Chetan Chauhan, the fearless champion of Indian cricket

“I’m a Rajput,” Chetan Chauhan would often announce during conversations. And he was one, fearless, on and off the field.

Chetan Chauhan, a batsman of remarkable resilience and patience, guts and spirit to battle. The former India opener passed away in Gurugram on August 16.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Chetan Pratap Singh Chauhan. “Why don’t you write my full name in the scoreboard?” He once asked me. I had no answer. “Relax,” he smiled. This was in 1985. We were at a press conference at the National Sports Club of India (NSCI). To get to interact with him was a privilege. And then came an unforgettable moment. “Where do you stay?” he wanted to know. “Nearby, sir. Two kilometres,” I mumbled. “I’ll drop you.” That short drive, being dropped home by a famous Test cricketer, endeared me to the man, who came to influence my understanding of the game.

To be informed of his death was heartbreaking. We grew up on some legendary tales of his crease occupation. Our introduction to him must be shared here. “Arre, yeh shot nahi maarte (He doesn’t play shots),” one spectator remarked. “Out bhi nahi hote (He doesn’t get out either)” snapped another. That was Chetan Chauhan. A batsman of remarkable resilience and patience, guts and spirit to battle. “I’m a Rajput,” he would often announce during conversations. And he was one, fearless, on and off the field.

Australian speedster Jeff Thomson experienced it first hand. He would bounce. Chauhan would let it go. When the bowler again pitched it slightly short, Chauhan would respond with a rasping square cut. He was good at it. You gave him an inch and he would grab a yard. Sunil Gavaskar, his illustrious opening partner, was an integral part of Chauhan’s adventures and conquests at the crease, relishing his contests with the bowlers, especially those who looked to intimidate. Chauhan knew no fear.

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“I’m shattered. Spoke to him a few days ago. I just can’t take it,” said former India all-rounder Madan Lal. “He was gutsy and hardworking. And the most trustworthy colleague. He had the determination to succeed and more often than not he did. He was such a wonderful human being.” Chauhan was also a superb athlete. He could run 10 kilometres to the ground and bat the entire day. He just loved the batting crease and the 22-yard strip of the cricket field.

Chauhan began his career with Maharashtra but it was former India captain Bishan Singh Bedi who brought him to Delhi in 1976. “I take no credit for that. He always wanted to come to Delhi. And we wanted him too because he could grind the opposition. He would stand up to the opposition. He never flinched and made such an enormous impact on cricket in the North. He did not mind playing second fiddle to Gavaskar. In fact, he played in the shadow of Gavaskar but had his own identity. He played a big role in the rise of North as a force in Indian cricket. He won many a battle for us but sadly lost his own to this dreadful COVID,” said Bedi.

In later years, Chetan Chauhan could not stay away from cricket and performed different roles — selector, manager, DDCA administrator, curator, commentator, coach — and finally Sports Minister in the Uttar Pradesh government.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

 

Cricket fans would vividly recall the incident in the Test against Australia in Melbourne in 1981. Gavaskar, livid at being given out wrongly, pushing Chauhan off the field. Chauhan, on his part, reluctant to oblige his captain, stuck to his resolve of not crossing the boundary rope. “I saw the danger of the match being forfeited had I stepped out. I saw the manager (Wing Cdr SAK Durrani) rushing down the dressing room and the sight of Dilip (Vengsarkar) waiting to step in was such a relief,” Chauhan would recall in many of our story sessions. This was his favourite. He scored 85 and set up an Indian victory. He was to play only three more Tests from there.

“I was his room-mate on that tour,” remembered former India captain Kapil Dev. “And what a learning experience it was. We all saw what happened on the field (in Melbourne) but he was such a caring man off the field. He made my tour enjoyable. Not once did he behave like a senior. He was like my big brother. So composed, so organised. What a gentleman, what a lovely human being. I never saw him raise his voice. Never saw him lose his temper. I was actually surprised how could a man of his temperament join politics. True to his character, he did well there too.”

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We know how Anil Kumble batted and bowled with a broken jaw in Antigua against the West Indies in 2002. Chauhan did something similar in the 1976-77 first-class season. But he did it for three matches, scoring a hundred on each occasion — 158 not out against Haryana in Rai, 200 against Punjab at Kotla and 147 against Karnataka in Bangalore. “We learnt later that his diet was only soup and juice, sipping through a straw,” said Haryana's Sarkar Talwar. The Rajput was just playing the warrior that he was!

Chauhan’s epic opening stand of 213 with Gavaskar at the Oval against England in 1979 almost saw India reach the target of 438. The match ended in a draw. “We should have won,” he often lamented but never blamed the poor umpiring that denied India a triumph. That he could never hit a century in Tests did not rankle him though. He came close twice (93 against Pakistan in Lahore in 1978 and 97 against Australia in Adelaide in 1981). He got past 80 on another five occasions but a century remained elusive for Chauhan.

I had the fortune of reporting his farewell first-class match — the 1985 Ranji Trophy final against Bombay when Delhi lost by 90 runs. Chauhan left his mark on the occasion with fine innings of 98 and 54. He got rough decisions in both the innings and I was witness to one of the umpires offering his apologies to Chauhan at the end of the match when he came to know it was his farewell appearance for Delhi. Chauhan, true to his nature, just smiled in response.

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In later years, Chauhan could not stay away from cricket and performed different roles — selector, manager, DDCA administrator, curator, commentator, coach — and finally sports minister in the Uttar Pradesh government.

He told his friends “I will come out of this,” even as he fought the coronavirus which infected him in Lucknow in July.

He breathed his last in Gurugram. As Kapil said, “He went too soon.” He indeed did. Thanks for being a great teacher and student of the game. RIP. Chetan Pratap Singh Chauhan.