Clayton Murzello Column: His name is Anthony Fernandes!

Remembering the Baroda, West Zone and ACC pace bowler, who passed away last week

While a section of the city’s cricket fraternity are glum over prolific Mumbai batsman Shreyas Iyer and in-form pacer Shardul Thakur’s non-selection in the Indian team for the limited overs series in Australia, this cannot be viewed as a blatant case of selectorial injustice. These young men are too good to be off the selectors’ radar.

Talking of injustice and indifferent selection, some cricketers with serious ability missed out on India’s 1967-68 tour of Australia: Budhi Kunderan, Hanumant Singh, Nari Contractor, Vijay Bhosale and, as I discovered only the other day, a 22-year-old pace bowler from Baroda — Anthony Longinus Fernandes — was in the reckoning too. Fernandes passed away last Saturday at the age of 70.

An undated image of the late Anthony Fernandes (right) disturbing a batsman’s furniture. Fernandes represented Baroda, West Zone and ACC in first-class cricket during the 1960s and 1970s. Pic courtesy: Fernandes’ Personal Collection
An undated image of the late Anthony Fernandes (right) disturbing a batsman’s furniture. Fernandes represented Baroda, West Zone and ACC in first-class cricket during the 1960s and 1970s. Pic courtesy: Fernandes’ Personal Collection

Kunderan was snubbed for some unknown reason and grapevine has it that the selectors used Hanumant Singh’s Guinea Worm disease as an excuse for not picking him. Former India captain Nari Contractor’s exclusion was not only because the selectors feared another injury like the one he had sustained in the West Indies in 1962. There was more to it. Vijay Bhosale, a heavy scorer of domestic runs, too fancied a chance in MAK Pataudi’s touring team, while ML Jaisimha, who scored a Test century on arrival in Brisbane, made it there only as replacement for an injured Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.

The late Anthony Fernandes (right) with Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar. Pic courtesy: Fernandes family's personal collection
The late Anthony Fernandes (right) with Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar. Pic courtesy: Fernandes family's personal collection

Back to Anthony Fernandes, ‘Tony’ to his friends and teammates. His brother Leslie, who also played for Baroda, vaguely remembered Fernandes being a probable for the 1967 tour of England as well. Leslie said his brother may have been called for a camp and then discovered he was not in the team. Not getting a chance to wear India colours left Fernandes gutted. The newcomers who went in his place in 1967 didn’t set the Thames or the Yarra on fire.

Fernandes played for the Associated Cement Company (ACC) on the inter-office circuit and was a fine teammate to big names like Polly Umrigar, Bapu Nadkarni, Ramakant Desai, Dilip Sardesai, Sunil Gavaskar and Karsan Ghavri in the Times Shield and Moin-ud-Dowla, then a first-class tournament.

Ghavri cannot forget the three years he spent sharing a flat with Fernandes at Byculla in Central Mumbai during their ACC days in the early 1970s: “Tony was a gem of a person apart from being a very good fast bowler. We may have been flatmates and teammates, but when we clashed in first-class cricket, he was as aggressive as they come. He would stare at you.

“We were always together, playing cricket for ACC and Parsi Cyclists. We also played TT and billiards. After work, we used to walk to VT station for our train journey to Byculla. Often, he would mention his disappointment over missing the 1967-68 tour of Australia. In fact, he got a chance to visit Australia when he got a club contract in Tasmania (in 1973-74). He would have gone for another season but couldn’t manage to get leave from office.”

Tasmanian cricket in those days, when they were not a Sheffield Shield-playing side, was happy to have him playing and coaching a club team called Burnie. Fernandes, along with Pakistan batsman Sadiq Mohammad and England cricketer Jack Simmons, was considered prime import.

Tasmania cricket historian Rick Smith recalled Fernandes’ short stint : “I remember Tony when he came to Burnie. He coached only in 1973-74, when he played 12 matches and scored 161 runs at 15 and took 27 wickets at 11.”

Fernandes went on to take 100 wickets in first-class cricket in a career spanning 1962-63 to 1973-74. He was the leader of the famous Baroda pace trio, which included Narayan Satham and Cecil Williams, and the one performance by Fernandes that Mumbai cricketers will remember most is Fernandes (4-54) and Satham (6-74) dismissing the Ranji Trophy kings for 129 in Baroda on January 22, 1972. In response, Baroda were bowled out for 42 and Sardesai’s Mumbai team ended up winning by 284 runs.

“I learnt so much about bowling from Fernandes, an outstanding outswing bowler. He was a great partner to me and deserved to play for India,” said Satham.

A few years ago, Fernandes was diagnosed with cancer and hopes of him staging a comeback were slim. Only recently, he found a telephone number of an old friend from his ACC days. They chatted and Fernandes ended the conversation indicating that he would not be alive for long.

At hospital the other day, he told his son Sheldon that he was tired and wanted to get home. He was brought home on Friday and breathed his last the very next day at Byculla, after spending some time with his grandchildren. To Sheldon and his family, he lives on through the wonderful memories of his good, straight-talking nature, trophies, a misplaced bail (which went a long way towards the boundary after clean bowling a batsman), photographs and a packet of newspaper clippings. Two of those clippings had headlines that read ‘Battler Tony’ and ‘Anthony delays the end’. The words aptly summed up the latter part of his life.

mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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