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Anandji Dossa — Indian cricket’s Grand Old Man, is 96!

Anandji Dossa - Indian cricket's Grand Old Man, is 96!

At 96, Anandji Dossaâ s memory is razor sharp as he recalls events and event dates with amazing accuracy. Photo courtesy: Marcus Couto.

Anandji Dossa, The Grand Old Man of Indian cricket, turned 96 on Saturday. Sudhir Vaidya, Anandji bhai’s close associate, friend and protégépays tribute to his mentor and India’s famed cricket statistician of yesteryear.

I had the great satisfaction of visiting Anandji Dossa on Saturday and wishing him in person on his 96 birthday. There were 10-15 people who had come all the way from Vadodra and Ahmedabad to wish him. It clearly shows the respect he commanded from the people.

After spending an hour with Anandjibhai at his house, he came with us to a club in Ghatkopar in the evening, where he spent another hour with close friends.
Madhav Apte, the former India Test cricketer, asked him as he was leaving the club, “Anandjibhai, when do we meet next?”
To which he confidently replied, “In another four years!”
This reflects his confidence and positive approach to life – even at such an old age. In fact, Anandjibhai and his 90-year-old wife are very active and go through their daily routine without taking anybody’s help. They have been married for the last 73 years and I’m looking forward to their platinum jubilee in two years time.

I have been associated with Anandjibhai since 1967. He is 22 years elder to me, but despite the big age difference, we are very good friends. Vijay Merchant was also my good friend I used to meet him regularly then. A couple of years after I knew him, he expressed a desire that I should help him in the radio commentary box. He told me that there was no special assignment for me as a statistician and that I would have to learn ball-by-ball scoring from Anandjibhai, who taught me the art of scoring in two days.

After that experience, Vijay Merchant invited me to the commentary box for the Duleep Trophy game between North Zone and South Zone at the Brabourne Stadium in 1972-73. Anandjibhai did the scoring for the first two days of the match and I was asked to sit by his side and observe. Then, I took over from him for the third and fourth day. He was standing behind me to see whether I was doing the job properly. When he saw I was doing well, he vanished at lunch time. I was engrossed in scoring and didn’t realise it until lunch. I was then a bit conscious as to what may happen if I made a mistake. Immediately after the end of day’s play, I rushed to his office and he said, “You were doing the job very well when I saw you before lunch, so I thought I should go back to office while you manage it independently.”
Since that day, I have been in the commentary box for all All India Radio (AIR) in all the matches in Mumbai.
Anandjibhai’s contribution to Indian cricket is unique. His collection of newspaper cuttings is well arranged in scrapbooks. Those cuttings begin from India’s first tour to England in 1932! If he hadn’t done that, we would have been denied of many of cricket’s rich historic past. The scrapbook also had notes recording events of major and minor importance. Those notes contained observations, statistical details or interesting anecdotes of the match. For example, in one of the games, Vijay Merchant was benched due to an illness and he had to do the scoring for all the three days. That small little detail is found in Anandjibhai’s notes in the match report. All his notes are very priceless.

Even now at the age of 96, Anandjibhai’s memory is razar sharp – so much so that he will even give you the exact dates of events! An avid cricket fan may know that the Ranji Trophy was donated by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Patiala, but Anandjibhai can tell you its value at that time and the estimated current value! He can also tell us about certain resolutions in the board – which year it was passed, who supported the resolution and who opposed it!

I call him every month and he gives me different dates and narrates incidents and anecdotes of various matches. In my younger days, I used to go to his house often by calling him and telling him that I would visit his home for information about a player, match or incident. For example, I would tell him, “I want some information about Vinoo Mankad in the year 1946.” He would give me a time to visit his place. He would tell his wife to keep a few books ready for my reference. Such was his hospitality that he would keep a chair, stationery, writing pad etc ready for me and also used to flag a few references in the books to make my task easy. I would get such a warm reception every time I visited his house. In fact, he would do the same for anybody interested in cricket.

Anandjibhai was a businessman and had joined his family’s company Gokuldas Dossa and Company. He used to be in his office handling the business, but would always find time to talk cricket whenever we went there. He was a player as well – a good opening batsman, a wicket-keeper and could also bowl some right-arm medium. He was amongst the reserves for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy and for the Hindus in the Bombay Pentangular but couldn’t make it to the final eleven. On one occasion, Madhav Mantri was selected ahead of Anandjibhai and did very well as a wicket-keeper – which made him a permanent member of the squad. That permanently ended Anandjibhai’s cricket. But then, it was a blessing in disguise because we would have been deprived of a legendary cricket statistician.

Apart from being a cricket, he also played an active role in administration. He held various posts such as – The Secretary of the Hindu Gymkhana at Marine Lines, Secretary of the HD Kanga Memorial Library and a member of the managing committee of the Mumbai Cricket Association. He also authored various books, including Duleep – the Man and his Game (co-authored with Vasant Raiji), Cricket Ties – India-Pakistan etc. He also wrote a book in Gujarati on the Art of Scoring. Having a great knowledge of the laws of cricket, he used to attend the committee meetings of the umpires and present numerous suggestions and solutions on the intricate issues raised by the umpires. Even today he is opposed to batsman being credited with runs from overthrows. He believes they should be marked as extras.

He has stopped writing or reading on cricket and has donated all his books for preservation at the Cricket Club of India (CCI). Raj Singh Dungarpur maintained the collection and started a library called the Anandji Dossa Library. There is a librarian who takes care of the library on a daily basis. People like us go there and refer to those books for numerous details. Anyone who wishes to know more about Indian cricket or Mumbai cricket should go there and take full advantage of the library.

Another memory I cherish is the greeting cards Anandjibhai would send on Diwali or New Year’s Day. Those greeting cards had photographs of cricketers of yesteryear. The cards also had photos of great commentators such as Bobby Talyarkhan and notable umpires. This was one of his ways to keep the memory of stalwarts alive and make sure they aren’t forgotten by the younger generation.

It was great honour for me was when he once said in an interview that I am the only competent one to succeed him and that he was happy that I was doing a good job. That interview was years ago, but he repeated the same in an interview few days ago.

Suresh Saraiya, the esteemed cricket commentator, was also mentored by Anandjibhai and likewise many others of my generation. If we have discipline in our work, its thank largely to the culture we learnt from Vijay Merchant and Anandjibhai. I’m deeply indebted to both these great men and owe everything in my career to them.

For me, Anandjibhai is a guide, mentor and friend all rolled in one.

As told to Nishad Pai Vaidya

(Sudhir Vaidya has been statistician of the Board of Control for Cricket in India since the 80s and the Mumbai Cricket Association since the 70s. He has assisted radio and TV cricket commentators as a cricket statistician in over 250 live Tests, ODIs and domestic first class cricket matches. He has also edited/compiled 16 Statistical Annuals for BCCI during this period. Seven voluminous books on domestic cricket were compiled and edited by him, on behalf of the BCCI. He has also authored several books on cricket)

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