Raise a toast to Karsan Ghavri

Updated: Mar 19, 2020, 07:03 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Former all-rounder's coaching success with 2019-20 Ranji Trophy champions Saurashtra is one of his many feats which embellished Indian cricket across 50-plus years on the first-class scene

Mumbai coach Karsan Ghavri (third from left) celebrates with the Talim Trophy for topping the West Zone League before the 1993-94 Ranji Trophy win
Mumbai coach Karsan Ghavri (third from left) celebrates with the Talim Trophy for topping the West Zone League before the 1993-94 Ranji Trophy win

Clayton MurzelloIf you couldn't help noticing coach Karsan Ghavri on television last week, sitting amidst his Saurashtra players as they made progress in their Ranji Trophy final against Bengal in Rajkot, you were seeing a man of 50-plus years experience in first-class cricket.

Ghavri is not considered one of the greats of the game, even though he was the first Indian pacer to claim 100 wickets in Test cricket (he bowled left-arm spin occasionally). Rarely do cricket fans recall how he dismissed Australian captain Greg Chappell on both occasions in India's victory in the 1981 Melbourne Test.

The southpaw figured in only one Test after that series-levelling performance — against New Zealand the same year — but not enough has been written about why he ended up the way he did.

The affable former India all-rounder's first-class career began in the 1969-70 season, after he returned from an India schoolboy's tour of Australia. He first played for his native Saurashtra, then for Mumbai and went back to Saurashtra; playing his last Ranji Trophy match in the 1984-85 season when Saurashtra made it to the knockout round of the tournament.

The grapevine suggests that some Mumbai players were uncomfortable facing him on the matting surfaces of Saurashtra. This, and the fact that he was a quality player who would fit well into the Mumbai scheme of things, were the reasons for Ghavri's move to Mumbai, made possible by Madhav Mantri, Polly Umrigar and KS Indrajitsinhji in the early 1970s.

Playing with these former India players for the Associated Cement Companies (ACC) on the inter-office circuit, Ghavri made rapid strides even as he endured his share of hardships. He stayed in rented rooms and missed home so much that he dashed off to Rajkot whenever he could to enjoy home food, only to be sent back soon by his father and uncle.

In 1974-75, he earned his India cap in the third Test at Kolkata against Clive Lloyd's tourists, who were two-up in the series. Ghavri made his debut at the electric Eden Gardens and towards the end of the third day, found himself batting with Gundappa Viswanath. A score of 206 for six meant the home side had only a lead of 199 against a well-oiled West Indies batting line-up. Before the Test resumed after the rest day, Ghavri was advised by some of the selectors to adapt an adhesive approach and leave all the run-scoring to his batting stylist partner. Skipper MAK Pataudi was watching. As soon as the selectors left Ghavri alone, Pataudi took the young gun aside and asked him not to pay heed to anything they had said, suggesting he play his natural game.

Ghavri chose to listen to his captain and helped put on 91 runs with Viswanath (139) for India to set West Indies 310 to win. Ghavri kicked off the innings by sending back Gordon Greenidge and the tourists were bowled out for 224. India went to Chennai 1-2 and Ghavri got together again with Viswanath (epic 97 not out) for an invaluable 41-run association. He followed that up with a second innings 35 not out to contribute to yet another India win, albeit more with the bat than ball.

Ghavri played in two Ranji Trophy-winning finals for Mumbai — 1974-75 and 1976-77. He made an impression in both. In the former, his five for 66 helped shoot out Karnataka for 240 and when Mumbai responded, his 56 ended up being second best to Sunil Gavaskar's unbeaten 96. Ghavri did not possess West Indies-like express pace, but opening batsmen did have it rough against him. Karnataka opener Sanjay Desai was hit on the face while dealing with a bouncer in the 1974-75 Ranji final while Ramnath Parkar was badly bruised while batting against him in a 1975 World Cup trial game. In the 1976-77 final in Delhi, Ghavri's belligerent 48 helped Mumbai in good measure to post 317 against the old enemy. He lofted then India captain Bishan Singh Bedi for two sixes off consecutive deliveries.

Ghavri's six-wicket haul, resulted through a combination of pace and spin, earned Mumbai a 26-run first innings lead. He was not finished with either bat or ball. Out he went and batted for 123 minutes for a top score of 70 that set Delhi 251 to win. Nothing doing said Ghavri (2-32) and Padmakar Shivalkar (6-55) as Mumbai clinched their 27th Ranji Trophy title.

Seventeen years later, Ghavri was part of another Mumbai Ranji Trophy-clinching outfit — as coach to Ravi Shastri's 1993-94 young side — which beat Bengal in the final at the Wankhede Stadium.

Current Ranji Trophy kings Saurashtra also provided Ghavri with a "on top of the world" feeling. "We were tremendous and the team never gave me the impression that what I was telling them was old school. We put our hearts into every game and we got the desired results. Each and everyone can say that they contributed something to this win," he said.

Ghavri will not be part of Saurashtra's set up as a coach in the future. At 69, it's too stressful but he is open for a consultancy role. Advice will be most willingly passed on and he's got a good track record on that score too. Ask Cheteshwar Pujara. Ghavri took one good look at India's future one-drop batsman and was impressed with the way he tackled his team, Bharat Petroleum's bowlers in the nets at the age of 11. "Take good care of your son. He has the makings of a top-class cricketer and provide him whatever he needs," Ghavri is believed to have told Pujara's father Arvind.

Aptly, Pujara was part of the team that gave Ghavri one of his more satisfying moments in his 50-plus years of first-class cricket. You don't need a television set to appreciate Karsan Devjibhai Ghavri's contribution to Indian cricket.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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