Nari Contractor is never known to hyperbole. So when the Mumbai-based former India captain says Deepak Shodhan was one of the finest left-hand batsmen he has seen, you better believe him.
At 87 years and 211 days, Shodhan was India's oldest living Test player until yesterday morning. He passed away in Ahmedabad yesterday.
"He was a dashing batsman, who unfortunately could not play for the country over an extended period of time," said Contractor, who added that he heard that Shodhan, his senior in Gujarat Ranji Trophy team, was a victim of Indian cricket politics.
Victim of politics
"I heard that he was made to choose to align with one group. Unfortunately, he chose the wrong one." While Contractor stressed all this was hearsay, there was no doubt about his class.
"We were batting for Indian Universities versus the Commonwealth XI at Central College ground in Bangalore where Shodhan and me got centuries in the second innings. I remember him hitting Jack Iverson (Australia's googly bowler) for a six that went out of the ground and on to the houses. I had never seen such a huge six," recalled Contractor.
The Indian team which toured the West Indies in 1953. Sitting: Polly Umrigar, Datta Phadkar, C Ramaswamy (manager), Vijay Hazare (captain), Vinoo Mankad, GS Ramchand. Standing: Subhash Gupte, ES Maka, DK Gaekwad, CV Gadkari, JM Ghorpade, Deepak Shodhan (encircled), N Kannayiram, Vijay Manjrekar, PJ Joshi, Pankaj Roy and ML Apte. Pic courtesy: Deepak Shodhan's Personal Collection
"It is inexplicable. He got a hundred on Test debut against Pakistan in Calcutta in December 1952, went to the West Indies in 1953 and played only two Tests (scored 45 and 11 in Trinidad and 15 not out while running a temperature in Kingston) and never played again. "Watching him bat from the non-striker's end was a treat. I would say he was a better batsman than me," stressed 82-year-old Contractor.
"He was my captain when I got two hundreds against Baroda on my Ranji Trophy debut and I can never forget the help he extended to me. Shodhan never got into the thick of any nonsense and that's probably why he lost his place in the Indian team," said Contractor.
Shodhan's finest hour — his debut hundred against Pakistan in the Calcutta Test of 1952 — had a layer of sadness. In an interview with this writer four years ago, he said that a few of his teammates were not keen to see him get a century.
He had walked into bat at No 8 with India reeling at 179 for six. Shodhan told mid-day in 2012: "I looked at the batting order and discovered I was batting at No 8. I just said to myself, 'at least I am in the Test side'. Two players, who came in after me, gave away their wickets so that I wouldn't score a century. I told my partners to give me a stand. 'Don't worry,' they said and started hitting out.
"But Ghulam Ahmed was a real gentleman. I knew he would never throw away his wicket. "After all, Ghulam was essentially a bowler, so I had to take some risks and hit two boundaries to get closer to my century. Not all my teammates were happy for me. Let me be frank.
"They didn't like a Gujjubhai scoring a hundred. But Lala Amarnath, my captain came on the ground to congratulate me as I returned to the pavilion at tea-time. Pakistan captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar and wicketkeeper Imtiaz Ahmed congratulated me too," he said. The match ended in a draw and that was the last Test Shodhan played on Indian soil.