Chatting up with former India opening batsman Kenia Jayantilal during a cab ride
In this day and age, very few former Test players in Mumbai do not own a car. Kenia Jayantilal (67) is one. That’s why we were in a black and yellow taxi the other night, returning from a function at the Taj where Sir Garfield Sobers was the guest of honour.
Our journey to his Dadar east home gave me an opportunity to make him to recall that famous 1971 tour of the West Indies. He didn’t speak much on the first Test at Kingston, the only time Jayantilal made it in a Test XI, but spoke about other aspects of that series. The opening batsman from Hyderabad was edgy at the start of the tour for a very basic reason: Vegetarian food.
Kenia Jayantilal at his Dadar East residence, with a copy the late Bob Woolmer’s cricket instructional book. Pic/Rane Ashish
“The great Rohan Kanhai came to my rescue. He assured me I would get my vegetarian fare each day at the ground for lunch and amazingly, it happened. Indian families — wherever we went on the tour — fed me Indian food including puranpolis and believe me, they were as tasty and well made as in India. Dinner was not a problem either, because there was always some party thrown,” he recalled.
The Kingston Test, which he played in, witnessed the hosts following on, a rarity considering West Indies’ strength. “I can still remember Bishan Singh Bedi stressing in the team meeting that we must play aggressively and go all out for a win and not be satisfied with a draw,” he said. The Test was eventually drawn with Sobers and Kanhai thwarting India’s victory bid.
He batted only once in the Kingston Test match and was out to a blinder of a catch by captain Sobers. Uncapped Sunil Gavaskar who was injured, watched Sobers taking the catch, inches off the ground and exclaimed to Eknath Solkar sitting besides him that all he now wanted to see, irrespective whether he played on the tour, was Kanhai’s falling sweep. History tells us Gavaskar figured in the next Test, Jayantilal didn’t. The SMG era in Indian cricket had begun.
“I could have played the Georgetown Test of that series because I got 59 and 122 against Guyuna just before the Test. Kanhai, who was leading the Guyana team came to our dressing room and said to me, ‘so you’ll play the Test now’. When he discovered I was not in the team, he said, ‘very sorry Jay, you should be playing’.”
Jayantilal was picked for the 1971 tour of England but didn’t play any of the three Tests. “Even before the start of the series, Prasanna told me that we both won’t be playing the Tests, only tour games. I was surprised when he said that, but it turned out to be so true,” he said.
Jayantilal came on as substitute for Dilip Sardesai on the fourth day of the Oval Test that India won, and caught dangerman Basil D’Oliveira at mid-on off Venkataraghavan for 17.
How can any conversation with a 1970s Hyderabad cricketer not veer towards Pataudi and Jaisimha? It was teetotaller Jayantilal who used to serve them their drinks after play. “Jaisimha would have quite a few while Pat used to have only two and nurse his drink. Those days spent in the dressing room after play were memorable. Jai used to talk cricket and when he spoke cricket, he was dead serious, while Pat liked to talk about music also. He played the tabla well. Most of the time, he used my bats and pads. I never saw Pat carrying a kit bag and it was an honour to lend him my gear.”
If one thought that cricketers of old did not train hard, ask Jayantilal to give you his time table on non-match days. He learnt to train hard from fellow Hyderabad player S Abid Ali. “Abid is like my elder brother. He played very seriously and always trained hard. At five each morning we used to run 20 rounds of the Lal Bahadur Stadium followed by running up and down 30 steps of the stands. Then we used to head to the gymnasium for stretching exercises. After breakfast, Abid got ready to attend office at State Bank of Hyderabad while I went to Nizam College. After college, there were net sessions to attend from 3 pm to 6 pm”.
He served Hyderabad till 1978-79 and was an important member of the Mafatlal Sports Club team that won nine consecutive Times Shield titles in a row under Ashok Mankad.
Jayantilal later became a coach and played a role in the emergence of Abey Kuruvilla and other fast bowlers through the BCA-Mafatlal Bowling Scheme in the 1990s.
Our taxi ride was approaching the end. Jayantilal had had an unusually late night. Keeping fit is as important to him now as it was in his playing days. Thrice a week, he lifts weights and swims at the Bombay Gymkhana. Kenia Hirjee Jayantilal may have batted in just one Test innings for India, but he has been part of history.
Our one-Test men should never be forgotten.
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