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Datta Gaekwad attempting an exceptionally bizarre stroke Getty Images

Dattajirao Krishnarao Datta Gaekwad, born October 27, 1928, was more flamboyant than reliable with bat and led India in 4 Tests with no success after the turbulence of 1958-59. Far from impactful in international cricket, Gaekwad was nevertheless a successful batsman and captain for Baroda in Ranji Trophy, peaking in the late 1950s. Abhishek Mukherjee narrates a lesser-known cricketer s career.

Datta Gaekwad was an attractive batsman with a preference towards the off-side, defying his five-and-a-half-feet frame to reach the pitch of the ball and driving elegantly. He was also an excellent fielder by contemporary standards. He also led Baroda with some success in Ranji Trophy.

That was about it. If you think 11 Tests was too long a career for someone who averaged less than 20 with bat and rarely bowled, try to come to terms with the fact that he was appointed Indian captain for a full tour of England.

Of course, Gaekwad s presence at the crease, however brief, was enjoyable. In Who s Who of Test Cricketers Christopher Martin-Jenkins wrote that he possessed a sure defence and delightfully crisp shots especially through the covers.

Gaekwad played 110 First-Class matches over 16 seasons; 42 of these matches came on two tours of the British Isles in 1952 and 1959. His 5,788 runs came at a sub-par 36.40, while his leg-breaks fetched him 25 wickets. His 11 Tests were spread over a career spanning almost 9 years.

The royal connection

Datta Gaekwad, the son of a Brigadier in the Baroda Royal Army, was distantly related to the royal family of the state. In fact, he told ESPNCricinfo that one of his forefathers became a Baroda ruler. Gaekwad accompanied Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad aka Jackie Baroda (later the Maharaja of Baroda and the youngest BCCI President till date) from the age of 11.

The fact that the Baroda royal family were strong cricket patrons helped. They often invited the likes of Vijay Hazare and CS Nayudu to coach the princes, and Datta Gaekwad got his training as well. In fact, he later recollected that he first took to cricket on a serious note after watching a contest between the two.

Gaekwad started to play for Bombay University, making a mark with 6 for 84 against Mysore University and 62 against Osmania. He later moved to Baroda University. He did find a spot in a Ranji Trophy match against Kathiawar, but cementing a spot in the Baroda side in the late 1940s was an extremely difficult task: along with Hazare and CS, the side boasted of Gul Mohammad, Amir Elahi, Ranga Sohoni, Sadashiv Shinde, Gogumal Kishenchand, and BB Nimbalkar all of whom played Test cricketers.

He failed for a Combined Universities side against the touring West Indians but finally found a groove with 108 against Bombay. Later that season he became he scored 128 and 101* against Gujarat, becoming the third Baroda batsman to score two hundreds in the same match.

His graduation examinations were coming up, so Gaekwad decided to opt out of the high-intensity Holkar match. The Baroda team management insisted he played. Gaekwad refused, for he was woefully out of practice, and even turned up on match day in plain clothes. They sent for his clothes. Holkar put up 419 and Gaekwad, batting at No. 3, was caught off the unrelated Hiralal Gaekwad for a duck. Thankfully, he was spared an outing in the second innings as Hazare masterminded a 255-run chase with his second hundred of the match.

Against Saurashtra the season after he had bizarre figures of 9.1-5-4-3, and followed it with 3 for 45 in the second innings. For Baroda University against his old alma mater he amassed 202 out of a total of 312 (nobody else, extras included, went past 25). That, along with a short yet successful Ranji season, earned him a place on the 1952 tour of England.

The Blighty: Part One

Gaekwad later admitted that he was overawed by the selection. He confessed to The Hindu about not being able to resist putting on the cap and the blazer and looking at himself in the mirror.

He took his time to settle down on the tour, finding some form in end-May, scoring 42 and 75 against Essex and 83 in the next innings, against Somerset. This was followed by a string of 6 single-digit scores including his only Test of the tour, at Headingley.

He opened batting (a position he was not used to), but was unfortunately pitted against another debutant one who would torment the Indians that series Fred Trueman, along with the redoubtable Alec Bedser. He was eventually bowled by Bedser for a duck.

However, Vijay Manjrekar crafted out 133, and with the underrated Ghulam Ahmed taking 5 for 100, England were restricted to a 41-run lead.

He was second out in the second innings, again to Bedser. The Times reported that the ball did rear up like a cobra , and all poor Gaekwad could do was to play it to Jim Laker at gully for a duck.

The fault was hardly his alone, for 14 balls into the innings India were reduced to 0 for 4. In fact, they were actually staring at an innings defeat. The score looked so ridiculous that Yorkshire Post actually called the ground to check whether there was a misprint, and the score was actually 4 without loss. Needless to mention, England strolled to a win.

His highest point on the tour came against Sussex: opening batting he held one end up, scoring 87 out of a team total of 186. Unfortunately, the tourists lost the match comfortably. He finished the tour with 852 runs at 27.48 with 8 fifties (but no hundred).

Ranks of Baroda

Back home, Gaekwad was selected for the second Test against Pakistan at Lucknow. This time India were hit by Fazal Mahmood (who took 12 for 94), and Pakistan won their first ever Test in only their second attempt. Gaekwad scored 6 and 32. Back for the fifth Test at Calcutta, he got 21 and 20*, but still found a spot on the West Indies tour.

He finally found some runs at Port-of-Spain, with a gritty innings of 43 and 24, helping India save the Test. Unfortunately he scored a duck at Bridgetown, and collided with Hazare while attempting a catch. The shoulder injury ruled him out for the rest of the tour.

In fact, he did not play another Test for 6 years.

In domestic cricket, however, he went from strength to strength. Baroda were reduced to 69 for 2 when he walked out after Bombay had put up 258. Hazare and Gaekwad easily pulled them over the line.

After Holkar piled up 492 in the semi-final, Gaekwad walked out at 0 for 1 and led a lone fight, scoring 145 as his team slumped to 323 for 9. The last-wicket stand of 89 between Jyotivardhan Vin and Madhav Limaye did not help. With 317 runs at 79.25 Gaekwad finished fourth on the Ranji charts that season.

He sought out Bombay again in 1957-58, his first season as Baroda captain, this time for a massive 218. This time he added 322 for the fourth wicket with Hazare (126) to lift Baroda from 26 for 3. And while he failed with bat in Mushtaq Ali s Testimonial match, he had 1 for 25 and 4 for 117 in the match.

Baroda reached the Ranji final that season. Once again they were in trouble, the openers scoring 2 and 24. Once again Gaekwad (132) and Hazare (203) came to rescue, adding 204. Vin, Hazare, and Chandu Borde then bowled Baroda to an innings victory.

It was Baroda s first victory in 8 seasons. They would not win again until the third millennium. This time his 546 runs (at 78) were only next to Polly Umrigar s 594.

Indian Cricket named him a Cricketer of the Year. And amidst all the confusion in the home series of 1958-59 against West Indies, Datta Gaekwad was recalled for the fifth Test at Delhi.

The final innings

Wes Hall, and more importantly, Roy Gilchrist, were almost certainly faster than Trueman. Walking out at 208 for 5, Gaekwad hung around grimly before Gilchrist claimed him for 6.

India managed to reach 415, but Conrad Hunte got 92 while John Holt, Collie Smith, and Joe Solomon all slammed hundreds. West Indies declared with a 229-run lead.

India lost Nari Contractor early, but Gaekwad (52) got together with Pankaj Roy (58) to add 93 for the second wicket. Borde followed his first-innings 109 with 96, and with new captain Hemu Adhikari also coming to the act, India saved the match. It would remain Gaekwad s only Test fifty.

Then came the surprise: after four captains in the series (Umrigar, Ghulam, Vinoo Mankad, and Adhikari in that order) the selectors appointed a fifth: India toured England in 1959 under, as mentioned above, Datta Gaekwad. Managing the team would be his old acquaintance Jackie Baroda, who was younger than several members of the side.

In The Covers Are Off, Rajan Bala would later suggest that one of the reasons behind India s horror tour was the general resentment of Bombay cricketers against the Baroda duo.

However, Gaekwad himself trashed the notion in an interview with G Viswanath of The Hindu: I never thought I would be named the captain. All I wanted was to play the game, enjoy it and score runs and be happy. I have always heard of rivalries in the Indian team, right from CK Nayudu s time, and how players did not cooperate with each other. But I never had any issues with the players.

From left: Polly Umrigar, Datta Gaekwad, Denis Compton, Vijay Manjrekar    Getty Images
From left: Polly Umrigar, Datta Gaekwad, Denis Compton, Vijay Manjrekar Getty Images

The Blighty: Part Two

To be fair to Gaekwad, he had a decent outing in the first Test at Trent Bridge with 33 and 31 as India folded for 206 and 157 and lost by an innings on the fourth morning. The effort was even more praiseworthy, for he was hit on the ribs and the instep.

Wisden wrote that Gaekwad never flinched and in the matter of defensive technique did better than the rest of the side in the first innings. It took a Godfrey Evans special down the leg off Brian Statham to dislodge him in the first innings.

It was not only that: when England captain Peter May put up 106, Gaekwad placed himself at silly mid-off to stop those booming cover-drives. Gaekwad set his men a fine example by the way he picked up the hottest drives from his rival captain s bat, reported Wisden.

Unfortunately, he went down with bronchitis before the second Test. Roy led in his absence at Lord s (making it 6 Indian captains in 7 Tests) and India lost again.

Thereafter things went horribly wrong. India not only lost the series: they were wiped away by a 0-5 margin. Desperate measures were taken, like sending out a desperate plea to Abbas Ali Baig at Oxford for the Old Trafford Test (the only one that went into the fifth day), but nothing worked.

Barring Baig (41.65) no other Indian averaged over 34. The bowlers did somewhat better: the inextinguishable Services workhorse Raman Surendranath had 16 wickets at 27, while Bapu Nadkarni did what he did best went for 2.28 an over on pitches that had nothing for him.

Subhash Gupte had 17 wickets at 34.64. Gaekwad received serious flak for not being able to use him properly. In Twirlymen Amol Rajan called him tactically naive . It did not help that the captain spent a lot of time in the English hospitals, and therefore, away from the team.

On the tour he did a decent job, his 1,174 runs at 34.52 coming only behind Umrigar (1,826), Roy (1,207), and Contractor (1,183). In tour averages he came next to only Manjrekar (68.63) and Umrigar (55.33), while only Umrigar (5) scored more hundreds than his 3, which came against Minor Counties, Yorkshire, and Kent.

Wisden, generous in their report of the first Test, summarised his tour thus: The Baroda player never suggested that he had the verve and personality to carry this exacting task, and he appeared a sick man midway through the tour. He did well to miss only one Test match … A more active approach to all he did, especially his field placing, would have been welcome.

Of course, there were some redeeming points: There were times when his cover fielding was brilliant, and his innings of 176 against Yorkshire at Sheffield made many wonder why he was not more successful.

Later years

Back home Gaekwad had another productive season, with 249* against Maharashtra, and, two matches later, 139 against Gujarat. The following season he scored a fifty against the touring Pakistanis and earned a comeback at Madras. He scored 9, and never played Test cricket again.

Another double-hundred came the following season, but his career faded out thereafter. He hung up his boots after 1963-64.

He later served as Deputy Comptroller of Baroda. His son Anshuman played 40 Tests and 15 ODIs for India and was their coach in the late 1990s. Anshuman s son Shatrunjay played for Baroda as well, and even earned an IPL contract with Kolkata Knight Riders.

When Deepak Shodhan passed away in May 2016, Datta Gaekwad became the oldest surviving Indian Test cricketer.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketCountry. He blogs at ovshake.blogspot.com and can be followed on Twitter @ovshake42.)