When ‘Tiny’ Desai bowled a bumper, there was bloodshed: Patankar

Chandu Patankar and Madhav Apte recall fond memories of Ramakant ‘Tiny’ Desai.

After his playing days, Ramakant Desai was a selector and vice-president of the Mumbai Cricket Association and the chairman of the BCCI senior national selection committee.   -  The Hindu Photo Library.

Chandu Patankar, who kept wicket to Ramakant ‘Tiny’ Desai for Shivaji Park Gymkhana and Bombay in the last 1950s and thereafter, described at length what made Desai a dangerous fast bowler. On Monday, Desai (in a first posthumous instance) was chosen for a special award by the BCCI for his contribution to Indian cricket.

“When he (Desai) bowled the bumper, there was bloodshed. Actually he feared that bumper balls would hurt the batsmen and never wanted to bowl one. But Vijay Manjrekar (SPG captain) urged him constantly to bowl the short stuff.

“There was an incident when this particular batsman, who used to apply tilak on his bat and forehead on Saturdays, was having a good time in the middle but Desai’s bumper hit him on the forehead and he had to be rushed to the hospital. Those days only caps were worn,” said the 86-year-old Patankar, who played one Test for India.

While representing Ruparel College, Desai’s fast bowling gifts was first detected in the late 1950s by cricket writer G.K. Menon, who was also the SPG cricket secretary.

Patankar recalls: “GK said Ramakant was a genuine fast bowler and should be made a member of the club. The first three balls he bowled in the first match (against Matunga Gymkhana) was well outside the off stump and the next three was outside the leg stump. I was young and fit and hence I could gather all six balls.”

“Ramakant had a smooth rhythm in his run up, a fluent action and was quick off the wicket. He was short (5’4”s) and a frail body and the batsmen never thought he could bowl with tremendous pace off the wicket. His bumpers always came inside and batsmen generally got hurt defending.”

Captain’s bowler

The story goes that after a Desai-bumper hit Madhav Mantri on his chest in a match between SPG and Dadar Union, Mantri got employment for Desai at the Associated Cement Company (ACC). Desai took 63 wickets in his debut first-class season.

“Captains always turned to him to get breakthroughs with the new and old ball and they also over bowled him; be it Shivaji Park, ACC or Bombay. He would have got more wickets (74 from 28 Test matches) had catches been taken in the cordon,” said Patankar.

Former Bombay and India opener Madhav Apte believes that Desai was quick but was not express fast. Apte, who saw Desai’s rise from the latter’s debut against Gujarat, said: “Ramakant was beautiful to watch; he appeared to be gliding to the bowling crease. He had a very deceptive bouncer that almost always lifted towards the batsman. He had a good outswinger and he bowled the leg cutter on the soft Kanga League wickets.

“His bumpers appeared questionable to some, but I did not think so. His big breakthrough came when he played for the CCI against the West Indies (at the Brabourne Stadium in November 1958) and took five wickets in the first and three in the second.”

A triumphant career

Desai played 150 first-class matches (1958-59 to 1975-76) and took 468 wickets at 24.10. He was the third seamer after Ghulam Guard and Polly Umrigar in his first Ranji Trophy match against Gujarat in 1958-59 and led the attack in his last Ranji Trophy match with Ajit Pai and Eknath Solkar against Bengal in the 1968-69 final. He was part of the Bombay team that won eight Ranji finals.

After his playing days, Desai was a selector and vice-president of the Mumbai Cricket Association and chairman of the BCCI senior national selection committee. He passed away on April 27, 1998.