Full stop

Updated: Jun 14, 2020, 10:13 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Indian cricket's 'centurion' Vasant Raiji, who passed away in his sleep on Saturday morning, will be remembered for his contribution to Indian, as well as global literature of the willow game

Vasant Raiji at his Walkeshwar residence in South Mumbai a few days before his 100th birthday in January this year. PIC/PRADEEP DHIVAR
Vasant Raiji at his Walkeshwar residence in South Mumbai a few days before his 100th birthday in January this year. PIC/PRADEEP DHIVAR

However gutted death can make you feel, when it concerns a cricket personality, can trivia be far away? Only to prove it can't, Vasant Raiji, until the wee hours of Saturday, the world's oldest living first-class cricketer (100 years, 139 days), passed away on the birth anniversary of KS Duleepsinhji.

Raiji figured in only eight Ranji Trophy matches—two for Mumbai and six for Baroda—but his greatest contribution to the game was in the sphere of literature.

This was not restricted to India. Australian cricket historians will remember his book on Victor Trumper, which was recently highlighted by that country's top cricket writer, Gideon Haigh, in his book on the second-most significant legend in Australian cricket after Sir Donald Bradman.

Talking of Bradman, whom Raiji regularly wrote and received letters from, there is a passage written by our Walkeshwar man, which should earn more plaudits than it has got.

Bradman, as Indian cricket fans will tell you, did not step on their streets. Raiji compared Bradman's decisions to God's will when he wrote: "Indians worship a multitude of gods. In Sir Donald Bradman, they have their God of cricket. God is perfect. In the eyes of the Indians, Bradman is the perfect batsman. God is unseen. Indians have not seen Bradman play. God's ways are inscrutable."

On the way to England in 1948, the ship (Strathaird) carrying the Ashes tourists stopped at Mumbai, but Bradman wouldn't get off amidst rumours of a plague. In 1953, he had to stop at Kolkata en route to report on the 1953 series in England. He and Lady Jessie enjoyed some Indian hospitality from cricket officials at the airport. So, Indian fans never got to see Bradman. Bluntly put, he was scared about contracting a disease, hence kept away, even from the 1987 World Cup which his country ended up winning.

The body of former India first-class cricketer Vasant Raiji being carried at the Banganga crematorium on Saturday. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The body of former India first-class cricketer Vasant Raiji being carried at the Banganga crematorium on Saturday. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Raiji wrote on an array of Indian cricket stars of yesteryear—Nayudu and Mushtaq; Merchant and Deodhar; Amarnath, Hazare and Phadkar. He worshipped Nayudu to such great lengths that he compiled a book on him in 1990. As a child, he watched Nayudu lead India in their inaugural home Test—against England—at the Bombay Gymkhana in the December of 1933.

Raiji's 100th birthday on January 26 this year was celebrated with visits from Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Steve Waugh, Nari Contractor and Russi Cooper, 97, who is now the oldest living Indian first-class cricketer.

When Sunday mid-day met him at his home in January, Raiji didn't seem to remember all his favourite cricketing exploits in great detail, but you got the feeling that all those firm strokes, delicate glances, deceptive deliveries, quicksilver fielding and the obduracy displayed by the toughest of players in the Ranji Trophy, Pentangulars and of course Test matches at the CCI, were playing out in his mind even during the last days of his life. Doubtless, LP Jai as well—the Mumbai batsman—on whom Raiji wrote a book.

Raiji leaves behind wife Panna, 94, as well as daughters Brinda and Renuka.

Marcus Couto, his friend of 37 years, was the one who thought it deserving to publicise Raiji's life century. In his several recent conversations, after the slices of cake were savoured and digested, Raiji expressed a wish of celebrating Couto's October retirement from the CCI, [where he serves in the administration department] with a cake.

Raiji left his life's crease before sunrise. Like one of his cricketing heroes, Duleepsinhji—in his sleep!

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