I never had more fun on tours than the ones on which Dicky Rutnagur was around. As a drinking companion, I dreaded keeping up with him in the evenings because I could not physically handle so much drink. But those long evenings were so instructive, so fascinating in its detail of cricket and cricketers past, that I never missed one.
I also had the pleasure of sharing rooms with Dicky on the county circuit when India were playing. There was always a place for me in his car. Sometimes, we were so raving mad as to get a ferry car from Sydney to Brisbane and drive it all the way, sharing the driving between us on a seemingly endless journey.
Dicky spoke long and lovingly of the game and its characters. I could write a book just on what Dicky had to say of Colonel C.K. Nayudu. Some of his memories of early Indian cricket are worth preserving – if only a historian would get down to it, it would be just great. If I was ever short of a feature to write, all I had to do was buy a few rounds at the bar on an evening and an authentic piece would soon have gone into print on some great cricket topic, unfortunately with my byline and not his.
We had a number of nicknames for him, including ‘Kores’ for the days in which he would serve so many newspapers in a day we would be wicked enough to suggest he get the carbon copy people to sponsor his trip. To his credit, Dicky always took the jokes on him very well.
A few may have suffered at the hands of the press box joker that he was reputed to be. You were not initiated into cricket journalism until you had been doused by his water pistol. Mercifully, he carried it in days when security was not the watchword it is, otherwise he may have had a tough time explaining what a gun was doing amidst the paraphernalia.
Dicky had such a witty comment for every situation it was impossible to be cross with him. There was a cricket official from whom he had borrowed money to tide over some small shortfall on tour. Since the pesky official kept pressing for repayment, Dicky came up with the classic line – ‘You keep bothering me like this, I will never borrow from you again.’
Walking into the Indian dressing room with him on the morning of the first ever Test match in Ahmedabad, Dicky came up with the best joke on the Indian team I had heard in a long time. Looking at all the Sardars sitting around – Sidhu, Sandhu, Maninder, Gursharan – Dicky came up with – Sorry, I thought this was the Indian dressing room, not the Motibagh taxi stand.’ I narrated the joke to skipper Kapil and I had never heard him laugh so much.
I last spent an evening with him at his Thames side apartment in Pimlico in 1999, during the World Cup, and given the spirit of the occasion, it was another long evening while we sat there amidst his books and his memorabilia. As I left to go back to my apartment in the Docklands, I knew I would be touring much less after that and we kept in touch by email.
Time flies. We know that even if it seems to stand still as we watch the game as the players of the present generation play it. All I can say is cheers for all the great times we had on tour in so many cities around the cricket world.
How I wish I was able to acknowledge in print all that Dicky did for me in my career as a cricket writer. Maybe, this is an opportunity.
(The writer is Resident Editor of Deccan Chronicle, Chennai)