In the early 1950s, a father came looking for his young son who had fled from his Sangli home to Pune to live his cricketing dreams. He found him at the Deccan Gymkhana in whites, but little did he know that he had spent the last several nights in a dungeon living on a few hundred grams of channa-kurmara.
Vijay Bhosale has come a long way since those hard days. He turns 75 today.
In his 1955-1972 first-class cricket span, Bhosale scored 5729 first-class runs and his leg-spin fetched him 58 wickets.
“I was my parents’ only son, but I ran away from home just to avail of better cricketing facilities in Pune. My father (Hanumantrao) was a cricket coach at a school and taught the great Vijay Hazare his first cricketing lessons. I can never forget the help I got from Kamal Bhandarkar in Pune,” he recalled.
The hurt of not being able to play for his country cannot be concealed. According to him, he came close to an India cap twice. “In 1964, I was staying as a paying guest near Harkisandas Hospital (near Charni Road, Mumbai). I received a phone call from my ‘godfather’ Vinoo Mankad, who said that I would be called to play the series against Mike Smith’s English team, so ‘be ready’. I waited for the call the whole of next day, but the only call I received was from Vinoobhai, who said, ‘sorry Vijay, I couldn’t help you, but a selector told me that you stood a good chance,’ ” said Bhosale.
His next best chance was the 1967-68 tour of Australia and New Zealand: “I got 47 (highest score) in the second innings for Rest of India against Bombay in the 1967 Irani Cup. The touring team was picked during this game. H E Choudhary who umpired the game with AM Mamsa told me that I had been picked for the tour. BCCI secretary ‘Mama’ Karmarkar asked me to keep my passport ready and go for a medical test, conducted by the late Dr Arun Samsi. I was running temperature and I requested Dr Samsi not to fail me on those grounds. I passed my medical test, but was not picked. Ramesh Saxena got the nod. I was very, very sad.”
Then India captain Nawab of Pataudi was aware of Bhosale’s ability. “We batted together for Indian Board President’s XI against Ted Dexter’s England team at Hyderabad in 1961. We put on 112 runs on the first day. Next day, he got out and declared. I somehow got a lot of runs against touring teams,” said Bhosale, who scored an unbeaten 46.
His determination and ability to take things in his stride emanated from an incident that took place in after his first Ranji Trophy game for Maharashtra vs Mumbai) in February 1956. “I was very nervous and got a zero (caught Naren Tamhane bowled Subhash Gupte). My father, who had travelled from Sangli to Pune, walked into the dressing room after the match and said he didn’t want such a son and that I should be shot. This made me more determined. I just wanted to show him that I could become a good cricketer. So I worked on my game and watched the great players batting in matches and the nets. I learned an unbelievable amount just by watching men like Vijay Hazare.”
After two seasons with Maharashtra, Bhosale shifted to Baroda whose Maharaja offered him a scholarship.
Hard times prevailed in Baroda too. “My sister Sushma was a good badminton player – All India No 2 - and she used to help me occasionally with Rs five or ten which he earned from her tournaments,” said Bhosale.
He returned to play for Maharashtra in 1959-60 before being invited by Mumbai in 1967-68.
“I was working for BEST until one day a high ranking official at ACC asked his player who was this batsman who was always getting runs against them. He urged his ACC colleagues to employ me and so, with some degree of reluctancy, I joined ACC who I served till retirement.
Bhosale’s last Ranji Trophy game was the 1970-71 Mumbai vs Maharashtra final which Mumbai won under Sudhir Naik’s captaincy. “I was playing against my former team but there was no love lost. I tried my best. I got a duck in the first innings but made 55 (second highest to Mahesh Sampath’s 60) in the second. Chandu (Borde) always felt that only I stood in the way of Maharashtra’s victory.
“I quit after that final. Prof Chandgadkar urged me to stay on, but my mind was made up. I didn’t want to come in the way of upcoming players and Mumbai had a lot of talent.”
A few months before the final, he lent Sunil Gavaskar his ‘lucky kitbag’ to take to the West Indies. “I had bought this kitbag from one of my trips to England where I used to play in the Central Lancashire League. Sunil, my neighbour, borrowed it for the West Indies trip and returned it along with a bat which he gifted me after the tour. I was delighted he fared well with my ‘lucky kitbag.’ When he retired from international cricket in 1987, I threw it in the sea.”
Why Bhosale didn’t believe it was a valuable piece of cricket memorabilia will remain a mystery. Pretty much like his exploits on the crease that didn’t attract higher recognition.