Clayton Murzello: Braveheart Dharod's last goodbye
Had it not been for Ramji, the Wankhede Stadium pitch would have been in an irreparable state for the 1975 India vs WI Test to resume
The late Ramji Dharod with star cricketer Karsan Ghavri outside the Wankhede Stadium dressing room, during the India vs West Indies Test in 1975
Swing bowlers don't hurt batsmen, but their skills leave a lasting impression on their victims. The same could be said of Ramji Dharod, who passed away earlier this week, aged 77.
Dharod was well-known in the Mumbai cricketing fraternity for his swing bowling; an art he showcased while playing for Sunder Cricket Club on the club circuit and Dena Bank in inter-office cricket.
More on his cricket-playing days later, but first, something of greater significance should be highlighted.
On the second day of the 1974-75 India vs West Indies Test at Wankhede Stadium, a spectator, who ran out in the centre to congratulate Clive Lloyd for reaching his double century, was beaten up by the police. Enraged by the police reaction, a section of the crowd ran on to the pitch. A stand was set alight. Sensing that the pitch would be damaged at the new stadium, Dharod, who was at the ground, jumped over the picket fence at the pavilion end and, along with another volunteer named Bhagwat, convinced the irate spectators not to damage the pitch since the Mumbai Cricket Association's (MCA) reputation was at stake. They listened to his pleas and the pitch was saved for the game to continue the following morning.
The MCA shouldn't forget Dharod's act. He could well have been beaten up by the police for running to the centre and, just as easily, he could have been a victim of mob fury.
At Sunder Cricket Club in the 1960s, he bowled medium pace alongside Hemu Dalvi, another swing bowling exponent, who coached former India bowler Balvinder Singh Sandhu.
Kishore Udeshi, the former Bombay and West Zone schools batsman, recalled how confident Dharod was of his abilities in his own near-silent way. "We were playing E Merck in the Times Shield 'C' division final at Parsee Gymkhana some time during the 1970s. They had a hard-hitting dangerous batsman called Parshya Koli, who had a good amount of runs and confidence leading up to the final. Dharod came to me and said we need not worry about Koli because he would get him out. He did and we won," said Udeshi, one of Dena Bank's principal scorers with a double century. The other batting star of the match was PY Mitkar, who scored a century and a triple century.
Shashi Nayak, who was in the opposition, remembered Dharod's presence and how it hurt to end up losing by just 50-odd runs in a six-day, play-to-finish final. "I will never forget what happened at the end of the match — six of their players, including Dharod, were on the ground, vomiting due to fatigue," he said.
Hanumant Singh was a big obstacle whenever Dena Bank clashed with State Bank of India, but if there was one bowler who could dismiss the India batting stylist early, it was Dharod.
"Dharod dismissed Hanumant several times. He had great control over outswing and inswing. I remember a batsman called Sudhir Patkar, who had scored 431 in a school match. Patkar was playing against us at Bombay Gymkhana and got two outswingers from Dharod. The third ball was an inswinger which surprised Patkar and he was bowled," Udeshi reminisced, stressing that Dharod would never talk about his exploits.
Udeshi was at Dharod's funeral on Monday, as were former Test star Karsan Ghavri and Prasad Desai, another former Mumbai fast bowler. As we walked out of the crematorium, Desai told me how he had got injured while playing a Vizzy Trophy game at the Wankhede Stadium. The ball cut his ear and he was bleeding as he walked back to the dressing room. Suddenly, someone he didn't know led him to a car and they were driven to Bombay Hospital. The stranger was Dharod.
Dharod leaves behind a devastated family and friends whom he cared for more than himself. His few cricketing treasures included photographs of his Dena Bank triumphs, his Times Shield best bowling prize, a photograph of Ghavri and him and a framed photograph of Sunil Gavaskar on which the batting icon signed and wrote, "Ramji, with sincere thanks for your part in the growth of my career. Best wishes always."
A fine innings has come to an end. It started with a bouncer in the form of the death of his mother when he was little. He soldiered on, fell in love with cricket, played it in the most gentlemanly fashion and lived a satisfying retired life without complaining too much of his troublesome leg and weak heart. His innings ended calmly with his twin sons, Ashish and Amish, by his side as he suffered a cardiac arrest. Ramji Dharod walked back to the pavilion with dignity.
mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to email@example.com