Despite being the first Indian to score a hundred in his very first Test innings, Roshan ‘Deepak’ Shodhan remains the least famous of all 12 batsmen who scored a hundred on Test debut.
Shodhan is also among the five oldest Test players in India. He turns 84 today and still drives around Ahmedabad during the day in his Santro, follows cricket especially the young guns and plays bridge twice a week with his circle of friends.
Former Test cricketer Roshan ‘Deepak’ Shodhan at his residence in Ahmedabad on the eve of his 84th birthday yesterday. Pic/Nirav Trivedi
Glory at Eden
He played only two Tests for India after his memorable debut against Pakistan at the Eden Gardens. His story must be the most baffling in the history of Indian cricket. Shodhan is not overly bitter. He stressed that he was lucky to play the Kolkata Test in 1952 because Vijay Hazare dropped out to mentally prepare for the West Indies tour, where he led India.
However, Shodhan doesn’t hide his pain when it comes to talking about his debut hundred. “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’.”
Left-handed Shodhan walked into bat with India reeling at 179 for six. The next wicket (Dattu Phadkar) fell 86 runs later when India had crossed Pakistan’s first innings total of 257.
Now the twist. “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,” said Shodhan. Off-spinner Ahmed stayed unbeaten on 20 while Shodhan was last man out for 110. “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. I remember Pakistan captain Abdul Hafeez Kardar and wicketkeeper Imtiaz Ahmed congratulating me too,” he said.
In the Caribbean...
Shodhan was picked for the 1952-53 tour of the West Indies under Vijay Hazare. He scored 45 in the first innings of the first Test at Trinidad and was then only picked for the fifth and final Test at Kingston — more than two months after the first Test. “I fell ill after the toss in that Test. They wanted me to open the bowling but I couldn’t be on the field. In the second innings, the manager came to the hotel and accompanied me to the ground. “I was running a temperature but stuck around for 15 not out,” he said. An ill Shodhan had done his bit for India to deny the hosts enough time to score 181 in 145 minutes.
The Test ended with the hosts scoring 92 for 4.
Overall, Shodhan has no regrets: “I never dreamt of scoring a hundred on debut. Firstly, I was not supposed to play that Kolkata Test and then how could a No 8 batsman hope to score a century?”
But his tale has been told and that is an indication how tough it was to survive and succeed in Indian cricket way back then.
Shodhan also spoke on the following topics:
Too much cricket is bad for my eyes
I don’t watch too much cricket on television because it is bad for my eyes. There is a lot of cricket being played so I make it a point to watch highlights packages.
Kohli is so very consistent
Virat Kohli, according to me is the best batsman in business. He has been scoring consistently and that is what sets him apart. He used to throw away his wicket earlier, but now he is more solid and has improved his concentration. I also like the looks of Unmukt Chand, our under-19 captain. He is a good player and is cool under pressure. He waits for opportunities to hit and that is a good thing. The bowler will make mistakes and you will get opportunities to score. Like batsmen, they too have off-days. A skilful bowler like Lasith Malinga too can be hit as we saw recently.
Narine is better than Ashwin
I like the way West Indies’ Sunil Narine maintains a consistent line and length. He outwits batsmen too. India’s R Ashwin can bowl intelligently, but sometimes he loses his line. According to me, Narine is a better bowler than Ashwin.
I would have excelled in ODIs
I missed the one-day era. I was a strokeplayer and I would have thrived in the 50-over game. I don’t like 20-20 cricket though. I reckon it spoils your batting.
Amarnath was Captain No 1
I played my first Test under Lala Amarnath. He was a very aggressive captain. He loved to go on the offensive. In contrast, Vijay Hazare was very defensive. He was the worst captain I played under.
Those type of batsmen…
Players like Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare attacked only if they got half volleys. I loved to tackle the bowlers who attacked me and that is what the Pakistanis did in my first Test at Kolkata in 1952. They had a silly mid-on and a silly mid-off, but I got two boundaries (off Mahmood Hussain) initially in my innings and that gave me the confidence.
Fazal was the best
Fazal Mahmood was the best bowler I ever faced. He did not give me a half volley until I scored a century – a superb competitor. He used to cut both ways and had a lot of stamina. He bowled 64 overs in our first innings at Kolkata. Pakistan had a very strong team in the 1950s. While we took 39 years to win our first Test in England, Pakistan won a Test in their very first series there (The Oval, 1954).
High at Eden Gardens
Getting a hundred on debut at the Eden Gardens was a major thrill for me. It was jam-packed – around 60,000. I got a standing ovation and when I returned to the pavilion, they threw their topis in appreciation. Later, I met a lot of people who told me that they had seen my hundred in Kolkata and that always gave me a special feeling.
My impressive average
I am proud of my average – 60.33 – which should be among the top where Indians are concerned.
Inadequate practice on tour
I didn’t even get good opportunities to practice. We had to practice in the nets after all the good players. Sometimes we had non-bowlers and wicketkeepers bowling to us. Now, teams have coaches. I welcome the coach concept because he can have control of the team even if he does not control what happens on the field. So to an extent, the coach concept has worked.
In those days, there was a lot of politics which I am sure players don’t have to go through now. There was one person in the West Indies (in 1953) who ruled over everyone. I will not name him, but whatever he said, was done. After my West Indies tour, they just didn’t pick me despite me doing well.
CV Gadkari, JM Ghorpade were gems
CV Gadkari and JM Ghorpade were very good to me in the West Indies. Gadkari was a fine fielder too and we got a lot of praise for our fielding in the West Indies on the 1952-53 tour. The people in the Caribbean believed we were good because we caught a lot of mangoes from the trees back home. That was amusing to hear.
My brother Jyotindra
My brother is 88 years old. He is the oldest living Ranji Trophy player of the Gujarat Cricket Association.
He was once called for India trials at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. When he arrived at the ground, he discovered there was no selector at the nets. So he walked up to the CCI office and met one of the selectors, who was a CCI official too. He told my brother that he would watch him from his office. That’s how things were in those days. Of course, my brother did not play for India.
We did not have anyone to push or guide us. Cricketers from Gujarat players were called ‘matting players’. There were no turf wickets here, but Jasu Patel and me showed that we could perform on turf wickets too. Remember, Jasu bowled India to victory over Australia in Kanpur during the 1959-60 series.
My Gujarat Cricket Association…
They don’t care for me and I don’t care for them. They send me two passes for every game, but now they don’t send me a Car Pass so I don’t go.
Thank you, BCCI
I am very grateful to BCCI for looking after their old players. Many players - not me - were in bad shape. But now after this pension and one-time payment, they are back on track.
Five oldest living Indian Test players
Madhav Mantri (left). Born: 01-09-1921
P R Panjabi. Born: 20-09-1921
K Raisingh. Born: 24-02-1922
M R Rege. Born: 18-03-1924
Roshan Shodhan. Born: 18-10-1928