A man of principles and punctuality -- that’s how Mumbai’s cricketing circles remember Vasant Raiji. The country’s oldest first-class cricketer at 100, who passed away at his residence in the early hours of Saturday, may have featured in only nine first-class games in his career, but his knowledge and love for the game, made him stand out.
“He was a good student of the game and was a very simple man. He would write books and had contacts all over the world. He would regularly write to Sir Donald Bradman. But he was extremely down to earth,” former India Test cricketer, Chandrakant Patankar, told Sportstar .
Playing first-class cricket for Bombay (as it was known then) and Baroda, Raiji had to join the family-run chartered accountancy firm. However, the love for the game never faded. He wrote quite a few books on cricketers -- Victor Trumper, CK Nayudu, LP Jai. And also, he was one of the founding members of the Jolly Cricket Club.
“He would play for the Jolly club and I remember watching him at a time when he would be around 35. An off-spinner, he used to regularly play for the Jolly club,” Patankar reminisced.
“When I joined as a sports secretary [at CCI from 1994 to 2009], he helped us immensely in organising lectures for the Legends Club programmes as well.”
The Legends Club is a gathering of cricket connoisseurs and it organises lectures on cricketing themes and hosts famous players. Patankar said, “We would work under his guidance. As a cricketer, I played little with him, but he supported us hugely in organising cricket-related events (CCI and Legends Club).”
Marcus Couto, a first-class umpire, has known Raiji for 37 years. According to Couto, Raiji had one of the finest collections of cricket books. “He finally decided to dispose them of. P.R. Man Singh (India manager at the 1983 World Cup), who is based in Hyderabad, got a lot of books. So did Dr. Vijay Patil (the chief of Mumbai Cricket Association), who kept those fascinating books at D.Y. Patil Sports Complex.”
Raiji made his debut in 1939 for a Cricket Club of India (CCI) team against Central Provinces and Berar in Nagpur. The debutant scored a duck and one run in the game. He got the chance to share the dressing room with Lala Amarnath, Vijay Merchant, C.K. Nayudu and Vijay Hazare.
On his 100 birthday on January 26, former India captain Nari Contractor and Mumbai Cricket Association president Dr. Vijay Patil visited Raiji at his Walkeshwar home. “He was a good cricketer. We have literally grown up watching him and his brother Madan Raiji. I may have been around 14, when I met him for the first time,” Contractor had said, walking down the memory lane.
As an illustrious journey ended on Saturday, MCA president Dr. Patil, too, expressed his condolences. “I am deeply saddened by the news of the demise of Vasant Raiji. I had the good fortune of meeting him on his 100th birthday where he shared his memories about our rich cricketing history through his eyes. May his soul rest in peace and my deepest condolences to his family,” Patil told this publication.
Those who knew him would vouch for his punctuality. “He was the most disciplined man I have ever met. He was very particular about timings. His office was in Fort, and Raiji would come to the Cricket Club of India sharp 12.30 for lunch. That was his daily routine,” Couto said. “He would come and visit all of us and enquire how things are. A thorough gentleman, he was always ready to help.”
They don't make them like that anymore!
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