The legacy of Rajkot

Schooling Ranji, meeting Bradman

Roving Reporter by Anand Vasu

October 4, 2003

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The forgotten princes
In many ways, Rajkot is the unlikeliest city to have a thriving cricket culture. It is prohibitively hot throughout the year, boasts no thriving tourist attractions and is pretty much a dustbowl. In many ways, though, the city has been linked with cricket in the most curious ways.

Not a long way from the Madhavrao Scindia Stadium is the little-known Rajkumar College. A misnomer to start off, for it is a school, the college was once the exclusive domain of the princes. The most famous of them all, Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, Ranji to the cricket-viewing public, studied here. More recently, Ajay Jadeja, a descendant of the big man, has been linked with the college.

If too many people are not aware of the cricket history of Rajkot, the Saurashtra Cricket Association must shoulder some of the blame. There lives in the city Vijay Singh Nakum, son of the once-feared fast bowler Amar Singh. Famous for his exploits bowling alongside Mohammad Nissar in the 1932-33 tour of England, Amar Singh has since passed away. His son, hale and hearty, is very much around. Sadly, though, the Saurashtra Cricket Association seems to have forgotten about his existence. Every time a match comes to Rajkot, Vijay waits for tickets, complimentary passes or some gesture from the association.

It came as a pleasant surprise when Raj Singh Dungarpur sent Vijay an invitation to attend a felicitation function at Mumbai. The Cricket Club of India is honouring Indian cricketers who have taken five wickets or scored hundred runs at Lord's. Vijay will be in Mumbai on September 19, accepting a piece of Lord's turf on behalf of his father. Small compensation, but something is certainly better than nothing, and perhaps this will serve as a wake-up call to associations who forget people who have rendered yeoman service to state or country.

Rajkot meets Bradman
One person who has put Rajkot on the Indian-cricket map, and retains a solid sense of history is Niranjan Rasiklal Shah. Most people know him as the former secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, but he has worn many more hats. A first-class cricketer himself, Shah was a batsman and former captain of Saurashtra.

The fact that he played just 12 first-class matches hardly rankles him. "At that time the selection process was not so organized. We had to also think about academics and a career outside cricket. You hardly got three or four matches a year," he began. "I have no regrets at all about how much I played. That time we were just playing for the fun of it. We wanted to enjoy ourselves. That was a different time. I had played with Sunil Gavaskar, Farrukh Engineer, Chandu Borde and other greats from West Zone. At that time West Zone was ruling Indian cricket. So I have no regrets at all."

When you go to Shah's office, though, you realize immediately that this is a man who knows his history. Behind his desk is a large framed photo of himself with Sir Don Bradman. Meeting Bradman is an experience Shah can never forget. "He is a legend. I had heard and read so much about him. At that time there was no television so you read a lot more in newspapers and things like that. You hardly got a glimpse of what great cricketers were like. It was the second or third day of the Test match at Adelaide. We were all sitting around a lunch table and I had the chance to ask him some questions."

One wonders what the two spoke about, but Shah prefers to keep that memory to himself. "Oh, this and that," he says, with a twinkle in his eye.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.

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