A popular cricketer

G. VISWANATH

GULABRAI RAMCHAND'S achievements on the field and his immaculate conduct off it were recalled at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) recently. To some he was a versatile player and a true hero. By all accounts Ramchand was a dashing cricketer and personality who used the willow with vigour, displayed tremendous fighting spirit, bowled handily, converted exceptional catches, showed leadership qualities when he was captain and dressed well.

Listening to his peers, friends and admirers it seemed that long before the likes of Salim Durrani and Sandip Patil appeared on the Indian cricket scene and thereafter became crowd pullers, Ramchand had brought about a heady mix of his cricketing talents on the field and turned out to be a very popular cricketer in the 1950s.

Those who had assembled at the Cooch Behar Room, Cricket Club of India, a few days after his death, appeared to be carried away by sentiments and likened some of his performances to the guts and glory. Ramchand, born in Karachi, Sind, before partition on July 27, 1927, died following a heart ailment in a Mumbai hospital on September 7, 2003.

Just how hard he hit the ball was described by Nari Contractor, who succeeded Ramchand as captain of the Indian team after the 1959-60 series against Richie Benaud's Australia. Contractor, who himself was felled by a Charlie Griffith delivery in the West Indies in 1960, in a warm up game against Barbados, recalled an incident that took place at the Brabourne Stadium on the eve of the fifth Test (1959-60 series against Australia).

"Those days our manager used to be Prof. D. B. Deodhar and he usually supervised the net session standing behind the single stump at the bowler's end. Ramchand once struck the ball ferociously hard and straight over Prof. Deodhar's head. Well, Prof. Deodhar did not even bat an eyelid. He did not see the ball! He would have been a dead duck if the ball had hit him," said Contractor.

Ramchand played 33 Tests in eight seasons, a good number considering the fact that India's Test cricketers got limited exposure in that period. He made his debut against England at Headingley, Leeds, in 1952, when Freddie Trueman reduced India to 0 for four in the second innings. Ramchand collected a pair falling to spinners Jim Laker and Roland (Rolly) Jenkins. In the second Test at Lord's Ramchand made amends, though Trueman scalped him in both innings.

According to columnist Raju Bharatan, it was a tour of England Ramchand prospered and made an impact outside of the Test arena when he made a blazing 134 against Cambridge University at Fenners and against Cuan McCarthy, a South African fast bowler, regarded by most in England, a `chucker'. He also made his mark as a swing bowler, taking seven wickets in an innings against Lancashire and eight wickets in an innings against Glamorgan.

Ramchand also proved to be an exceptional close-in fielder, volunteering to stand in front of the bat to the likes of Len Hutton, Peter May and Denis Compton. "Ramchand was the first Indian fielder to stand so close for the spinners. Eknath Solkar came much later and stabilised it," said Bharatan. As a batsman, Ramchand's true potential was not seen until his 21st Test against New Zealand, in 1955. It was the first Test series between the two countries and Ramchand made an undefeated 106 in the second innings of the fourth Test at Eden Gardens. But it's not his first century against Harry Cave's team his peers remember the most.

"I think his 109 against Australia in the 1956-57 series was a superior and delightful knock. Ray Lindwall was far from his best, but Pat Crawford really bowled fast. It was an unforgettable innings. Who can forget the Kanpur Test win later in the 1959-60 series? He deployed his limited bowling resources so well. Ramchand was a true all-rounder. He did his bit for Indian cricket," recalled Contractor.

The '59-60 series against Australia turned out to be his last. He made 1180 runs (24.58) with two centuries and five half-centuries and took 41 wickets at 46.32. His victims included England's Len Hutton, New Zealand's John Reid and Bert Sutcliffe and West Indies' Everton Weekes. He played for and against teams that had such illustrious players as Vinoo Mankad, Hemu Adhikari, Subhash Gupte, Naren Tamhane, Pankaj Roy, Polly Umrigar, Vijay Hazare, Vijay Manjrekar, Dattu Phadkar, Madhav Mantri, Ghulam Ahmed and Jasu Patel.

Among his close friends were Polly Umrigar — he refused to speak at the condolence meeting because he thought he would break down — and Bapu Nadkarni, who said they spent their retired lives as family members. The three were on the permanent guest list of Raj Singh Dungarpur for the many parties hosted by the CCI. "He was a brave cricketer. He had a strong body and mind. He was a man with 100 shirts and 200 belts. I think he deserves the Col. C. K. Nayudu Award. It's the ultimate award for an Indian cricketer," said Raj Singh at the condolence meeting.