Chuni Goswami, a ‘complete’ cricketer too!

Milind Rege, Padmakar Shivalkar and Daljit Singh remember the football mega star’s foray into cricket.

A footballer being bowled round his legs!

That’s exactly what happened to Chuni Goswami against Bombay in the final of the Ranji Trophy in 1969. Batting on 84 in the second innings, he was ‘spun’ round his legs by Milind Rege. As Goswami — who had scored 96 in the first innings — missed out on yet another century, Bengal’s hopes ended. The match ended in a draw, but Bombay won the affair by virtue of first-innings lead.

On Thursday, a few hours after Goswami’s death, former Mumbai captain Rege remembered the moment. “That was a special feeling. But Chuni da was one of those rare sportsmen who excelled in every discipline — be it football or cricket. He was tremendously fit, and being such a great footballer, the mindset was entirely different. He was full of courage, an action-oriented player,” Rege told Sportstar.

“He was a very aggressive player. He wasn’t a class cricketer, but the fact remains that he gave his 150 percent with his limited abilities. That was brilliant. That made him a dangerous cricketer,” he said.

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A similar incident played out in the Ranji final in 1972, where Goswami, who was then appointed the Bengal captain, was dismissed by Rege in both the innings.

“He was a perfect sportsman. I also knew him because he was the director of the Tata Football Academy and I worked with Tata Steel. So, I had a lot of interactions with him and he was always open to suggestions. He was a terrific character, and the best thing was that he would always listen to what other people were saying,” Rege said.

On the field, however, both of them maintained their aggression. “As a team, we were a far better side. But then, Bengal too was a tough opponent,” he added.

One of Goswami’s old friends and former Bengal teammate, Dilip Doshi, remembers him as the “perfect all-round sportsman.”

“It’s saddening to hear about Chuni da passing away. He was India’s all-round sportsman and much to learn from in fitness and fighting spirit. I had the privilege to play with him for a few years when I made my debut for Bengal,” Doshi said.

“In the very first season, we reached the Ranji Tophy final against Bombay then and played at the Brabourne Stadium. Chuni da stood up to the occasion and played two sterling innings in the match (of 96 and 84).

“His will to fight was infectious, and as youngsters, we learnt about fitness and attitude,” Doshi said.

The former India spin ace also remembers Goswami for his great sense of humour. “His sense of humour was perfect to release the tension in the dressing room,” he said.

“India is poorer without such stalwarts and icons of sport when they move on to another world. Well played, Chuni da, we take a bow and offer our heartfelt condolences to his family. You will always be thought of in great fondness and with tremendous respect,” Doshi said.

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Mumbai spin legend Padmakar Shivalkar also remembers Goswami as a “complete athlete.” “When he came into cricket, he was already a football star. Everybody was eager to see how he gets along with cricket. I will always remember him as someone who was as good a cricketer as he was in football. That was my first impression. He bowled and batted well. He looked a total cricketer,” he said.

“I don’t know why he didn’t play after that final in 1972. I played for another 15 years, but I never saw Chuni after that. Back then, I used to be a man of limited words. I did not speak to many people as everybody, for me, were senior players and I was fairly new in the setup,” said Shivalkar, who is still Mumbai’s highest wicket-taker of all time in Ranji.

Stunning the West Indies

In 1966, the Indian cricket board had decided to field a consolidated side comprising Central Zone and East Zone for one of the tour matches for the visiting West Indies team. Goswami was part of the iconic match in Indore where the Indians pulled off a stunner.

Wicketkeeper-batsman Daljit Singh, who later became a pitch curator, was part of the Indian side led by Hanumant Singh.

“Those days, the visiting teams would either play the tour match against the zonal sides or Ranji winners. West Indies was the No. 1 Test team in the world at that time. There was a headline in the newspaper which said ‘weakest opposition to face mighty West Indians.’ Indore was a non-regular centre and we did not know whether the pitch would be a turner or a green top. You had to play on whatever wicket you got. There was thick layer of grass on that wicket,” said Daljit.

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In those days, the West Indians loved to play tour matches in Kolkata (then Calcutta). “Calcutta was the best place for fun and parties back then. The Caribbeans loved the culture. They were not too happy with a match in Indore. They were given an army mess accommodation, which further angered them. No hotel, no fun. When they won the toss, they played three fast bowlers with Wesley Hall as captain (Sobers was rested for the match). There was Charlie Griffith as well. And we had only one fast bowler, Subrata Guha. Chuni was the second seamer because Hanumant and Chuni played together in State Bank and he knew that Chuni could bowl in-swingers,” said Daljit.

“Being disgruntled, the West Indians started playing their shots and the ball was seaming a lot. We got them out for 136. Chuni played a vital innings down the order and we scored around 280. We got a sizeable lead. When they started batting in the second innings, they tried coming hard at us, but we eventually won the match. On the last day, Chuni caught the last man at mid-off. It was a poetic finale. He was a gutsy cricketer despite limited abilities. He sprinted and took a catch amid the roar of the crowd from behind. He ran and ran and the ball stuck in his hand. He started running from the square leg and ended at fine leg,” said Daljit.

Goswami took 5/47 in that game with Rohan Kanhai being his first wicket. Goswami's first-class career spanned 46 matches, during which he scored 1592 runs including one hundred and seven fifties. Being the wicketkeeper, Daljit would often hear Goswami talk to himself while playing. “He would keep muttering. I could catch that from behind the stumps during our Ranji days. He would say, ‘Chuni, tumi baagher baccha, lore jao sala, chharbe na (Chuni, you are a tiger, keep fighting). I remember it clearly,” he said, adding: “Another memory I have with him is after the game in Indore. We were having a beer and the great Mushtaq Ali entered our room to congratulate us. We were all stunned.”

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