Chandrakant Trimbak Patankar’s name is on the long list of cricketers with a mere one Test cap each against their names — 51 in total, six wicketkeepers among them. People who had seen him in action believed his glove work was neat and efficient, and, most importantly, he had the ability to spot Subhash Gupte’s googlies. But the same people sympathised with Patankar citing the fact that his career clashed with that of another highly proficient stumper, Naren Tamhane.
Patankar had a decent outing in the only Test he played, at Calcutta’s Eden Gardens against the Harry Cave-led New Zealand in December 1955. He took three catches, those of openers Gordon Leggat and Bert Sutcliffe and lower-order batsman Jack Alabaster, and effected one stumping, that of Anthony Roy MacGibbon, in the first innings. But he dropped a difficult skier and was promptly removed from the playing XI for the fifth Test played at Madras’ Corporation Stadium.
Patankar had made his debut as a replacement for Tamhane, who apparently had not been up to the mark in the first three Tests of that series played in Hyderabad, Bombay and New Delhi, but the missed catch paved the way for Tamhane’s return.
Many decades after his final game, in which he represented Maharashtra in a Ranji Trophy West Zone league match against Gujarat at Satara, Patankar refused to apportion blame for his misfortune at not being able to establish some sort of permanency in the Bombay and India sides — he was continually sidelined by the selection committees of both. But he was eventually named assistant secretary for sports at the Cricket Club of India (CCI) by its president, the late Raj Singh Dungarpur, who he describes in no uncertain terms.
Asked to name the people who helped him the most, Patankar, now nearing 90 and India’s second oldest surviving Test cricketer, said: “Tamhane was a great friend, Madhav Apte helped me a lot, and Raj Singh was my godfather.”
Describing everyone as his friend, the soft-spoken Patankar, in a two-hour interaction at his residence at Parel’s Ambekar Colony in Mumbai, recalled the happy moments of his fledgling days, especially when he saw for the first time, in flesh and blood, Prof. Dinkar Deodhar and Col. C. K. Nayudu at PYC Gymkhana in Pune.
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Early days in Pen and Poona
Patankar was born on November 24, 1930, in Pen, a town in today’s Raigad district in Maharashtra that is famous for its artisans who make the idols for the 10-day annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival. He was just five when his father, who had earned an MBBS degree in Bombay and had treated patients in Pen for some time, decided to move bag and baggage to Pune — then Poona — to set up shop as a general practitioner.
Luckily for the young Patankar, who was yet to be charmed by cricket, the house his father bought was just outside PYC Gymkhana.
“I used to play sports every day. As a schoolboy, I used to play hockey some days and cricket some days. I completed my primary education at Bal Shikshan Mandir. Then one day I saw Prof. Deodhar and C. K. Nayudu play a match. Nayudu hit a sixer and broke the school’s wall clock,” said Patankar.
Playing tennis-ball cricket initially and seeing Maharashtra’s star cricketers practise at PYC Gymkhana and the nearby Deccan Gymkhana led Patankar to taking up the game seriously. At Modern High School, which he joined for his secondary education, he played for the junior and senior teams. He had been a medium pacer, but began keeping wickets on prodding from the school’s physical education master, W. V. Sane. After achieving more success in school, Patankar enrolled at Fergusson College, which had a good cricket team.
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Interactions with Prof. Deodhar
During the cricket season, Patankar would wait outside his house to see the Maharashtra team at net practice at PYC Gymkhana. The sight of Deodhar excited him. “Dressed in dhoti and shirt, Deodhar used to come at 6.30-7 in the evening. He was a professor at SP (Sir Parashurambhau) College. He padded up (in dhoti) and batted and played his shots. He had a different grip. I was scared to talk to him. He was a cricketer of great repute, a real giant, a senior person and a professor. He used to call us and ask: ‘ Kai re, kasa ahe , bara hai na ,’ (Hello, how are you all, hopefully good). We did not talk cricket at all, out of respect and fear. We respected our seniors in those days and Prof. Deodhar was a cricketing giant,” said Patankar.
“His family were my father’s patients, and Prof. Deodhar became a friend. My father was well-known in Poona. In subsequent days, he used to tell my father: ‘If Chandu has to play for India, the match has to be played at PYC Gymkhana. All in jest though,” Patankar recalled.
Moving to Bombay
After one year at Fergusson College, Patankar relocated to Bombay, mainly to join a medical college, but also to play cricket. Recalling his first year in the city, Patankar said, “My father wanted me to become a doctor. My sister and brother-in-law were professors in Ruia College, Bombay, teaching botany and physics. They were staying in the same building as Madhav Mantri at Hindu Colony. So I came to Bombay in 1948 and stayed at my sister’s place. I joined Ruia College, and after a selection trial, I was selected in the college team... We had Ramnath Kenny and Subhash Gupte. All of us were in the first year at Ruia and we won the inter-collegiate tournament. I played for six years for the college because I studied there up to MSc. Principal Dr. N. N. Murthy insisted I did my MSc and also play for the college.”
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’Keeping to Gupte
Moving to Bombay was big decision that Patankar made cricket-wise. But it was also a fortuitous one as he got the chance to keep wickets, for the college cricket team and also for Shivaji Park Gymkhana, to a leg-spinner who went on to be one of the greatest. “It was for the first time that I kept wicket to Gupte in 1948. I played a match for Bombay against the Commonwealth team, and after the match George Duckworth (the manager of the Commonwealth team) wrote in Sport & Pastime (the precursor to Sportstar ) that it was a rare combination to see Chandu Patankar and Subhash Gupte together and that Patankar could pick Gupte’s googlies. It was an encouragement for me. I was out first ball to left-arm seamer Henry Lambert. But everyone appreciated my work behind the stumps. Those days we played a number of matches against Commonwealth teams. I played five from 1950 to 1954,” said Patankar.
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Playing second fiddle
After being told that Patankar was in the Ruia team in 1948, Tamhane went to Siddharth College, but he joined Ruia a year later. “We were extremely good friends. We often exchanged equipment. When I was the captain of the Bombay University team in the early 1950s, the selectors did not pick Tamhane. The next year, Mehli Irani became the captain and both Tamhane and I were picked. All the matches were played in Bangalore. The selectors were Irani, Nari Contractor, Dadachandji and G. K. Menon, and all said that I should keep wickets. Naren came to my room and cried. Immediately I told Irani that I don’t mind being in the reserves and let Naren play the matches. Naren had, in fact, played against the Commonwealth team a few days ago. Eventually, I kept wicket and Naren fielded in the outfield,” said Patankar.
When the two graduated to Ranji Trophy cricket, Tamhane was the Bombay selectors’ choice and it was only in his absence that they picked Patankar, who played one match each in 1953-54 and 1954-55, three in 1955-56, none in the next two seasons, two in 1958-59, none the next season, one in 1960-61 (the final) and two matches in 1965-66 (semifinal and final).
Reminiscing about those challenging and difficult days, Patankar said, “Madhav Mantri wrote this to me: ‘Unfortunately, Chandu was born when another great cricketer was in action, but of the two, Chandu was better on the leg side.’ Even Tamhane understood my suffering. He even told his wife that it must be tough for me not getting enough chances to play for Bombay and India.”
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In 1954, Patankar got a call at the 11th hour as a replacement for Tamhane for trial matches involving India cricketers in Bangalore to pick the Silver Jubilee XI. Nayudu was chairman of the selection committee that watched the net sessions for three days and two practice matches to pick the team that would play Bombay.
“I was made the captain of one team that played the trial match. I was shocked. In the evening, CK asked me, ‘What’s the reaction of you being made captain? Mr. Patankar, don’t worry about what people say. You are going to open and I don’t want you to block a single ball. I don’t want you to bring pressure on the other batsmen. Hit every ball. Doesn’t matter if you don’t score, but hit,’” said Patankar. “CK was a disciplinarian, a man with a tremendous personality. He wanted you to be proactive. He would make you think. Ramnath Kenny was never considered a bowler, but CK made him a bowler in two days’ time. He told Kenny how to bowl, and he got two or three wickets in a match.”
Missing tours to West Indies, Pakistan
Tamhane and Patankar believed they were certainties for India’s first tour of the West Indies in 1952-53, but the selectors chose P. G. Joshi and E. S. Maka because of their experience. Joshi failed and Maka was injured, and India was forced to play Vijay Manjrekar as a wicketkeeper in the last Test at Kingston. “Later, Manjrekar met me at Shivaji Park Gymkhana. He threw the wicketkeeping gloves at me saying: ‘You were not there in the West Indies and I had to keep wicket.’”
Then, at a trial match at Kohlapur before India’s first tour of Pakistan in 1954-55, Patankar was going great guns as an opener when captain Vinoo Mankad asked him to get out because he and Tamhane were almost certainties for the tour. “I was in the Indian team on Day 1, and I was out of the Indian team on Day 2, with the selection committee choosing Mantri and Tamhane,” said Patankar.
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India debut, finally!
Patankar was picked for the Indian team for the five-Test series against New Zealand in 1955-56, and he got his chance in the fourth game in Calcutta. “I dropped one catch, and they dropped me. G. S. Ramchand was bowling with the new ball. The batsman top-edged and the ball went up and looked like a goti . I removed my cap and yet I missed it. I don’t remember the batsman’s name. I had never seen a ball going so high,” said Patankar, adding that he was in the reserves for probably eight or 10 Test matches after.
Being dropped after a single Test, Patankar was disappointed and his interest in cricket diminished over the years. After playing the 1965-66 Ranji Trophy final for Bombay, he decided to represent Maharashtra, for whom he played the full 1966-67 season. “Chandu Borde asked me to move to Maharashtra. The locals in Poona were not happy that I was going to play. But Borde told me he was the captain and there was nothing to worry about,” he said.
‘Theek hai yaar’
Patankar sympathised with his fate, summing it up as, “It’s my nature and I just said to myself, ‘ Theek hai, yaar. Kya kar saktha hai ? (It’s okay. What can one do?) I did not play for Bombay for two seasons. How does one expect a middle-class man to focus and expect to play for India?”
His cricket career did not give him consummate satisfaction, but Patankar was also somewhat unhappy with the way his medical college admission turned out. After completing his intermediate science studies, he was granted admission for an MBBS degree by the vice-principal of G. S. Medical College only to see it withdrawn by the principal who had promised the seat to a hockey player.
But the great game of cricket has taught Patankar a lot. “It has taught me not to hate anyone, to accept defeat, and when friends come your way, don’t begrudge them.”