Courage, his middle name

AT a time when our batting was folding up like a Goody Seervai accordion, he launched the scale of counterattack on Freddie Trueman that had to be seen to be re-lived.


AT a time when our batting was folding up like a Goody Seervai accordion, he launched the scale of counterattack on Freddie Trueman that had to be seen to be re-lived. Even before Fred Trueman happened to English cricket, he encountered, in Cuan McCarthy, the fastest bowler from White South Africa, then, and tamed him in a style etched in my brown mindset. Back in India, he ran into Australia's Pat Crawford bowling fearsomely quick and had his measure in a vein and mien spelling `Courage' as his middle name. He had no technique worth the name. But he had rare guts and the raw power to carry the attack to the opposition. This put the stamp on G. S. Ramchand as India's punchline down the order.

Former Indian skipper G. S. Ramchand, who passed away in Mumbai. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

His swing and swerve made Ramchand just what the curator ordered on those green English wickets. A strong versatile fielder anywhere, Ramchand pre-empted Eknath Solkar as India's first daredevil forward short-leg. In that specialist position, I beheld Ramchand dive and catch — one-handed each time — first Len Hutton (10), then Reg Simpson (23) and, finally, Denis Compton (14), all three off Ghulam Ahmed. A sight for the Gods this was in the June 1952 Leeds Test in which Ramchand started his Test career with a pair. His three close-in catches remaining of a calibre compelling you to zero in on his pair of hands rather than on his pair.

So much has already been written on the life and times of Ramchand Gulabrai Sipahimalani as India's ace all-rounder. I shall here, therefore, confine myself to his confrontation nonpareil with Cuan McCarthy, Fred Trueman and Pat Crawford in that valiant order. I was with Ramchand right through India's 1952 tour of England stretching to 130 days. Days during which his muscular mettle as an all-rounder was always to the fore.

His cricket was the man. Ram said to your face what he felt. He never kept anything in his heart of oak. He swung bat and ball alike with telling effect. He caught your imagination with his athletic ability to go for any chance in any position. He threw like a lion from the deep. He was a happening, happening thing on the field. He was appointed captain of India out of the blue. He was also, believe it or not, sacked (as player and captain alike) after that remarkable 1959-60 five-Test series against Richie Benaud's Australia in which he led India (at Kanpur's Green Park) to her first-ever Test win over Australia. He played for India as a point of pride — on crushing loss of pay. "I had third-class employers who never could comprehend how anyone could put Play before Work," Ram pointed out to me in disgust. By the time Air-India picked him up for his brand value, G. S. Ramchand was set to find his cricket career under an eclipse. He lived for the day, not the morrow. That his heart gave way in the end is the supreme irony of it all.

So over to Lord's and the June 1952 saga we know as "Mankad's Test." Even as Vinoo Mankad was immortalising himself with that herculean 184, Ramchand caught up with Trueman during lunch on the fourth day of that Lord's Test. "I'll smash you!" I heard Ram say to that tempestuous fastie, who had bowled him for 18 just when he was opening out in the first innings. As Vijay Hazare's India (already 302 in arrears) nosedived to 323 for eight from a vantage position of 270 for two, Ramchand took audacious charge. Coming in at No. 9, soon after the Queen had been introduced to him. The faster Trueman bowled the harder Ramchand hit him. His 42 came inside the hour — runs snatched through sheer manpower. That 42 by Ramchand, which had Trueman swearing wildly with each shot connected, resides in the mind and the heart as a knock all jigar. Twice during that 42 did Ramchand venture to hit Trueman straight over his rueful raven head. Maybe Trueman had his revenge by finally bowling Ramchand, yet again, in that June 1952 Lord's Test. But by then Ramchand had established that there was nothing True Grit could not accomplish in the instance of a man with a mission bringing to the game rare passion.

But even this Lord's 42 cameo was in the nature of an encore by a performer handpicked by C. K. Nayudu for his instinctive ability to put bat to ball. As Vijay Hazare's India played Cambridge University at the picturesque Fenners early on tour, our batsmen ran into South Africa's Cuan McCarthy bowling faster than anyone we had seen anywhere till then. There was juice in the Fenners wicket that morning and Cuan McCarthy had India in a real stew — at 127 for five — claiming the scalps of Pankaj Roy (1), Madhav Mantri (19) and Polly Umrigar (42).

This was the hazardous hour in which Ramchand cut loose. In the pavilion itself had Ramchand identified Cuan McCarthy as a master chucker and sworn to blast him. The way Ramchand got after such a quicksilver operator, now, left us viewers just dazed. Through three hours, he cut, hooked and pulled McCarthy in a valorous idiom yielding 21 fours from his bountiful blade. There were times when the ball ricocheted 20 yards inside the ground after it found the fence. As an exhibition of fire meeting fire, that Fenners Ramchand knock of 134 vs Cambridge University is part of my psyche.

Veteran Indian cricketers Bapu Nadkarni, Dilip Vengsarkar, Polly Umrigar and Ajit Wadekar paying their tributes. — Pic. PTI-

Ramchand, revealing the wrists of a navvy, brought to his extravaganza a rugged grandeur that had the Cambridge crowd cheering all the way. Of Cambridge's Cuan McCarthy, Ram was later to tell Oxford's players: "He just came and threw, so I let him have it!" Ramchand's shotplay that day was of a quality designed to render his batsmanship a joy even to the opposition. He came, he saw, he countered. Such a dauntlessly aggressive approach, in truth, is what made Ramchand so good an India captain nine years later.

The scene switches to Bombay's Brabourne Stadium on the opening morning of the second Test between Ray Lindwall's Australia and Polly Umrigar's India (during end-October 1956). Ray Lindwall, by that stage, is past his pacy prime. But Pat Crawford suddenly works up the dimension of pace having the Indian batsmen at sixes and sevens. As Pankaj Roy (31) edges a helpless slip catch to Peter Burge; as Polly Umrigar (8) has not even the time to bring down his bat before being bowled off-stump; as Jayasing Ghorpade (0) has his middle stump sent cartwheeling, Pat Crawford is making the Indian batting (at 74 for four) shake like an aspen leaf.

This is the mercurial moment Ramchand chooses to take Pat Crawford by the scruff of his Kangaroo neck. There is an almighty roar for a catch at the wicket (by Les Maddocks off Pat Crawford) against Ramchand before he has troubled the scorers. The Aussies feel they have got their man. But Ramchand later has me insistingly know that the ball actually grazed his thigh. Ramchand, G. S., never looks back from that piquant point. As Pat Crawford comes off with fiery analysis of 12-3-28-3, Ramchand has already established his sway. He is rampant there for five hours as he lashes 19 fours in a knock of 109 enduring as one of the nuggets of our cricket.

Yet again, in Ramchand's Test case, it is the triumph of Temperament over Technique. Such was his bravura that the man never ever said die. Whether it was Pat Crawford or Fred Trueman, Alec Bedser or Fazal Mahmood bowling, they all came alike to his bucolic blade. Ramchand came from Sindh to India after Partition. Never once losing focus in hitting back against odds.

I could enlarge upon Ramchand's measured swing bowling and his razor-sharp fielding. But it is his sustained show of nerve as a batsman (against the fastest bowling in the world) that conjures images making the pulse race.

His helmetless aura, as a fearless striker of the cricket ball, is something that is etched in the mind's eye. G. S. Ramchand, I say, should have tried his hand at doing a Western.

He would have been an instant cowboy hit as one unfailingly firing from the hip. Farewell, friend, your niche as a genuinely striking personality is secure in the Passing Parade of Indian Cricket.