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Pranab Roy: The last of Bengal’s greatest cricket dynasty

Greg Chappell (left) anf Pranab Roy © AFP
Pranab Roy (right) with former India coach Greg Chappell during a press conference in 2005. Roy also served as a national selector © AFP

Pranab Roy was born on February 10, 1957. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the youngest of Bengal’s greatest cricket dynasty.

Pranab Roy was probably the final torch-bearer in a family that had produced more Test cricketers than any other in Kolkata. The huge ancestral mansion is in Kumartuli — a locality in Kolkata whose origin can be traced back centuries. Roy’s ancestors were the zamindars of Bhagyakul (currently in Bangladesh).

The Roys were affluent to the extent that one of his ancestors, Pramathanath Roy, had actually given a loan to Indian Bank. Rai Bahadur Gunendra Chandra Roy, another ancestor, had founded the East Bengal Football Club in 1920; Pankaj was an ace footballer and table-tennis player, but he decided to choose cricket.

Pankaj opened batting for India with distinction and had even led India once; his brother Nemailal played Ranji Trophy, and Pankaj’s nephew Ambar, yet another Test cricketer, was an epitome of lazy elegance who could destroy any bowling attack on his day; and Pankaj’s son Pranab followed their footsteps into First-Class and Test cricket.

Just like his father, Pranab had earned a reputation as a technically sound opening batsman who could occupy the crease for hours. Whatever deficit he had in strokeplay he made up for with his insatiable patience and temperament. Along with Arun Lal he formed the backbone of Bengal cricket in the 1980s, and was instrumental in their second Ranji Trophy victory.

He did a moderate job in the two Tests he played, but with 4,056 runs at 40.96 he was one of the most difficult batsmen to remove. A career tally of 13 hundreds and 11 fifties meant that he also had a very high conversion rate.

Early days

Roy, as mentioned before, was born in an affluent family (in a mansion that has now been classified as a Heritage Building by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation) where sport was a part of growing up. He rose through the ranks of Kolkata Club Cricket and made his First-Class debut at an age of 21.

Opening batting against Assam at Dibrugarh, Pranab top-scored with 105 on debut where nobody else reached fifty; a very strong Bengal bowling attack then routed Assam to lead the tourists to an innings victory. There followed a string of failures till he scored back-to-back hundreds at home in 1980-81: the 140 against Orissa was followed by 134 against Assam.

Selected for the Board President’s XI against Cricket Association of Bengal Overseas XI (led by Mike Brearley), Roy scored an emphatic 160 not out in a total of 302 against an attack comprising of John Lever, Simon Hughes, and Alan Wilkins. He began the next season with two nineties and followed it up with 136 against Bihar at Jamshedpur.

India were 1-0 up going into the fifth Test at Cheapauk of the six-Test home series against England; Sunil Gavaskar had adopted an ultra-defensive policy to maintain the lead; it was good for the Indian team, but perhaps not so for the sport itself. The selectors included Roy (and his future teammate Ashok Malhotra) for the Cheapauk Test; as if they had not been defensive enough already.

 
Test debut

Roy was supposed to stonewall, and stonewall he did! The opening pair added a sad 19 in 81 minutes before Roy was caught-behind off Graham Dilley. His six had taken 53 balls; he also hit a boundary — which made the numbers sound even more incredible.

Gundappa Viswanath (222) and Yashpal Sharma (140) batted throughout Day Two and it wasn’t well into Day Three that Gavaskar declared the innings closed at 481 for four. England reached 279 for three in response before a collapse resulted in getting them bowled out for 328 on Day Five.

There was a lead of 153, but the pitch suddenly started behaving oddly. While Bob Willis tested Gavaskar to a great extent, Roy grinded on to his only fifty in Test cricket. He lost three partners at the other end (which included Gavaskar, who hit a six) and meandered to a 157-ball 60 in 227 minutes. Ten Englishmen bowled in the innings that finished with India on 160 for three.

England scored 382 in the rain-affected last Test at Green Park; India got a chance to bat only in the dying hours of Day Three, and Roy was bowled by Ian Botham in the last ball of the Test; he had scored five off 20 balls, and had, once again, managed to bat 36 minutes. India finished with 377 for seven.

Roy never played another Test; he finished with a career average of 35.50 and more remarkably, a strike rate of 30.9, facing 77 balls per innings. His temperament earned him a place in the England tour that followed. The tour turned out to be disastrous for Roy: he scored 174 runs at 14.50 with fifty against Nottinghamshire at Trent Bridge.

Back to domestic cricket

Back in familiar territory, Pranab scored 206 not out against Assam at Eden Gardens in one of the most lopsided matches in Ranji Trophy where Bengal won by an innings after losing a solitary wicket. He continued to play for Bengal, which, though the undisputed champion side of the East Zone (they almost always won the Mona Mitter Memorial Trophy) but could not make it big in the subsequent rounds.

Roy played an excellent support act to Arun Lal (who scored 287) in the 1986-87 pre-quarterfinal at Eden Gardens against Rajasthan, scoring 134 and helping Arun Lal add 282 for the second wicket; Arun Lal declared with the score on 614 for seven and Bengal won on first innings lead.

However, their journey came to an end in the quarterfinal against Delhi, also at home; after Delhi scored 545 for seven Roy played a lone hand against Madan Lal and Sanjeev Sharma; he batted for 693 minutes and faced 537 balls for his 230, but nobody else reached 75; Bengal finished on 464 for nine and lost on Quotient (runs per wicket).

Lifting the Trophy

Bengal had not won a Ranji Trophy since 1938-39, and they were set out to make amends; they had lost to Delhi in the 1988-89 final at Kotla, but they did well to go past Punjab in next season’s pre-quarterfinal. The quarterfinal at home was against Bombay at home, where Chandrakant Pandit declared with the score on 590 for five. The Quotient was 118.

Bengal lost IB Roy for a duck; Pranab and Arun Lal started the impossible climb: they needed to beat that 118-mark, and Bombay was simply not willing to give in. Arun Lal later said in an interview to CricketCountry: “Bombay was led by Ravi [Shastri], which meant that they were not short of gamesmanship of any kind. The ball was turning and Shastri himself bowled a long spell. As the day progressed Bombay realised that the match was getting out of hand: they placed nine fielders around the bat but were unable to break through. They sledged, they tried to get under our skin but we hung on.”

Both batsmen scored hundreds and hung on for almost five hours; when Roy fell to Lalchand Rajput the pair had added 274; when Malhotra went out Bombay needed a single wicket to get back into the match. But the experienced pair held on and Bengal finished on 312 for two (with a Quotient of 156).

Pranab scored 21 and 23 not out in their away victory over Hyderabad in the semifinal and were up against Delhi in the final — this time at home. The tourists were bowled out for 278 and Roy fell for 11, but from 97 for four Raja Venkat lent a hand to the ubiquitous Arun Lal; Bengal reached 216 for four and won the tournament on Quotient (54 to 27.8).

Final days

Having won the Trophy, Pranab played for another season, scoring 322 runs at a moderate 35.77 with two fifties. He made an emergency comeback in the quarterfinal against Delhi next season at Kotla but failed in each innings, scoring four and 13 as Maninder Singh led Delhi to an innings victory.

Post-retirement

After retirement Roy served as a National Selector and played an instrumental role (along with Yashpal and Gopal Sharma) to bring back Sourav Ganguly for the 2005-06 Pakistan tour. However, the trio were sacked the day Sharad Pawar took over The Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI).

He also made news for multiple reasons, most famously when Abhijit Kale had tried to ‘influence’ Kiran More and Roy to get through to the Indian national side. “I was approached by Abhijit Kale with an offer of monetary inducement of Rs 10 lakh,” Roy later said in an interview with The Tribune.

Roy currently runs the Pankaj Roy Cricket Academy in Salt Lake, near his new residence. No, he does not stay in that historic mansion at Kumartuli anymore.

(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)

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