Gulabrai “GS” Ramchand: Domestic colossus and Indian captain
GS Ramchand… captain of the Indian team that led India to its first-ever Test win over Australia
The underachieving all-rounder Gulabrai “GS” Ramchand was born on July 26, 1927. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the captain who led India to their first Test victory over Australia.
Gulabrai Sipahimalani “GS” Ramchand, the erstwhile (and hence forgotten and unrecognisable in India) Test captain, was present at a cricket awards function in the 1990s; a man of his stature had been going from one current cricketer to another to collect autographs for his niece.
A man, followed by an excited crowd, walked up to Ramchand, with the words: “Sir, my name is Mark Taylor. I am here to receive an award on behalf of my team. Can I request to shake the hand of the man who led India to their first win over us?”
Ramchand was a cricketer’s cricketer — a man whose value was truly acknowledged by the men in flannels themselves. A quality all-rounder who played mostly for Sind and Bombay, his tally read 6,026 runs at 36.30 with 16 hundreds, 255 wickets at 29.48 with nine-fors, and 105 catches from 145 First-Class matches.
Ramchand was a giant of Ranji Trophy: in 44 matches he scored 2,569 runs at 75.55 with 12 hundreds, picked up 80 wickets at 23.12 with two five-fors, and held 34 catches. The numbers made him one of the great all-rounders in the history of the tournament. He was an essential part of the nucleus of the all-conquering Bombay side that began in ascent in the 1950s, helping them win six Ranji finals.
At the highest level, though, Ramchand’s performance was far from exemplary: in 33 Tests he scored 1,180 runs at 24.58 and picked up 41 wickets at 46.31 with one five-for. It must be remembered, though, that he played his Tests mostly in India’s formative years in the 1950s when they were really the minnows of world cricket and generally considered a pushover by the stronger cricket-playing nations.
Though his bowling (that depended a lot on inswingers) fetched him lots of wickets at the domestic level it was not really taken seriously by the top players. Sujit Mukherjee wrote that Ramchand “looked every inch a fast bowler until he actually bowled”.
In the words of Chandu Borde, “Though he [Ramchand] had limited resources as a bowler, he was quite deceptive.”
Ramchand, however, made the most of his abilities, and was a very good close-in fielder. Wisden wrote in his obituary: “Few contemporary Indians struck the ball harder.” He was one of the bravest Indian batsmen against quality fast bowling — and had proved himself against the strongest of oppositions on numerous occasions. Combative and aggressive with, Ramchand was known for taking the attack to the bowler.
Polly Umrigar, a teammate of Ramchand at both domestic at Test level and later a neighbour in the building at Mumbai’s Worli Seaface, told of him: “An asset to any side, [GS] Ramchand was an all-rounder and a gutsy and tough cricketer. He was a brilliant close-in fielder and he had no gear to protect him, which just goes to show how brave he was.”
That adjective ‘gutsy’ and ‘tough’ are probably the most appropriate for Ramchand. However strong the opposition Ramchand was never intimidated — even if it meant standing up to some of the most fearsome fast bowlers the world has seen. He also stood out as arguably the best Indian captain of the 1950s. True, India was still not able to compete with the top sides, but during in the five Tests he led Ramchand made sure that India at least competed.
Ramchand was one of a few players of Sindhi origin to have played Tests for India (Naoomal Jeoomal was the first). Born in Karachi he made it through the necessary ranks quickly and made to Ranji Trophy at an age of 18. Playing for Sind against Maharashtra at Karachi (still a part of undivided India) Ramchand scored 23 and picked up 3 for 73. The very next season he scored a hard-hitting 84 not out against Bombay at Karachi that attracted attention of his opposition.
After Partition, the Ramchands came over to India and Ramchand fitted easily in the formidable Bombay side. By 1950-51 he was already in contention for a slot in the Test side: he picked up 3 for 75 at Bombay and 5 for 80 at Nagpur in consecutive matches against a strong Commonwealth XI; in the next match he scored 230 not out batting at No. 8 — his maiden First-Class century that would also remain his career-best — against Maharashtra at Bombay.
Whatever doubts were there regarding Ramchand’s selection were obliterated after his emphatic 149 against Holkar in the Ranji Trophy final of 1951-52 at Bombay. Coming out to bat at 235 for 5, Ramchand added 130 with Rusi Modi and 166 with Vinoo Mankad; he was eventually run out for 149. When Bombay went for a slog in the second innings after a 186-run lead, Ramchand added a quick 98 with Vijay Manjrekar and remained unbeaten with 53. Bombay declared, and Mankad and Subhash Gupte bowled out the hosts to a massive 531-run victory.
Ramchand took time to settle down with the bat. His medium-fast bowling, however, suited the conditions, and opening bowling against Surrey at The Oval, he rocked their middle-order with figures of 5 for 20. In the next match against Cambridge University at Fenner’s he scored a 180-minute 134 out of a team score of 285.
GS Ramchand seen bowling against Surrey at The Oval in 1952. He took 4 for 23 © Getty Images
In his next match against Cambridge University at FP Fenner’s Ground, Ramchand scored 134 out in 180 minutes out of a team score of 285.
The innings deserves a special mention: Cambridge had Cuan McCarthy in their side. The raw South African fast bowler, only 23 then, was known for his furious pace, often bowled with a suspect action (Raju Bharatan called him a ‘master chucker’). It was the first time the tourists were up against genuine pace.
What followed was some of the hardest hitting the ground has ever seen: coming out at 49 for 4 Ramchand hit 21 fours in his 134, of which a couple came back over 20 yards after they hit the fence. After this match Ramchand’s selection for the first Test at inevitable, but his case was strengthened by a destructive 8 for 33 against Glamorgan at Cardiff. Ramchand later recalled: “He [McCarthy] just came and threw, so I let him have it!”
Unfortunately, Ramchand’s debut coincided with a more famous one — that of Fred Trueman. Though Ramchand bowled tightly in the first innings with figures of 36.2-11-61-2 he ended up scoring a pair on debut batting at No 9 in each innings. In the process he became the first Indian to score a pair on his Test debut (only two other Indians have achieved this dubious feat: Maninder Singh and Rashid Patel were both rank tail-enders). India lost their first four wickets without a run on the board — a blow from which they could not recover in the series.
Despite his batting failure, Ramchand had impressed the selectors by taking three outstanding one-handed catches off Ghulam Ahmed. They decided to give Ramchand another chance at Lord’s — the Test immortalised by Mankad’s superhuman display of excellence and endurance. He was bowled by Trueman for 18 in the first innings and went wicketless in the entire Test. However, it was in the second innings that he marked his arrival.
Ramchand walked out to bat at 314 for 7, having saved the innings defeat only marginally. India were quickly reduced to 323 for 8 (from 270 for 2) when Ramchand decided to counterattack with only the tail for company. He hit Trueman twice over his head, reducing the fast bowler to swear hard with words the Sindhi had possibly never heard before. Bharatan wrote: “The faster Trueman bowled the harder Ramchand hit him. His 42 came inside the hour — runs snatched through sheer manpower.” He added that it was “a knock all jigar [heart]“.
The 42-minute 42 could not save India from defeat, but Ramchand was selected for the next two Tests at Old Trafford and The Oval. He did not do anything of note in the Tests but ended the tour with 644 runs at 24.76 and 64 wickets at 25.85 — a more than decent display given India’s dismal show on the tour. This included a 7 for 27 when he and Ramesh Divecha bowled unchanged to bowl out Lancashire for 68 at Old Trafford winning a rare match for India.
His performance in England, combined with the 1951-52 home season (where he had scored 351 runs at 70.20) made him an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year in 1952-53.
GS Ramchand batting against Surrey at The Oval on India’s 1952 tour of England © Getty Images
Despite his ordinary performances in the Tests Ramchand was retained for the first Test in the home series against Pakistan at Delhi. Though he was dropped he was brought back for the fourth Test at Madras and retained for fifth at Calcutta.
Opening bowling with Dattu Phadkar Ramchand picked up 3 for 20 in an exhibition of tight, wicket-to-wicket bowling; after India managed to obtain a 140-run lead Ramchand bowled well again, picking up 2 for 43 – but eventually India ran out of time.
Ramchand, however, had done enough to earn a place in the West Indies tour that followed. Vijay Hazare decided to promote him to three in the first Test at Queen’s Park Oval after Mankad got out early; Ramchand did not disappoint, adding 94 with Madhav Apte and eventually scoring 61 — his first Test fifty.
He made an encore in the third Test at the same ground after Apte got out early, adding 81 with Pankaj Roy and scoring a blazing 62 in the partnership with 11 boundaries. Lester King bowled really fast on the jute matting wickets at Trinidad, but Ramchand was equal to the challenge.
The dull drawn Test series in Pakistan in 1954-55 did little to generate interest, but it established for the first time at the highest level the ability of Ramchand the bowler. After the first four Tests were drawn Ramchand brought the last Test at Karachi into life, dismissing Pakistan for 162. He picked up 6 for 49 — his only five-for in Test cricket. Of Indians only Kapil Dev has better figures on Pakistan soil.
The maiden hundred came a season later after New Zealand had acquired a lead of 204 at Calcutta. India’s 1-0 lead was at stake when Ramchand walked out to bat at 287 for 4 on the fourth evening. What followed was mayhem: in a display of exuberant batting Ramchand scored an unbeaten 106 out of 151 during his stay at the wicket when Umrigar declared (and almost won the Test as New Zealand finished with 75 for 6).
The more famous hundred, his last, came next season: India had lost the first Test at Madras by an innings: they were no match for the quality of Ray Lindwall and Richie Benaud. Lindwall led Australia in the second Test at Bombay for the only time in his career in the absence of Ian Johnson.
Other than Lindwall and Benaud the Australian attack boasted of two young fast bowlers in Alan Davidson and Pat Crawford (who, had he not been injury-prone and ended his First-Class career at an age of 23, would have been a menace for batsmen all over the world).
This was Lindwall at his prime, supported by an even faster Pat Crawford. The Indians lost Mankad without a run on the board and despite a 56-run third wicket partnership Ramchand found himself walking out at 74 for 4. Crawford was so fast that Umrigar was bowled before he could bring his bat down; within minutes Jayasinghrao Ghorpade’s middle-stump had been uprooted.
It was not the best time for any batsman to walk out: before he scored a run Len Maddocks caught a ball of Crawford and threw it up in the air — only for the umpire to turn it down. Ramchand had later mentioned that it had brushed his thigh. Then, to quote Bharatan, he chose “to take Pat Crawford by the scruff of his Kangaroo neck.”
He thwarted the Australian attack that boasted of some of the best bowlers in the world. In an amazingly restrained but strokeful performance Ramchand scored a career-best 109. The innings lasted five hours, included 19 fours, and was referred to as “one of the nuggets of our [India’s] cricket” by Bharatan.
Ramchand was not one of the four captains in the home series against West Indies in 1958-59. This was where the Indian selectors had missed out on a trick. As Nari Contractor later said, “He should have taken over the captaincy in the immediate aftermath of Polly’s [Umrigar’s] resignation.”
Not only was he not made the captain, but he was dropped for at Calcutta and Delhi despite his excellent performance against Wes Hall and Roy Gilchrist in the first Test at Bombay. He came in at 40 for four in the first innings and defied the menacing duo, scoring 48 and helping India reach 152.
Then, after India were asked to score 399 or bat out nine-and-a-half hours, Ramchand found himself coming out at 159 for 4. He survived some tense moments but did not let Roy down during the latter’s famous 444-minute 90. Then, after Roy fell with 204 on the board, Ramchand played out time, remaining unbeaten on 67 and adding an unbroken 85 with Manohar Hardikar.
Despite his gritty display against pace Ramchand was left out of the 1959 tour of England (where India had a two more captains in the first two Tests, making it six captains in seven Tests). Ramchand was made India’s captain for the home series against Australia in 1959-60 after India’s humiliating debacle in England.
Captain of India
The Australians were easily the better team in the Test and were expected to whitewash Ramchand’s India. It indeed seemed to when they won the first Test at Delhi by an innings. Then came Kanpur, and with it came a 35-year old Gujarati off-spinner called Jasu Patel, surprising the bowler himself.
India were bowled out for 152 by Davidson and Benaud on Day One and Australia cruised to 128 for 1 at lunch on Day Two. Then, after a brief discussion with the Chairman of Selectors Lala Amarnath, Ramchand switched ends for Patel to enable him find the footmarks of Davidson and Ian Meckiff.
What followed was history: Patel picked up 9 for 69 (the first eight of which came without the assistance of any fielder) — the best Indian figures till Anil Kumble’s 10 for 74 — and Australia were restricted to 219. Sensing blood, India resisted the lethal Davidson and managed to set Australia a target of 225. Patel picked up five for 55 and Australia collapsed to 105.
Patel’s Test figures of 14 for 124 were the best by an Indian till Narendra Hirwani’s 16 for 136. More significantly, Ramchand had led India to their first Test win over Australia.
“He led us brilliantly to victory against Richie Benaud’s Australians in the Kanpur Test, always giving us the self-belief that we could beat them”, a respectful Borde remembered.
After the Test was over, Benaud went to the Indian dressing-room and gifted Ramchand his Australian blazer.
Contractor recalled: “As a captain he [Ramchand] was never arrogant and always had that we-can-do-it kind of attitude and that was on display when he was the skipper when we won against the Australians at Kanpur.”
The resistance did not stop there: India were on the verge of defeat again at Bombay after Australia were 270 for 2 in response to India’s 289. Some combative fielding and economic bowling dried up the runs, and Australia were restricted to a 98-run lead. The match ended in a draw.
India were outplayed in the fourth Test at Madras but came back in the last one at Calcutta. Once again Australia took a lead of 137 and India seemed on the mat at 78 for 4. Once again the combative nature showed as India scored 339, resulting in another draw. A 1-2 defeat may not seem an achievement, but given the vast difference between the pedigrees of the teams it was a commendable performance.
Sadly, Ramchand’s own form was far from the desired level. 111 runs at 12.33 and a single wicket for the cost of 200 runs was a below-par performance, and Ramchand found himself out of the Indian squad for good.
Back to domestic cricket
In the match immediately after the Calcutta Test Ramchand decimated Saurashtra with his bowling. Bowling unchanged he picked up a career-best 8 for 12 (six bowled, one caught behind) to bowl out Saurashtra for 44 at Bombay. Two matches later scored an unbeaten 100 and picked up 4 for 60 in the semifinal against Services at Delhi.
Continuing with his form Ramchand scored 106 in the final against Mysore at Bombay, followed by figures of 3 for 104. Bombay lifted the Ranji Trophy, but Ramchand was not recalled — even after an 82 in the Irani Trophy.
He battled on, guiding Bombay to another Ranji Trophy win the next season, top-scoring with 118 in the final against Rajasthan at Udaipur. The next season he made a hat-trick of hundreds in Ranji Trophy finals, scoring 100 against Mankad, Gupte, and Raj Singh Dungarpur at Bombay. He picked up 3 for 30 and Rajasthan lost by an innings.
The next season (1962-63) Ramchand scored 107 in the semifinal against Bengal at Calcutta as Bombay won by an innings. Once again Bombay was up against Rajasthan. Would Ramchand score a hundred and help Bombay win a fourth consecutive time against Rajasthan in the Ranji final?
He did. Bombay were down at 49 for 3 before Bapu Nadkarni scored a double-hundred, Ramakant Desai scored his only First-Class hundreds, but more significantly — Ramchand scored 102 not out. He then picked up 2 for 44, and Bombay won by an innings.
Clearly he was a player for the biggest occasion. With his aggressive batting, efficient, accurate bowling, outstanding fielding, and ability to handle pressure, he would have been an asset to limited-overs cricket. However, he retired from First-Class cricket that season.
Four years after his retirement, he was recalled by his old adversary Raj Singh to play a match against Indian Starlets in a Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup match at Hyderabad: even at the age of 40 the muscular physique and relentless stamina did not let him down. He picked up four for 40 in 18 overs. Opening bowling with the man who desperately wanted to get him out for several seasons he helped Dungarpur XI to an innings victory despite the defiant efforts of the Amarnath brothers.
Ramchand had been working for Air India before he took up the role as the Indian captain. He had to sacrifice his salary in order to represent India — and lead them to their first victory against Australia. Always a vocal man, he had later lashed out: “I had third-class employers [Air India] who never could comprehend how anyone could put play before work.”
After his retirement from cricket, however, Ramchand went on to work for Air India, eventually retiring as a station manager after 26 years of service. He acted as a manager of the Indian team in their first World Cup.
He remained a dedicated follower of the sport and great character years after his retirement despite his toughness as a player. Umrigar described: “A jovial character off the field, his [Ramchand’s] tough character on it used to motivate his fellow players.”
In 2002, Ramchand had been hassled for a car-park pass by the Mumbai Cricket Association authorities before India played a Test against West Indies (yes, he still went to the ground at the age of 75). An annoyed Ramchand retorted — in public — “we are being treated like sh*t.”
He fell ill the next year, suffering three heart attacks in two months. He had to be admitted to the Hinduja Hospital at Mumbai but had to be moved out of the Intensive Care Unit since his family could not afford the cost. Though BCCI granted two lakh rupees – that too only after severe criticism from an 88-year old Mushtaq Ali – it turned out to be too late: Ramchand breathed his last at the hospital on September 8, 2003.
Yajurvindra Singh wrote in his obituary: “[GS] Ramchand was a true all-rounder in both the cricketing and the general sense of the term. He was suave and always smartly dressed, articulate, well-spoken, and a family man to the core.”
However, the final word has to be Raju Bharatan’s — the man whom he had seen during his heydays as a player: “His helmetless aura, as a fearless striker of the cricket ball, is something that is etched in the mind’s eye. GS Ramchand, I say, should have tried his hand at doing a Western. He would have been an instant cowboy hit as one unfailingly firing from the hip.”
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)