The world of CG Joshi

23 May,2024 06:51 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Clayton Murzello

Keen sculptor at 92 and Rajasthan state leg-spinner, who figured in six unsuccessful Ranji Trophy finals against Mumbai, was privileged to be Sunil Gavaskar’s guest at a function in BKC last week

CG Joshi at function in Mumbai last week. Pic/Clayton Murzello

In early 2000, I asked former BCCI president and Rajasthan state captain, Raj Singh Dungarpur why he skipped a function involving past and present Mumbai Ranji Trophy and Test players at the Cricket Club of India, where Dungarpur held sway as president of the club.

He offered no time-related excuses, but said: "After ending up on the losing side in seven Ranji Trophy finals against those players, I didn't want to open old wounds for myself."

Last week, 92-year-old CG Joshi, the leg-spinner who figured in six of those finals for Rajasthan, had no such qualms in meeting his Mumbai opponents. He undertook a road journey from Pune to attend a party organised by Sunil Gavaskar at Bandra Kurla Complex. There were a few Mumbai players at the party whom he combated in those national championship finals - Gavaskar of course, Milind Rege, Abdul Ismail and Ajit Pai.

Joshi's arrival at the party venue was highly awaited by Suresh Shastri, his Rajasthan teammate, who went on to become an international umpire. Later, Joshi presented a bouquet to host Gavaskar and spent time with his early contemporaries in first-class cricket - fellow Chandus - Borde and Patankar, who sat alongside Nari Contractor. When Contractor signalled his arrival on the first-class scene with a hundred in both innings on debut for Gujarat, Joshi was in the opposing Baroda team. He scored a ton in adversity in only his second Ranji Trophy game for Baroda.

Connecting with Joshi a week before the function, I could feel his rising anticipation over being in cricket company again. His chats with me were just not about his cricket career, which encompassed 96 first-class games and 292 wickets. He told me about his love for art and him being an award-winning sculptor (I grabbed a glimpse of him showing Gavaskar his work saved on his mobile phone). He went on a scholarship to Italy before beginning his cricket career with Rajasthan after playing for Baroda in the Ranji Trophy from 1951-52 to 1955-56. The next 20 years were spent playing for the desert state, even as he headed the Fine Arts department at Mayo College in Ajmer.

Did he come close to playing for India? Joshi doesn't say so directly, but revealed that he was summoned by chief selector Vijay Merchant as replacement for injured Test leggie VV Kumar for the Rest of India v Mumbai Irani Cup in 1968-69. Joshi thrived on the opportunity to claim five wickets in the Ranji Trophy champions' first innings to help bowl them out for 224, giving the Hanumant Singh-led team a 117-run first innings lead. It was a rare loss for Mumbai, then led by Ajit Wadekar. Joshi's victims were Sudhir Naik, skipper Wadekar, Vijay Bhosale, Eknath Solkar and Milind Rege. Rest beat Mumbai by 119 runs.

"Diminutive leg-spinner Chandu Joshi cut the Bombay innings down to size. He was well supported by the off-spin of Venkataraghavan. After Sardesai's departure at 28, Naik and Wadekar took the score to 94. But Joshi effected the breakthrough just before tea [On Day 2] by dismissing Wadekar and, then, having the prized wicket of Bhosle, and of Solkar and Rege in quick succession," prominent journalist Sharad Kotnis wrote in the 1969 edition of Indian Cricket annual.

The same publication had Joshi as one of their five cricketers of the year in 1966 for his 30 first-class wickets in the 1965-66 season.

Rajasthan went all the way in their quest to win the Ranji Trophy in the 1950s and 1960s. Roping in big names was one route the men who ran Rajasthan cricket took. Vinoo Mankad, Vijay Manjrekar, Subhash Gupte, Rusi Surti and Arvind Apte played for them in their later years. Joshi reckoned that those decisions didn't help as it ate into the importance of nurturing local talent. Why did Rajasthan not win a Ranji title despite coming so close on seven occasions way back then, I asked him, while he prepared to leave for his May 16 visit to Mumbai. "We dropped a lot of catches and the captaincy left a lot to be desired," he said. His cricketing memories are vivid. One of his most satisfying performances was a 10-wicket match haul against Bishan Singh Bedi's Delhi in the 1974-75 Ranji Trophy season at Jaipur, where the visitors managed to win by three wickets. The cricketing lessons he learnt on his trips to Mumbai way back in the 1950s stood him in good stead till he ended his first-class career in 1977-78. As a Baroda player two decades prior, Joshi used to visit Mumbai to play games on turf wickets as Baroda's pitches were mostly matting. He turned his focus from batting to leg-spin when he shifted to Rajasthan.

Apart from recalling his Thursday host Gavaskar's hundred against Rajasthan in the 1969-70 Ranji Trophy final and the straight drive the young star played off him, Joshi also remembered how he was part of a group which was trapped in a jungle of dacoits after a match in Gwalior. Who played the prank on them he doesn't know, but GR Vishwanath revealed 15 years ago that it was all stage managed by MAK Pataudi.

In a talk show, Vishwanath said that he was in a car with BS Chandrasekhar, EAS Prasanna, and Joshi, when the dacoits surrounded them, and they did not discover that it was a prank until almost two years later!

Joshi told me that he, like the others, feared for his life, and a weak-hearted man could have ended up being a statistic that night.

Widower Joshi (his wife succumbed to COVID two years ago), father of a Pune-based son and a daughter who lives in America, enjoyed his brief visit to Mumbai. It has been exactly a week since Joshi's Mumbai trip, and I can safely assume that the thrill of meeting and greeting cricketers across generations lingers still. If only Raj Singh did a CG Joshi 24 years ago.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello

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