Remembering S.R. Patil, Kolhapur’s famous cricketing son

SR Patil, who has featured in one Test match for India and 36 first-class matches, passed away at the age of 86 on Tuesday.

According to his contemporaries, S.R. Patil was a good bowler and cricketer who was not given opportunities to fulfil his full potential.   -  Special Arrangement

For a change, a young fellow with a Patil surname strayed into the cricket field on purpose rather than labouring on the vast sugarcane fields of Kolhapur, a flourishing district in Western Maharashtra famous for temples, jaggery-making and world-famous slippers. Kolhapur is also famous for Panhalagad Fort, where Chhatrapati Shivaji fought a few battles and where a spoonful of a hot red chilli-spiced local cuisine ‘misal’ would explode into your mouth. The town also made its mark on the world map producing some champion freestyle wrestlers. For several decades, the state’s political class also emerged in large numbers from these parts.

With many options available, why did Sadashiv Raoji Patil, known simply by his initials SR, choose to reap rewards with a shining red cricket ball? One would probably never find a proper answer. But, it is the exacting department of the flannelled game that appealed to the odd one among the nine male Patil siblings. Patil, 86, passed away at his residence in Ruikar Colony, Kolhapur on Tuesday. “He passed away in his sleep at 4.30am today,” Nitin Patil, his nephew, informed Sportstar.

Facilities were too little to encourage local talent, but SR was definitely charmed by the aura surrounding the great sport that he pursued with interest in spite of being given the short shrift by the then BCCI selection committee comprising Lala Amarnath, Homi Contractor, Cotah Ramaswami and Datta Ray. They chose the budding medium-pacer for a mere one Test in the 1955-56 series against New Zealand.

PROFILE: Sadashiv Raoji Patil
  • Born: October 10, 1933: Kolhapur, Maharashtra.
  • Right hand batsman, Right hand fast medium
  • Played one Test match
  • First class: 1952-53 to 1963-64
  • 36 first-class matches: 83 wickets at 30.60 , 3 x 5, economy rate 2,66; 73 wickets for Maharashtra in 32 matches at 31.93, 3 x5
  • Lanchashire League: 52 matches 111 wickets in two seasons 1959 and 1961

As a rookie 22-year-old, Patil, playing for the Vinoo Mankad-led West Zone against New Zealand at the Club of Maharashtra ground (Nehru Stadium) in November 1955, impressed with figures of 3 for 44 and 4 for 30. Within a few weeks, he made his Test debut against the Kiwis at the Brabourne Stadium in the second Test of the series.

Spinners Subhash Gupte (8 wickets) and Mankad (4 wickets) dominated the Test. Patil played his part dismissing John Reid in both innings. Unfortunately for him, the selectors did not pick him again. He met the same fate as VN Swamy, who made his Test debut in the first of that series in Hyderabad and was not capped again.

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Patil’s figures were 14-3-36-1 and 9-4-15-1 at Brabourne Stadium. After the Test, Patil went home. India’s captain was Polly Umrigar, who, it’s said, was never comfortable facing Patil in the inter-office Times of India Shield and became the Kolhapur-born’s victim a number of times.

The second Test against New Zealand ended Patil’s dream four-season run featuring ten first class matches after his Ranji Trophy debut against Bombay at Solapur in the peak winter of 1952. He bowled 64.1 overs and took eight wickets including 5/45 in the first innings against a strong Bombay team captained by Rusi Modi.

Thereafter, he played against the famous Holkar team in the Ranji Trophy semifinal in March 1953 and for the Maharashtra Cricket Association President's XI against the Commonwealth team led by Australia’s Benjamin Barnett.

Patil was disappointed by the misfortune that fell upon him. He believed he should have been given more opportunities. Sadanand Mohol, the accomplished Maharashtra swing specialist who shared the new ball with Patil for four seasons, and who himself was not given a chance during India’s tour of England in 1967, sympathised with his partner being given a raw deal.

S.R. Patil is survived by his 84-year-old wife Sulabha.   -  Special Arrangement


Mohol, who lives in Pune, said: “SR was really a fabulous bowler. He used to swing the ball both ways. There are very few who have this ability. Most importantly, his control was superb. He should have played a lot of Test matches. But I don’t know what happens to Maharashtra’s cricketers. Vasant Ranjane (fast bowler) played seven Test matches. The unfortunate thing is that good cricketers were not given a long rope then. Patil was also a good bat. He played much of his cricket in Bombay. I believe a lot of good cricketers suffered. But I also think luck did not play its part. Unfortunately, I could not play for India although I was selected for the 1967 England tour. MAK Pataudi was the captain."

Apart from Patil, left-handed batsman Nari Contractor and opening batsman Vijay Mehra made their Test debut in the same match as Patil. Contractor spoke of Patil: “I don’t know why he played only one Test match. He was a very steady bowler who could swing the ball both ways and with good control. He played for the Tata Group in the Times of India Shield and got Polly (Umrigar) out many times. Why he was dropped after the Bombay Test match, only the selectors can answer, and all are gone now. He was a very consistent bowler and used the new ball well. Very well, in fact.”

Chandu Patankar, who himself was a victim to the selection committee’s whims and fancies, agreed with Contractor. Patankar said: “He played for Swadeshi Mills (Tata Group). He was a good seam bowler. Those days perhaps playing one Test match was too much for some players. He was a good fast bowler who swung the ball both ways."

Patil’s rise as an India fast bowler is a part of his family folklore in the sugar belt region. Even after nearly seven decades, the faithful and cricketers of his time declare that Patil was a genuine swing bowler who manipulated the `ordinary’ and 'Dukes’ brand cricket ball with remarkable skill, excellent control and decent speed. Almost all of them believe that the selectors were unfair to SR.

With limited opportunities in Kolhapur, Patil depended on tours organised by Mahipatrao Indulkar (he played nine Ranji Trophy matches for Baroda from 1941 to 1943 and one for Maharashtra in 1951) to Bombay to play in local tournaments on turf wickets. Most of the local competitions were played on matting pitches.

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Ranjit Indulkar, son of Mahipatrao and who has played and followed local cricket, said: “SR Patil looked like a foreigner. He was a very handsome fellow. He had a very smooth bowling action like Ray Lindwall. He did not have to exert himself. I have seen Lindwall bowl in the 1958-59 series. Patil was never injured.

“My father used to take teams to Bombay. The Ruia Group (Sugar Mills) used to play in the Kanga League. I think Patil was a victim of politics played outside of Kolhapur. He was soft-spoken, played cricket very seriously. I thought he was misguided by some people. He did not have a godfather to push his case. He was from khedegaon (rural/village area). Kolhapur did not have a professional coach then. The seniors used to coach.”

According to his contemporaries, Patil was a good bowler and cricketer who was not given opportunities to fulfil his full potential. He played in the highly competitive Lancashire League and met with success. As his wife Sulabha revealed, he was not given more opportunities and that hurt him initially. But, he managed to forget the unfortunate events and carried on with his life playing cricket for Maharashtra.

On October 10, Patil would have turned 87. He is survived by his 84-year-old wife Sulabha and two daughters. Patil’s brothers include Dattatraya, Mahadev, Vasantrao, Sukumar, Anandrao, Shankarao, Suresh and Vijaykumar, and his sisters include Shanta, Indu and Kamal.

The Patil couple's eldest daughter, Neeta Shrikrishna Shinde, lives in Mumbai and the second daughter, Deepa Ashok Khambe, in Cincinnati, both with their families.

(The feature was possible with assistance from Bal Patankar, a patron of the sport in Kolhapur for many decades and Nitin Patil. a level 1 coach and son of MR Patil.)

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