Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022

India’s Oldest First-Class Cricketer Turns 100, Besieged By Admirers

Mumbai-based Vasant Raiji has problem in hearing, but follows cricket through newspapers and on TV

Twitter: Sachin Tendulkar

India’s oldest first-class cricketer, Vasant Naisadrai Raiji, completed a rare ‘century’ on Sunday, and the occasion became memorable for him as both his daughters and their families, as well as friends, converged in droves at his south Mumbai residence to celebrate 100 years of the cricketer-cum-chartered-accountant-cum-author. The landline at Raiji’s apartment kept buzzing all day, informs his daughter Renuka, settled in Australia and now in Mumbai for the special occasion, even as she answers each call patiently and politely.

(Cricket News)

Age has impaired Raiji’s hearing ability, and also that of his 94-year-old wife Panna, but he makes out from the gestures what the visitors, who called on him in droves on Sunday, informs Renuka. His admirers, it would seem, were just waiting for Raiji to complete the last ‘run’ to complete the ‘century’ to visit him and wish him in person. Former India captain Contractor, 14 years younger to Raiji, was among the earlier visitors to the 100-year-old Baroda-born batsman.

“He is healthy and fine – talking, walking, though with a walker. He looked much better than what I had expected. We talked cricket and general things,” Contractor, who played 31 Tests between 1955 and 1962, told Outlook.

About two weeks ago, Sachin Tendulkar and former Australia captain Steve Waugh had visited Raiji and cut a cake. Sunil Gavaskar, too, called on Raiji a few days.

“He’s 50-50 deaf. You have to shout to make him hear you. But he, kind of, looks at you and makes out what you are saying. And if the topic is something he is familiar with, he figures it out. But on the phone he is not able to hear the caller,” Renuka tells Outlook.

While Renuka has come from Perth along with her family, her sister Vrinda, who lives in Ahmedabad, has joined with her family. “I visit father twice a year. But on this occasion, I timed my visit to coincide with his 100th birthday. Apart from us, our cousins and kids have also come over, including some from Switzerland, to be present here. There must be about 25-30 family members who have landed for the occasion. Then, people are calling from all over the world to wish father,” said Renuka. She said her father reads the newspaper daily, and follows the game on television.

A former opening batsman, Raiji represented Bombay, Baroda, and the Cricket Club of India (CCI) in first-class cricket between 1941 and 1950. He played in the era when stalwarts like Vijay Merchant and LP Jai the leading lights.

Interestingly, Raiji made his Ranji Trophy/first-class debut, for Bombay against West India at Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium in November 1941, his younger brother Madan Naisadrai Raiji was also making his debut.

In Raiji’s ninth and last Ranji Trophy/first-class match, Dattajirao Gaekwad, now quite fit at 91, was also among the Baroda XI that thrashed Madras by an innings and 125 runs at Chepauk, Madras, in February 1950. “I was very small then. But I remember he batted well. He was an attractive batsman and would hit the ball hard,” Gaekwad, the oldest living India Test captain and oldest Test cricketer, told Outlook from his Baroda home.

Raiji was an author as well and wrote several books, which are rare. According to Theo Braganza, proprietor of Mumbai-based booksellers/publishers Marine Sports, Raiji wrote several books on the game. “To the best of my knowledge, he has written 12 books. Three of these we [Marine Sports] have published three. But when he wrote most of these books, we were only into selling sports books, not into publishing. For statistics, Raiji depended heavily on Anandji Dossa, the doyen among statisticians and his long-time friend. He was a great student of that era – Vijay Merchant, LP Jai etc. And whatever his contributions were there, they will be of great use to historians because without him you cannot write about Indian cricket history. ‘India's Hambledon Men’ is one of them,” Braganza told Outlook.

Sudhir Vaidya, the veteran statistician, remembers Raiji fondly for a special reason. “In 1969, I wrote a biography on Vinood Mankad. Raiji sent a copy of the book to ‘Cricket Quarterly’ magazine in London for a review without my knowledge. And when the review was published, he sent a copy of the magazine to me. I will never forget this friendly gesture of his. This morning [Sunday], I took out a copy of ‘Cricket Quarterly’ and read the review again. We have been friends for 40 years,” said the 81-year-old Pune based statistician.


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