The highest Vasant Raiji could achieve in first-class cricket was 68 runs. He outlived that total many winters ago and scored a century this Republic Day—his 100th birthday. He is India’s oldest living first-class cricketer, author, chronicler of Indian cricket’s fledgling days, and chartered accountant. Age-related problems have dimmed his hearing; locomotion is aided in the form of a walker. But at his Walkeshwar home in Mumbai’s Malabar Hills, he still follows cricket as keenly as he has done before—when his brain was more alert, his muscles were springy. He pores over cricket news in the papers, watches matches on TV, says daughter Renuka, who flew from Australia to celebrate her father’s ‘century’. She is among the 30-odd family members who converged from across the world for the occasion.
Former India captain Nari Contractor, 85, was among the Mumbai-based admirers who visited him. Among those who couldn’t reach but wished Raiji well was 91-year-old Dattajirao Gaekwad, his former Baroda teammate. “I remember he batted well. He was an attractive batsman and would hit the ball hard,” Gaekwad, who is India’s oldest living Test player and Test captain, tells Outlook from his Baroda home.
Raiji played nine first-class matches—for Baroda, Bombay, and the Cricket Club of India (CCI)—between 1939 and 1950. He’s better known as a cricket author. “To the best of my knowledge, he has written 12 books. We published three,” says Theo Braganza, proprietor of the Mumbai-based Marine Sports.
Historian/author Ramchandra Guha calls Raiji’s contribution to cricket literature “very substantial”. “He worked scrupulously and diligently. He’s also a very nice and helpful man,” says Guha, who’s indebted to Raiji for helping him when he was writing A Corner of A Foreign Field. Statistician Sudhir Vaidya, 81, remembers Raiji—a friend of 40 years—for a special reason. “In 1969, I had written a biography of Vinoo Mankad. Raiji sent a copy to Cricket Quarterly magazine in London for a review without my knowledge. When the review appeared, he sent me a copy. I’ll never forget his friendly gesture,” he says.