Born October 2, 1869, Mahatma Gandhi needs no introduction. On his 145th birth anniversary Abhishek Mukherjee explores into the cricket connections of the man and creates a team of "Gandhis".
Barring his role in bringing the immensely Bombay Pentangular to an end, Mahatma Gandhi has no mention in the annals of history. He voiced his opinion strongly against the tournament on the ground that it divided the nation by religion. Ironically, the immensely popular tournament never witnessed a single communal riot (or equivalent incident) in its history.
However, Ramachandra Guha mentioned an incident in The Hindu: “This man, Ratilal Ghelabhai Mehta , remembered Gandhi as ‘a dashing cricketer’ who ‘evinced a keen interest in the game as a school student’. He was, it seems, ‘good both at batting and bowling’, and had an uncanny understanding of the game's uncertainties as well.”
Guha also mentioned another incident. When Vijay Merchant’s sister Laxmi had asked for Gandhi’s autograph, the great man “chose the page of her book containing the signatures of the 1933-34 M.C.C. team, selecting himself as its 17th member.”
But, most famously, when Gandhi first went to England in 1889, he carried three letters of introduction. Alan Ross wrote in Ranji: Prince of Cricketers: “ Ranjitsinhji spent the wet summer of 1888 with the MacNaghtens in London. The Australians under PS McDonnell were in England. So, too, was Gandhi, bearing a letter of introduction to Ranjitsinhji, his neighbour in India.”
Gandhi and Ranji (three years younger to Gandhi) both grew up in Rajkot. Karamchand Gandhi worked in Rajkot as a Dewan, and his son, though born in Porbandar, studied at Alfred High School, Rajkot. It was a coincidence that Gandhi’s role in bringing the Pentangular brought Ranji Trophy to the forefront.
There have been several cricketers who have followed Gandhi, especially during the early days of Independence India. Of them, the nickname “Bapu” was affectionately ushered upon Rameshchandra Gangaram Nadkarni, who took to Mahatma’s habit of wearing the langot (loincloth) while playing cricket.
Though Nadkarni acquired the name Bapu, the nickname Gandhi surprisingly went to Ian Redpath, because of his tall, lean frame and unusually long neck. However, during his first tour of India, it was decided that the nickname might be inappropriate: he subsequently went on to be addressed as Redders.
On his 145th birthday, here, then, is an XI of Gandhis. Though not the strongest of sides, this team is certain to win all fair-play awards, will never bowl Bodyline, and sledging will be considered a heinous crime.
1. Devang Gandhi (captain)
Devang was born in Bhavnagar, where Mahatma Gandhi studied at Samaldas College. Easily the best cricketer of the side, Devang went on to play four Tests and three ODIs for India. He never scored an international hundred, but slammed 323 for Bengal against Assam in 1998-99. It remains the only triple-hundred for Bengal.
2. SN Gandhi (Parsees)
SN Gandhi’s career, mostly for Parsees, fetched him 869 runs at 24.13, but that included five fifties, and more importantly, a match-winning 113 in the Pentangular final of 1928-29 against the Europeans. The perfect foil to Devang.
3. Kaushik Gandhi
Kaushik’s First-Class career was restricted to only two matches in the 2011-12 Ranji Trophy, when he scored 16, 80, and 26 in the three innings. He will be expected to provide solid support if one of the openers is dismissed early.
4. Reshma Gandhi (vice-captain)
Reshma made her ODI debut against Ireland Women at Milton Keynes, where she and Mithali Raj batted through the stipulated 50 overs, adding 258 (it has currently been bettered only twice in Women’s ODIs for any wicket). It also remains the only occasion when a Women’s ODI side has batted through their quota of overs without losing a wicket.
Gandhi scored 18 not out in her only other match (against England Women at Trent Bridge). She still holds the record for having scored the most career runs in Women’s ODIs without being dismissed. She will also double up as the second wicket-keeper, and with some experience, would have probably led the side.
5. Shantilal Gandhi
A decent domestic cricketer, Shantilal played 31 matches (rather predictably for Saurashtra, Kathiawar, and Western India). His numbers of 1,191 runs at 25.34 and 79 wickets at 20.98 easily make him one of the stars of the side. He will be one of our new-ball bowlers.
6. SN Gandhi (United Provinces)
The other SN Gandhi of the side played three matches for United Provinces. He averaged 24.33 with the bat and 23.71 with the ball (including five for 97 to rout Bengal for 248 in a 1944-45 Ranji Trophy encounter at Eden Gardens), but never played again.
7. Ramesh Gandhi (wicket-keeper)
Ramesh played a solitary First-Class match, against Saurashtra in the 1972-73 Ranji Trophy. He scored 15 not out, but was involved in a last-wicket stand of 60; he was also used as the night-watchman in the second innings, which means he could certainly hang around.
8. Vivek Gandhi
A promising school cricketer, Vivek’s unimpressive Gujarat career did not last more than three matches, and he could not do much of note in his appearances barring a gritty three-hour 54 against a strong Mumbai outfit in the 2000-01 Ranji Trophy.
9. Chirag Gandhi
Like Vivek, Chirag had an ordinary career for Gujarat despite having good numbers at Under-19 level, managing a single fifty. Despite that, his T20 strike rate of 122.61 (albeit from 84 balls from seven innings) makes him a surprise package low down the order.
10. Nishith Gandhi
With bowling being the weak link, Devang will desperately seek for a few options. Calcutta-born Nishith is a regular for — of all places — Luxembourg. His career record reads 29 wickets at 21.48, including back-to-back performances of 10-2-19-4 against Slovenia and 9-1-26-4 against Austria, both at Happy Valley.
11. Baldev Gandhi
Baldev’s inclusion will serve no purpose barring filling up numbers. He did not bowl, but will still have to bat at 11 — since he averaged 6.25 with the bat from 11 innings, reaching double-figures only once.
Devang (captain), Reshma (vice-captain), Ramesh (wicket-keeper), SN (Parsees), Kaushik, Shantilal, SN (United Provinces), Vivek, Chirag, Nishith, Baldev.
Of course, the side will need a statistician — and who will be suited better for the role than Mohandas Menon?
(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)