In an era of four spinners, Devraj Govindraj bowled quick – and well enough to be a part of the victorious tours of West Indies and England in 1970-71. Although he did not play in the Test matches, there are many fantastic memories. In an exclusive interview to Cricketcountry’s Arunabha Sengupta, Govindraj speaks about his wonderful experiences during those historic occasions.
In an era when a couple of batsmen would run in to hurl the ball down for a couple of overs before it was tossed to the spinners, Govindraj was a misfit – an Indian pace bowler who bowled quick enough to worry the best of batsmen.
He was part of the history-making Indian teams that toured the West Indies and England 1970-71. However, the over-reliance on a treasure-trove of spinners saw him participate in almost all the tour matches without appearing in even one Test match.
Yet, he has some fascinating memories of the two tours, which he shares in this exclusive interview that follows:
CricketCountry (CC): The Indian teams that toured the West Indies and England in 1971 were selected separately. You must have been in excellent form to make the side on both occasions.
D Govindraj (DG): I was bowling well, but I was at my best in 1967 when I just missed making the team that toured Australia under Tiger Pataudi. I was then bowling at my fastest. Before the side was picked to tour to Australia, at a training camp in Pune, Tiger would stand in the position of the umpire and instruct me to bounce at batsmen like Farokh Engineer, Chandu Borde, Ajit Wadekar. He told me that I was sure to make the trip. There were other fast bowlers in the camp, like Subroto Guha, Ajit Naik and Samir Chakrabarti. There were lot of regional favouritism as well. Ghulam Ahmed, the representative of our zone, did not come to the camp. Hemu Adhikari wanted his man from the Services man, Chakrabarti, in the side. Ultimately the two bowlers picked were Umesh Kulkarni and Ramakant Desai – two who had not even attended the camp! Desai returned wicketless from Australia.
When (ML) Jaisimha was called to go to Australia as an emergency reinforcement, I bowled regularly to him on the matting wicket of our employers State Bank of India. He prepared for the tour that way. And before he left, we told him to get a hundred. He got off the plane and scored 74 and 101at Brisbane.
CC: Along with Jaisimha, Kenia Jayantilal, Pochiah Krishnamurthy, Abid Ali and Abbas Ali Baig, you were the sixth member of that Indian side from Hyderabad on that tour of the West Indies. If Pataudi had also toured, he would have been the seventh. What would you say about the Hyderabad side of the time?
DG: There were five of us in the two tours in 1971. Jai did not tour England and Abbas did not tour the West Indies. Hyderabad was a brilliant side during those days. Every team, including the regular champions Bombay, would be scared of playing us. But somehow we never won the Ranji Trophy. We did very well all through, but the batting always let us down in the semi-final or final. We were good enough to finish group matches by the second day or early third day. And then Tiger (Pataudi) would phone Bhopal and ask them to prepare jeeps for shikar. Jai, Mumtaz Hussain, Abbas... we all would go with Tiger for hunting immediately after the match. Tiger would drink a bottle of gin every day. Some of us would join him. Once Pataudi was arrested while shooting deer in Warangal and was taken to the house of the Collector, who happened to be my uncle. He wanted to know from Tiger how I was doing in cricket. Everything was settled amicably. Those were wonderful days.
CC: It must have been a blessing to have someone like Jaisimha in the side when you toured. Someone you knew and looked up to.
DG: The entire team looked up to him. His room would always be packed with team members hanging around him. Apart from the Hyderabad players, there were also several others from South (Srinivas) Venkataraghavan, (Gundappa) Viswanath and others who used to flock to him. Even (Ajit) Wadekar used to come to Jai’s room. Jai would come up with excellent suggestions. He had a superb cricketing brain. He led Hyderabad brilliantly. It was his idea to play Lance Gibbs carefully, and give Jack Noreiga away the wickets during the tour matches. The ploy worked. And Gibbs, who would have been a handful in Guyana, was replaced in the West Indian side by Noreiga.
During the Port-of-Spain Test that we won in the West Indies, I remember going out with the drinks as the 12th man. At one point, Jai told me he would go instead of me. It was during that break he discussed the field placing and the bowling with Wadekar. As a result, Wadekar brought on (Salim) Durrani, who got Clive Lloyd and Gary Sobers in quick time.
CC: Jayantilal, another debutant, got just one innings on that tour. He never played for the country again. You did not get even a single opportunity to play Tests. Were the Hyderabad players happy with captain Wadekar?
DG: Wadekar preferred to have players from Bombay. Jayantilal played the first Test because Sunil (Gavaskar) had whitlow and went to New York for treatment. Jayantilal was out caught, ducking to a bouncer with his bat held high. Sunil came in the next Test and made a fantastic debut with Ashok Mankad as his opening partner.
As for me, it was an era when the new ball was rubbed on the ground to take the shine off so that the spinners could come in to bowl quickly! In the tour matches I bowled well. I had a very good out-swinger. But because of our poor slip fielding, edges would go for boundaries. Two or three catches would go down in the first two overs, and then I would be taken off and spinners would come on. We hear a lot about the quality of close-in fielding in that era, but actually it is a lot better now. It was horrible then.
In England, the wicket in Manchester was absolutely green. Keith Miller, who was working in the media at that time, and wrote that if India did not play Govindraj on the Manchester wicket, they would never be able to produce fast bowlers. But the reliance on spinners was too great. Abid got four of the top five wickets before lunch in that Test. At the other end the bowlers were Eknath Solkar and Sunil Gavaskar!
CC: Gavaskar made a sensational debut series in West Indies...
DG: Yes, he did. But, catches were dropped off him very early in most games. On the other hand, (Dilip) Sardesai played like a rock. He was magnificent. He was the one who gave the side a lot of confidence.
CC: Any particular memories from the tours that stick?
DG: Those were absolutely wonderful tours. Playing against legends like Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai was a dream experience. Sobers got a few hundreds against us on the tour. Kanhai got one.
I remember the match against Barbados in which Sobers was batting in his 80s, on his way to a hundred. Jai was standing at mid-off and told me to bowl a bouncer. I did and Sobers let it go. As I walked back, Jai told me to bounce him again. And Sobers saw what was happening. He hit it flat batted over Jai’s head, out of the ground.
When we went in for lunch, we were walking past ex-cricketers like Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes. Griffith caught me by the shoulders and said, “You bowling bouncers to Gary maan with these shoulders?”
Walcott made me sit beside him and said that I had a lovely action and a beautiful out-swinger and had a brilliant future ahead of me. I bowled Gary in that game (for 135) and started flying. Sobers told Wadekar, “You must take this boy to England.”
Kanhai used to joke, “Don’t bowl too quick to me.”
The West Indies tour was great. Jai and Sobers used to play golf together. The teams would mingle. On the other hand, the English tour was different. Some old Surrey cricketers and a few others who used to ask us to join them for a drink after the day’s cricket, but Hemu Adhikari, the manager, was too strict. We became very unpopular. We were not too happy. There were quarrels too, within the team. Luckily we won.
CC: What are your memories about the victory at The Oval and the celebrations that followed?
DG: Would you believe at the end of the third day, Wadekar was talking of drawing the match! He was a very defensive captain. But then Chandra bowled that dream spell. Once the match was over, we celebrated with champagne.
There were quite a few memorable moments, including an elephant brought to the ground for the Ganesh Chaturthi.
CC: How good a captain was Wadekar?
DG: I would say Jai and Pataudi were much better. Wadekar won because of the circumstances. He used to stand in the slips, waiting for things to happen. On the other hand, Jai and Tiger would make things happen. I remember Pataudi standing at the silly-point and making faces at the batsmen to distract them. Jai was a very shrewd captain. Right now MS Dhoni is one of the best captains – very calm and cool.
CC: What are your memories of the motorcade at Bombay after the victory against England?
DG: Wonderful memories. Bombayites knew how to celebrate. There were huge crowds. Flower baskets were hung between buildings and as we passed, they were overturned, with flowers raining on us. We can never forget those days.
CC: Did the team benefit monetarily?
DG: No. Only some players from Bombay got some money. Indian Express, Hinduand Deccan Chronicle together collected some funds.
I had to go through a lot of financial struggle after moving to England. After retiring from SBI, I even spent five years driving a London double-decker. Since I was far away, I could not approach the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)for help. In 1983, India came to England to play the Prudential World Cup. The manager of that team (PR Mansingh) was from Hyderabad. He knew I was in financial difficulties and told me to try and arrange a benefit game. I managed to fix something up, and the Indian team played a match for me on the very day following the World Cup final. That was a wonderful gesture. Kapil Dev was really nice. Except for Sandeep Patil, who had to leave for a wedding, everyone else played. Pataudi was there as well, and stood as the umpire for a while. I did raise some money. That got me going to an extent.
I am still hopeful that I will receive a good sum from the BCCI as per the scheme for all those who have played over 75 First-class matches.
CC: How quick were you in your day?
DG: I can’t say how many miles per hour. We had no speed guns. But KN Prabhu of the Times of India used to write a lot about me, saying that I was the fastest since Mohammad Nissar. I was quite quick in 1967. During the English tour, I troubled Barry Richards a couple of times. In Sunil’s book, he mentions that Barry Richards used to take care to play my bouncers. I had a good throwing arm as well.
CC: Are you in touch with your former teammates?
DG: Yes, it feels great when I come across them. Farokh Engineer meets me now and then. When India plays here, I get together with some of my old buddies. It was through (Gundappa) Viswanath that I met Sachin Tendulkar. Whenever they come here I get in touch. When I am in Mumbai, I call up Sunil. He is a really genuine person.
I spoke to Jai two days before his final chemotherapy treatment. And I came to know from his wife that even then he had his cigarette and a glass of whiskey with him. It is sad to see so many of my teammates pass away. But, then no one lives forever. I am just glad that I have seen all my children grow up and settled in life.
CC: Are you connected to the game now?
DG: I spend almost ten months in India nowadays. I work with some very talented kids, two of whom have all the potential to play at the highest level. It is my dream to get them there. Today there are too many cricket academies with the sole intention of making money. Everyone is out to make a quick buck. I tell my students – don’t aim to play in IPL. Aim to play for India.
CC: Finally, how are you related to CK Nayudu?
DG: There is no relation really. My maternal uncle married CK Nayudu’s eldest daughter. My father said that people would think I was related to the great man, but I should make it on my own in cricket. My original name was Govindraj Devendraraj Nayudu. My father asked me not to use Nayudu. Hence, I started using my father’s name – Devraj – and became Govindraj Devraj.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)