We played for the love of the game, says Holkar’s nonagenarian flag-bearer

92-year-old Rameshwar Pratap Singh is the only living member of the iconic Holkar cricket team.

Rameshwar Pratap Singh with the portrait of members of the Holkar team after its 1946 feat.   -  Shayan Acharya

101, Royal Park is not quite a familiar address in Indore. Though it’s just a kilometre away from the iconic Yeshwant Club and the Holkar Stadium, not many seem to have heard about it.

A selected few, however, know the location just because it happens to be one of the few old-time high-rises in the city. But if you are a cricket connoisseur, this is the address you must know.

In the first floor of the apartment, a 92-year-old lives with his sons and grandchildren, and the entire day is spent talking about cricket and the game’s legacy in the city. The nonagenarian is Rameshwar Pratap Singh, a former cricketer who happens to be the only living member of the iconic Holkar cricket team.

In an era when fans talk seem to be obsessed with Virat Kohli and the Indian Premier League, Singh’s world revolves around C. K. Nayudu, Syed Mushtaq Ali and the team that ruled the circuit once upon a time - Holkar.

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“We played at a time when there was no money. We played for the love of the game,” Singh tells Sportstar.

These days, Singh can’t step out of the house, and even when inside, he needs a walker to move around. But that doesn’t stop him from watching cricket on television. “I watch all the matches of India. That young chap, Virat Kohli, is a very good player. I like watching him,” Singh says, proudly adding: “I read sports pages in newspapers and watch cricket without wearing spectacles. I’m 92, yet I don’t have glasses.”

‘Huge total’

He laughs after completing the sentence at one breath. While Singh doesn’t use spectacles, he has problems in hearing. As his grandson communicates to him the questions, Singh points to at an old picture where he features along with Kamal Bhandarkar, Chandu Sarwate, M. M. Jagdale, C. K. Nayudu and B.B. Nimbalkar.

“This is a historical frame. I was a part of a world record, when six batsmen - including me - scored centuries in a first-class match,” he says. It was the Ranji Trophy semifinal of March, 1946 between Holkar and Mysore, which Holkar won easily.

“We scored 912 runs and then declared the innings. In those days, that was a huge total. None of the teams could dare to chase that down,” he adds.

The final against Baroda, at the same venue (Indore), was also won rather easily.

‘Strict’ C. K. Nayudu

While he stays stuck in that golden era, Singh admits that the ground conditions today are far better than those times. “These days, the ground conditions are so good. In our times, they were gravels. It was so difficult to field. If one dived, the skin would get peeled off. It was so dangerous,” he says. But then, C. K. Nayudu had given a mandate that if players dropped catches, they would be dropped from the Holkar team, which participated in the Ranji Trophy for fourteen years (from 1941 to 1955) before being known as Madhya Pradesh.

“He was a very strict captain. These days, so many memories keep flowing in,” Singh says.

Singh clearly remembers how he played with Dennis Compton at the Madras Cricket Club. “I scored a half-century in that match. It was a small ground then. That time, the second World War was on and some of the big players were deputed to the colonies. That’s when King Yashwantrao Holkar II learnt that Compton was here. He asked him to play for Holkar,” Singh says.

As he speaks, he remembers how the fielders would find it tough to place fielders for Mushtaq Ali. “He was one such batsman who could get runs from all areas. His footwork was brilliant and matchless,” Singh, who played 18 Ranji Trophy games with flourish, says.

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While he recollects quite a few incidents, Singh gets jumbled up when it comes to the dates. He talks about a semifinal at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla where he played a heroic knock of 92 (it was possibly the Ranji Trophy semifinal of March, 1950; Singh had scored 88). “Kotla wicket is deceptive. We batted first and lost wickets. Then Sarwate and I stitched a partnership. I came to bat at No. 9. Before me, Jagdale and Bhaya got out in two consecutive deliveries, so I came fearing what would happen if I lost the wicket. The hat-trick was stopped. In the end, we had 238-run partnership [for] the eighth wicket,” he says, fondly remembering how Holkar team was well taken care of by Yeshwant Rao. “Those were the days,” he chuckles.

These days, he spends most of the time reading newspapers and watching news on television. “I don’t like serials,” he says. “At times, I miss my friends Mushtaq and Nayudu. Sab chale gaye, mujhe chhor ke (They’ve all gone, leaving me behind). I can no longer talk to them, so I cherish those moments,” says the former cricketer.

When a much younger scribe takes him back to the golden days of Holkar cricket, Singh’s reaction isn’t a surprise: “You would not know what legacy we had.”

With no efforts taken to preserve those old pictures and souvenirs, the next generation would perhaps only have a folklore to hear about the Holkar cricket team.