Odd men in April 25, 2006

Dilip Doshi - The man apart

Dilip Doshi was 32 by the time he found a niche in Tests, and already steeped in the traditions of which he was part

Odd Men In - a title shamelessly borrowed from AA Thomson's fantastic book - concerns cricketers who have caught my attention over the years in different ways - personally, historically, technically, stylistically - and about whom I have never previously found a pretext to write



Dilip Doshi: his bowling was full of double-meanings and hidden depths, both inviting and aggressive, patient and probing © The Cricketer

Anyone who grew into their cricket in the 1970s will remember how crisply the world then divided. From Australia came moustachioed bandidos in baggy greens. In West Indies originated towering, raw-boned fast bowlers. England provided the dour professionals and resourceful defenders. And India? India was the home of spin - apparently, in fact, its last bastion, in an era besotted with pace supported by a crescent of slips.

Everyone knew the chief quartet: Prasanna, Bedi, Chandra and Venkat, so original and so different from one another. Then there were others, who had to make the best of limited opportunities: left-arm slow bowlers as good as Rajinder Goel, Rajinder Hans and Padmakar Shivalkar, and the excellent offspinner Shivlal Yadav. Primus inter pares in that group, though, was Dilip Doshi.

Doshi was 32 by the time he found a niche in Tests, and already steeped in the traditions of which he was part. He was a negligible batsman, and with his unathletic physique, baggy creams and thick square spectacles reminded Alan Ross of a French semiotician, a Barthes or a Levi-Strauss. It was a subtle analogy, for Doshi's bowling was full of double-meanings and hidden depths, both inviting and aggressive, patient and probing.

In Australia in 1980-81, Doshi was a revelation. It's often said that Australians favour visiting players who seem to reflect, and thus endorse, their own mores - Botham and Flintoff have, in their days, been typed "almost Australian". Yet touring cricketers have also become popular here for the opposite reason, that they savour of distant places and different ways of life. Patsy Hendren, Maurice Tate, Freddie Brown and Ken Barrington were quintessential Englishmen; Garry Sobers and Wes Hall were archetypal West Indians; Imran Khan was no version of Australia Lite.

Doshi cut an unlikely figure, but his love of cricket was abundant and obvious, and he was incurably game; though he might be slow across the outfield, he never gave up a chase; even in adversity, his smile was never far away. He was brave, too, bowling 74 overs in the Melbourne Test with a fractured toe.

Although Doshi could turn the ball appreciable distance in responsive conditions, what left the strongest impression was how long he could make it hang in the air, as though suspended in a cobweb

With a ball in his hand, he was never other than poised, setting the field like a finicky host setting the table. He had one of those approaches you could watch all day: a dainty run that turned him exquisitely side on, followed by a delivery stride where his bespectacled eyes would be just visible over his high right arm. His body would pivot into a follow through that brought his left hand below knee level.

Although Doshi could turn the ball appreciable distance in responsive conditions, what left the strongest impression was how long he could make it hang in the air, as though suspended in a cobweb. Greg Chappell collared him in Sydney, but Doshi came back by dismissing him twice in Adelaide, sweeping at a ball that bounced too much in the first innings, then beaten in the air coming down the wicket in the second. Chappell turned on his heel without trying to remake his ground, bowed his head penitently, and stripped off his gloves in his few strides for the pavilion. "Too good," he seemed to say, "too good."

Australian spin bowling was then in a parlous state, and Doshi was a tonic to palates jaded by the monotonies of medium pace. "Doshi taught us by example," wrote Bill O'Reilly. "Refined, thoughtful and brilliantly-executed spin can offer the game an exciting future." O'Reilly would live just long enough to see Shane Warne fulfil the prophecy he'd made watching this improbable visitor.

Yet while Doshi took 114 Test wickets at averages and strike rates in Bedi's class, he came and went quickly, not so much for reasons of form as because he was out of tune with the mores. The early days of the proliferation of limited-overs cricket were characterised by formulaic thinking, including the idea that spin was de trop. Doshi gave up fewer than four runs an over in his 15 ODIs but could not keep his place; he took a fabled 8-7-1-1 in a Sunday League match for Notts against Northants and was left out of the county's next game. Even his pedantic way with field placings was held against him. Didn't he realise that spin bowlers were there to speed up the over-rate and kill a few hours while the fast men got their breath back?

His autobiography also makes it clear that Doshi harboured his own objections to the game's trajectory. Most players are broadly in favour of commercialisation; certainly, they would no sooner object to it than fluoride in the water supply. In Spin Punch (1991), Doshi is almost entirely antagonistic to "professionalism and money-mindedness".

Hovering over the book is the figure of Sunil Gavaskar, now so gushing about the honour of representing India, but who Doshi depicts darkly as a petty tyrant `bogged down in personal likes and dislikes'

The Indian team, he says, had a "one-track obsession" with money that he found `quite disgusting'. The BCCI, meanwhile, was "a government within a government, almost totally not accountable to anyone". Doshi was, in his own account, a man apart. He reports that he declined the opportunity to write a newspaper column because it would `bring out into the open what were essentially confidences'; he thought throughout his career that advertising and endorsements were "totally out of hand". He even recalls a team meeting before the first one-day international in India where the conversation was entirely devoted to sponsorship, prize money, logo royalties and match fees: "Cricket was discussed only as an afterthought".

Hovering over the book is the figure of Sunil Gavaskar, now so gushing about the honour of representing India, but who Doshi depicts darkly as a petty tyrant "bogged down in personal likes and dislikes", and "either evasive or flippant" when challenged - as, for instance, when he instructed Doshi to take more time over his overs against England in 1981-2, then left the bowler to bear the brunt of criticism for India's abysmal over-rate.

Such selfishness, in Doshi's view, was contagious. In one vivid anecdote, Doshi recalls apprentice paceman Randhir Singh taking the ball on a green-top in a tour match at Canterbury. In a trice, three catches were dropped by the "stalwarts who stood in the slips apparently for no more than a pleasant chat amongst themselves". Not only was no apology tendered, but no one took any notice. This, said Doshi, was the "crudest and ugliest face of Indian cricket". If his own face did not ultimately fit, perhaps it is a testament to him.

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer