Sachin Tendulkar and Steve Waugh dropped by. Soon after, another legend, Sunil Gavaskar paid a visit. Vasant Raiji does not recollect those greats visiting him at his ocean-view south Mumbai residence. But there is a reason cricketing greats want to visit Raiji. On Sunday, the oldest living Indian first-class player completed a century in life. Born on January 26, 1920, Raiji is 100 years old now.
Primarily a batsman, Raiji represented Bombay (as it was known in his time) and Baroda in nine first-class matches before turning his attention to the family business of chartered accountancy. In a decade-long career that coincided with World War II, Raiji scored 277 runs at an average of 23 with one half-century.
Wishing you a very special birthday, Shri Vasant Raiji.— Sachin Tendulkar (@sachin_rt) January 26, 2020
Steve & I had a wonderful time listening to some amazing cricket stories about the past.
Thank you for passing on a treasure trove of memories about our beloved sport. pic.twitter.com/4zdoAcf8S3
Incidentally, Raiji's first-class debut wasn't with Bombay or Baroda, but for a Cricket Club of India (CCI) team that played against Central Provinces and Berar in Nagpur in 1939. History books list it as a festival match though, in which Raiji was out for a duck in the first innings and made 1 not out in the second.
It was a match in which he got the opportunity to play against some India stalwarts, including CK Nayudu, Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare and Lala Amarnath. Raiji's Bombay debut came in 1941 against Western India under Vijay Merchant's captaincy, a match that also featured Raiji's brother Madan.
After that Raiji made his debut for Bombay in 1941 against Western India under the captaincy of Merchant. That match also featured Madan.
In 2011, talking at a function organised by CCI to celebrate Merchant's birth centenary, Raiji recounted what Merchant had told him and Laxman Kenny, his opening partner.
"You two play for separate clubs," Raiji remembered Merchant saying. "You will not have much of an understanding with each other while running between the wickets. Be very cautious."
As it happened Raiji, Kenny and Merchant were run out.
Despite becoming a chartered accountant, Raiji's love for cricket never diminished. In the 1930s, Raiji was one of the founding members of the Jolly Cricket Club along with his longtime friend, the late Anandji Dossa, a well-known statistician in the last century. Former India allrounder Bapu Nadkarni, who died recently, played for Jolly, as did Eknath Solkar, Ashok Mankad and Yajurvindra Singh.
Despite switching careers, Raiji poured his love for the game into words by authoring several books, with his subjects ranging from CK Nayudu, Victor Trumper, Duleepsinhji and his own hero LP Jai, the former Bombay batsman who played one match, India's maiden Test at home, against Douglas Jardine's England in 1933 at the Bombay Gymkhana.
Raiji was one of the thousands that turned up to watch that historic match as a 13-year-old, but it was not easy. His father Naisadrai had to shell out INR 100, a king's ransom in those days, so that his son could enjoy India's first Test.
Raiji never forgot the events of the match, including Lala Amarnath becoming India's first Test centurion. Did that innings make Raiji take up cricket seriously? "Back then, there was no culture of deciding," Raiji told Mid-Day recently in an interview. He said Naisadrai wanted him and Madan to join NM Raiji & Co, the family-run CA firm. "Cricket was a hobby."
Raiji's memory might be failing him at times, but he does keep half an eye on cricket. He even has a view on the raging debate on four-day Test cricket. "A four-day Test series won't work at all. There will be too many drawn matches," he told Mid-Day.
A centurion in life, Raiji continues to enjoy his hobby.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo