaching. We played with proper cricket ball, but sometimes wearing shorts. At some point in time, they appointed a coach who was a member of Pratapsinhrao’s staff. Actually, he was a tennis player. His name was A. G. Gupte.
After the death of Sayajirao III in 1939, Pratapsinhrao became the Maharajah of Baroda. He began staying in the Laxmi Vilas Palace. The cricket ground at Moti Bagh was developed by Sayajirao because his son was fond of playing cricket in England. When I was very young, I had seen Pratapsinhrao play cricket at the Moti Bagh ground.
School cricket: Initially, I studied at the Middle High School until the third year before shifting to Maharani Chimnabhai (MC) High School. Until Standard X, I played for MC High School in inter-school cricket. It used to be a three-day game, and cricket in Baroda was played on a coir/jute matting surface. There was a turf wicket at Moti Bagh at the time of Pratapsinhrao, but subsequently it was converted into a matting wicket. In inter-school cricket, we competed for the Maharani Shantadevi Trophy for Under-14, which was extended to Under-16 too.
Arrival of C. S. Nayudu: A Holkar legend, C. S. Nayudu (CS) joined the Baroda Services in 1940. He selected good players to form the Prince’s team. He was also our coach. I also played for the Prince’s team against two or three other local teams. I must say, it was CS who started cricket in a big way in Baroda. He was in Baroda for four to five years, after which he returned to Indore. In 1942, Vijay Hazare came to Baroda. However, actually, it was CS who encouraged us all.
Arrival of Vijay Hazare: Vijay Hazare came to Baroda in 1942. He was also our coach. CS and Hazare were different types of coaches. They were great cricketers by their own right. Hazare was not a good coach though, whereas CS was dynamic. When I was 14 or 16, CS would come one day and on the second day, Hazare would be there. Hazare was more defensive and would ask us to block, while CS wanted us to hit the ball and encouraged us play attacking cricket. So one day, seeing us block the ball, a surprised CS ordered: ‘What are you playing… blocking? Start hitting the ball.’ This benefitted me a lot — I could defend and hit the ball. I used to score centuries in the inter-school tournament. I was also a leg-spinner. CS taught me to bowl leg-spin. I used to bowl the same way (action) as CS used to and I got wickets.
His college days: After school, I went to the Baroda College, which was affiliated to the Bombay University then. And I went on to play for Bombay University for two years in the inter-university Rohinton Baria Trophy. University cricket was big in those days because there was no other tournament for college students and to get into the Ranji Trophy team you had to perform in the inter-university tournaments.
Vijay Hazare’s influence: He was in Baroda for 4-5 years. When I was 17 or 18, I used to attend the Baroda team nets at the Polo Ground, which had a matting wicket. I never got to bat or bowl though. Baroda had selected a lot of players from outside the State in 1943, and at one stage, there were eight all-India players. All I got was the chance to field and throw. But I used to watch the players closely, in particular the way Hazare batted — his cover drives, on drives, pulls and cuts. I saw him and moulded myself around his style and technique. I saw him bat in Ranji Trophy, where he showed all his patience. He was technically a very sound player. Thereafter I played matches with him. He used to score 100s, 200s, 300s — all because of his concentration and patience.
C. K. Nayudu’s influence: I had been associated with all the legends of Indian cricket then. C. K. Nayudu, Lala Amarnath, Vijay Merchant… When I used to go for the Bombay University team selection, CK was the chairman of the selection committee. Madhav Mantri was also there in the committee. CK used to come to Baroda many times. He was a good friend of Pratapsinhrao. He was also the chairman of the Indian Universities selection committee. I have not seen him play, but from his attitude, I could make out that he was a very strong person. He was very strict. He gave me an impression of being a stern cricketer and captain. He liked me and encouraged me.
His first set of equipment: The BCA used to have all the equipment, and they were common for all players. It was only when I started playing the Ranji Trophy that I got my own equipment for the first time. I did not have anything of my own even when I was playing for the Bombay University or Indian Universities.
Ranji Trophy, batting position and big scores: When I started playing Ranji Trophy (debut against Kathiawar in 1947-48), I used to bowl and bat. My batting position was always uncertain. I batted at No. 6 against Kathiawar. We lost that match and the tournament was over for us. Those days if you are beaten in the first round, the season is over for you. It was only from the 1948-49 season that I came into the limelight. Batting at No. 3, I got 108 against Bombay in the 1949-50 season. Then I got 128 and 101 against Gujarat.
Adjusting to turf wickets: I had a lot of difficulties adjusting to turf wickets. Up to the age of 17 or 18, I had played only on matting (jute or coir) wickets. On coir, the ball would turn a lot and because of this, the matting became jute. Jasu Patel used to bowl on the off-stump and the ball would turn towards leg. He used to turn the ball big. So, we were playing all the time on jute matting. We had different techniques for playing on coir and jute. There was not much turn on turf; the ball came straight and you could not play cross-batted shots, but only with a straight bat. I made all those adjustments accordingly.
His hero: I was a very quiet type of person. I always remained aloof. When I used to play for Bombay University, there were close friends like Polly Umrigar, G. S. Ramchand and P. G. Joshi. I think I followed Hazare the most. I have played with Lala, Vijay Merchant and many more. Merchant did not play all strokes as Hazare did. He played straight; he had the on drive, not the cover drive. I have never seen Merchant square cut, but he was very good in the late/back cut. I have seen him play the late cut against fast bowlers. Those days I used to keep clippings of Australian cricketers. Keith Miller came with the Services team and I have seen him at the Brabourne Stadium. However, my idol would have been Gary Sobers, but he came much later than me. He’s a very good friend. Then there was Frank Worrell. He came here with the Commonwealth team. But Gary has to be first, because he was a left-handed batsman and he bowled medium-pacers, chinaman… He was three-in-one.
His relationship with the West Zone players: Bombay cricketers were never really friendly with us. They were always afraid of Baroda cricketers from the beginning. They were not afraid of Saurashtra, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The tussle used to be between Baroda, Holkar and Bombay and they wanted to win the Ranji Trophy.
His selection to the Indian team: I was selected, for the first time, for the Indian team in 1951. CK was the chairman of the selection committee. I was playing for the MS University against Bombay University in Poona. I had just got married and had to rush (to Poona) for the match and I made 202 runs. Following this, I was selected for the Indian team against Nigel Howard’s MCC. The next year, I was selected for the tour to England.
The West Indies tour and after: I got hurt during the second Test and was ruled out of the series. I was fielding at covers and Vijay Hazare was at deep mid-off; Subhash Gupte was the bowler. The batsman was Frank King, who hit the ball up and I ran back to take the catch. This ended with Hazare colliding with me. Even as I was telling Hazare to get up, I did not realise I had injured myself badly. When I was crossing over to the other side after Gupte’s over, Vinoo Mankad caught hold of me. I did not know what was happening. When they lifted me, I could feel that something had gone wrong with my shoulder.
His Test career and batting order problems: I used to bat at No. 3 for Baroda. When the Indian team selection was done in 1952, they did not have a proper opening pair. They had Pankaj Roy; Madhav Mantri was also there. Hazare and I went to meet Homi Contractor, who was the selector. Homi said that if Roy doesn’t score runs, I can be made the opener. I batted at No. 6 against County sides in England. When Roy was not getting runs (against County sides), Hazare told me that I have to open. I could not say ‘No’ to him. The selectors never gave me the confidence. So in England they asked me to open in the first Test!
On becoming Indian captain on the tour of England in 1959: There was a talk about me being thought of as captain. Actually, Hemu Adhikari was named the captain, but he withdrew in the eleventh hour. It was Lala Amarnath, the chairman of the selection committee, who strongly felt that I should be named captain under the circumstances. The other selectors were C. R. Ramaswamy, Dutta Ray and L. P. Jai. I think Lala wanted a new team. So, after Baroda won the Ranji Trophy in 1958, they made me captain. Along with me, they appointed Maharaja Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad as the manager. But all said and done, I never thought I would be named the captain. All I wanted was to play the game, enjoy the game and score runs and be happy. There were also four captains in the previous series against the West Indies — Polly Umrigar, Ghulam Ahmed, Vinoo Mankad and Hemu Adhikari. So, they wanted a new captain. I have always heard of rivalries in the Indian team from C. K Nayudu’s time, and how players did not cooperate with each other. But I never had any issues with the players.
Facing Trueman and playing in England: Pankaj Roy and I opened the innings (Leeds, 1952). I had to face Fred Trueman’s first ball. It was a full toss and I hit it for a four. I did not give Trueman my wicket. He was really fast, but erratic. We had checked out with Ray Lindwall about how fast Trueman was. But in 1959, he had slowed down. Those days we used to play six days a week and five months of cricket. It’s always a pleasure playing cricket in England, if everything is right and if you don’t have an injury.