He breathed cricket

Published : Sep 19, 2009 00:00 IST



As an administrator, chairman of the National selection committee, manager of Indian teams and as President of the BCCI, Raj Singh Dungarpur made a big impact, writes G. Viswanath.

Raj Singh Dungarpur, a distinguished first-class cricketer for Rajasthan and a few other teams and former President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), died in Mumbai on September 12 at the age of 73. The scion of the royal Dungarpur family lived life with gusto until he lost his battle against diabetes and Alzheimer’s at his sea-front home, where he moved into after spending nearly five months at the Bombay Hospital a year ago.

Affectionately called ‘Rajbhai’, the Cricket Club of India (CCI), of which he was the President for nearly 14 years, was like his home. He was also an honorary life member of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) and the Surrey County Club. Raj Singh could not be distanced from cricket and hence bought apartments close to the Wankhede Stadium as well as the Lord’s Cricket Ground. For a number of years he also made Suite No. 215 at the CCI club house at the Brabourne Stadium his home. However, following unpleasant events at the CCI later, his health deteriorated and he had to leave the club once for all.

The distasteful incidents at the club even led to the suspension of Raj Singh’s membership for two years, and for someone who held the CCI close to his heart, it was rather unfortunate.

For many years Rajbhai campaigned hard to preserve the primacy of cricket at the club by inviting Bob Simpson, Bob Taylor, Phil Philpott, Jonty Rhodes, Nari Contractor, Vasu Paranjape and the late Hanumant Singh to conduct clinics. He was chiefly responsible for resolving CCI’s strained relationship with the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) and ensured that first-class and international cricket returned to the Brabourne Stadium. He eagerly hoped to see a Test match played at the Brabourne Stadium again, and that will happen in his absence as Sri Lanka is scheduled to play a Test at the CCI this December.

As an administrator, chairman of the National selection committee, manager of Indian teams and President of the BCCI, Rajbhai made a big impact. “For Rajbhai, it was cricket from dawn to dusk, during breakfast (at the coffee shop), lunch and dinner (at Chinaman or Allrounder),” said Jaywant Lele, the former secretary of the BCCI.

Rajbhai’s love of the game and his knowledge of the history of cricket made him a big hit, especially with the media. He was never tired of talking about Col. C. K. Nayudu, Vijay Merchant, Vijay Manjrekar, Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare and Dattu Phadkar. He always made it a point to mention about the rescue act by Hazare and Phadkar after Freddie Trueman had reduced India to 0 for 4 in the second innings of the Leeds Test of 1952.

Rajbhai had great regard for the professional approach shown by Vinoo Mankad, whom he used to address as ‘Mulvantrai’. During the 1947-48 tour of Australia, Ray Lindwall had dismissed Mankad cheaply for scores of 0, 7, 5 and 5 in his first four innings. Thereafter, Lindwall advised Mankad to modify his back-lift. The Indian duly obeyed and scored 116 and 111 in the two Tests in Melbourne. “That’s called professionalism,” Rajbhai would say.

Parties were quite common at the CCI and Rajbhai would revel in the company of Polly Umrigar, Chandu Borde, G. S. Ramchand, Bapoo Nadkarni, Sharad Diwadkar, Madhav Mantri, Salim Durani, Ajit Wadekar, Dilip Sardesai, Ramakant Desai, Nari Contractor and Eknath Solkar. Raman Subba Row was a visitor he would look forward to each year.

Rajbhai captained Mayo College, Ajmer, and Daly College, Indore. He graduated in arts from Vikram University, Ujjain. He played for Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy for 16 years as a fast-medium bowler. In 86 first-class matches for Rajasthan, Central Zone, Board President’s XI, Madhya Bharat and a few other teams, he took 206 wickets — 7-88 being his best — and scored 1292 runs.

Rajbhai’s only regret was that Rajasthan could never beat Bombay in a Ranji Trophy final.

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