Clayton Murzello: The first Ravi of commentary
Radio pundit Chaturvedi, who turned 80 yesterday, has a special affection for WI cricket, which made him an authority on the subject
Ravi Chaturvedi presents former West Indies wicketkeeper Deryck Murray with a statue of Lord Buddha for the museum of Queen's Park Cricket Club, Trinidad
It's been a while since Ravi Chaturvedi did his last radio commentary stint for All India Radio. In fact, he signed off a good six years ago, during the 2011 World Cup in India.
Recently, however, on India's limited overs cricket tour to the West Indies, Chaturvedi - who celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday - was invited by Trinidad and Tobago Radio as guest commentator for the June 25 one-day international while on a visit to Trinidad.
He was delighted to be back behind the microphone in the West Indies; a region that has a special place in this former commentator's heart.
It all started in 1976, when Chaturvedi did commentary alongside the late Suresh Saraiya in the India vs West Indies Test series, famous for the Bishan Singh Bedi-led India's 403-run chase and the bloodbath in the following Test at Kingston, Jamaica. Chaturvedi wrote extensively about the contribution of Indo-West Indians to Caribbean cricket.
Chaturvedi, a retired zoology professor with a special interest in fisheries and virology, is saddened by the dip in standards of Caribbean cricket. Many theories have been put forth for the decline, but Chaturvedi has an interesting one.
In his opinion, players of yesteryear came from very humble backgrounds and the only way to overcome poverty was to become good cricketers and earn a living through the game. The same is not the case now, so the focus on cricket has shifted.
Another sore point for Chaturvedi is the fact that radio commentary has been given step-motherly treatment in India. "Radio helped to spread the game and took it to the interiors. What is happening is most unfortunate and unbelievable," he said.
Over the years, his love for West Indies cricket helped him develop several friendships. Chief among those is former fast bowler Wesley Hall, who wrote an epilogue to his book on the World Cup. Among Chaturvedi's 23 books is a history of cricket commentary written in Hindi; an English edition can be expected by year-end.
It is not wrong to call Chaturvedi an authority on Caribbean cricket. An example of his knowledge came on India's 1976 tour. While Jeff Stollmeyer, the then president of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), was being interviewed on air during the second day of the Barbados Test, Chaturvedi surprised the Board chief and former West Indies captain by wishing him on his birthday and reminded him about how he and Vijay Hazare (also born on March 11) cut a cake together on the first day of the Georgetown Test in the 1952-53 series. Needless to say, Stollmeyer was impressed. Chaturvedi's commentary was equally pleasing to Hindi and English listeners. "I always called him Panditji - don't know why, maybe because he had a scholarly bent of mind. We did many commentaries together. He was always well prepared, with notes. He was always jovial in the box and helpful to his colleagues," said Fredun De Vitre, another popular commentator.
A commentator's job starts well before he enters the box and takes his position. Statistics and approaching landmarks is at the heart of preparation for every match and Chaturvedi felt the late Saraiya was the most dedicated of commentators he worked with. It was Saraiya whom Chaturvedi accompanied to meet Sir Donald Bradman in Adelaide on India's 1980-81 tour of Australia. "I was with Suresh at the Cricket Club of India before leaving for Australia. I spotted Rusi Modi, the former India batsman sitting near us. We approached Modi and asked him for a letter of recommendation to meet Sir Don. He obliged and that's how we could interact with the great man in Adelaide. When Raj Singh Dungarpur saw us conversing with Bradman, he expressed his desire to join in and that's how he met Sir Don too," recalled Chaturvedi. Anant Setelvad is another commentator he admired for his, "diction, modulation, pause and delivery."
As Chaturvedi opens a new chapter in the closing stages of his life's book, he'll look back with utmost satisfaction. Born in a village called Dalip Nagar at Kanpur, Chaturvedi's family moved to Delhi's Mall Road. He got hooked on to cricket by watching British officers play at the Delhi University ground, where he went on to play as a student.
Even as Delhi became his home, he didn't forget Dalip Nagar. His good offices helped the village to get electricity in 1986. The farmers needed help too, so Chaturvedi organised for a non-functional irrigational canal to be desilted, cleaned and repaired, to restore irrigation facilities for them to tide over lean monsoons.
All things said and done, Chaturvedi's 80-year innings has been masterly - both on and off the pitch. It's been just like the title of English cricket legend Charles Burgess (CB) Fry's autobiography, Life Worth Living.
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
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