Dilip Sardesai: 10 facts about India’s Renaissance Man

Dilip Sardesai, born on August 8, 1940, was the Renaissance Man of Indian cricket. He represented India in 30 Tests between 1961 and 1972 and is best remembered for his 642 runs on the victorious tour to the West Indies. Sardesai also remains the only Goan to play Test cricket for India. He passed away in 2007, at the age of 66. Nishad Pai Vaidya picks 10 facts to know about the former India batsman. 

1.  Only Goan to play for India: Sardesai is the only Goan to represent India in Test cricket. He was born in Margao in Portuguese- ruled Goa in 1940 and moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) as a teenager for his studies. In a chat with Quint, his son Rajdeep, said that Sardesai hadn’t played on a proper turf wicket until he was 17. By the age of 21, he had made it through to the highest level.

2.  First-Class debut against Pakistan: Sardesai performed well for Bombay University in the Rohinton Baria Trophy 1959-60, which won him a call-up for the India Universities team to play the visiting Pakistanis in November 1960. Sardesai made his First-Class debut against Pakistan at Poona (as Pune was then known) and scored 87 against an attack powered by Fazal Mahmood. Later, he also represented the Board President’s XI against Pakistan and scored his maiden First-Class ton. All this happened before he had earned his Ranji cap for Bombay.

3.  Taking on WI pacers: Sardesai had played the solitary Test before going to the West Indies in 1962. It was a trial by fire for any young cricketer  to take on the likes of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith. On that tour, Griffith was hyped as the fastest bowler, but Sardesai had humorously brushed that aside when he faced him for the first time. However, the fears were confirmed once Griffith felled skipper Nari Contractor with a bouncer. In the absence of Contractor, young Sardesai volunteered to open the batting for the rest of the series and take on some of the most feared bowlers.

4.  Romantic letters: Makarand Waingankar reveals an interesting anecdote about Sardesai in his book Guts & Glory. Sardesai had met Nandini Pant, his future wife, while he was a university cricketer. The two kept in touch. And when Sardesai travelled to the West Indies for his first international tour, they exchanged letters every day. By the time Sardesai returned from the Caribbean, as many as 90 letters were written by them. Nandini said, “Half of my love letters used to be spent in correcting Dilip’s English, but that love was very much there. The teacher in me was born there.”

5.  Double century: In 1965, the John Reid-led New Zealand side had India in trouble in the third Test at the Brabourne Stadium. The hosts were bundled out for 88 after New Zealand put up 297. Reid enforced the follow on, but Sardesai ensured that India sailed through to a position of safety. Sardesai batted for more than nine hours to score an unbeaten double century. Chandu Borde also scored a century as India setup New Zealand an improbable target of 255 on the final day. India nearly won the game as New Zealand finished on 80 for eight.

6.  What an idea, Sardee! During the 1967-68 tour to Australia, Sardesai pulled off an ‘entertaining’ piece of fielding. The Adelaide Oval was known for its long straight boundaries, where batsmen would often have the opportunity to hit down the ground and run five before a fielder stopped the ball short of the fence. On one occasion, Sardesai was chasing the ball to the boundary and realised that the batsmen were going for the fifth run. He dived, making it look as if he was putting in a genuine effort to stop it, and pushed it into the boundary for four runs!

 

7.  Renaissance Man: Sardesai was dropped from the Indian side after the 1967-68 tour Down Under, but he made a remarkable comeback in 1971 on the tour of the West Indies. Ajit Wadekar was appointed captain and he placed his faith in Sardesai. “I had played with Dilip from the university days and his game perfectly fit my strategy. Not only was he in form at that time of selection, but he had the experience of West Indies pitches as well,” Wadekar was quoted in the book A Million Broken Windows. The rest is history! In the five-match Test series, Sardesai smashed 642 runs, which included three centuries. His 212 in the first Test helped India set the tone for the series and he followed it up with a century in the first innings of the second, which was won by the tourists. He is famously referred to as the “Renaissance Man” for his performance in this epic series. Later in the year, he also played a crucial part in India’s Test victory at The Oval, which helped them win their maiden series in England.

 

8.  Humorous: Sardesai was known for his humour and famously came up with unique terms to describe anything on the field of play.

Perhaps his most famous term in Mumbai cricket is ‘Popatwadi’, which he used to describe any below-par bowling attack.

Rahul Dravid recalled in 2014 that on spotting a bowler with a suspect action, Sardesai started shouting ‘Lagori’ — referring to a sport by Indian children of a bygone past that entails the players to take aim at a stack of rocks.

During one of the overseas tours, he posed as a fan and called his roommate Salim Durani, persuading him to come down to the hotel lobby to meet him to collect a gift. Sunil Gavaskar wrote in Viva Goa that Durani obliged but found no one in the lobby. Once he returned to his room, the ‘fan’ called again. Durani walked down to the lobby again only to find Sardesai laughing in a corner. Poor Durani had dressed up for the meeting, believing all along that a genuine fan was waiting for him.

9.  Cricketing family: Sardesai’s cousin Sopandev played seven First-Class matches for Rajasthan in the 1950s. His son Rajdeep also turned up for Oxford University for a few matches in 1987. Today, Rajdeep is a leading television journalist in India.

10.  Commemorations: The Dilip Sardesai Memorial Lecture is held every year in Mumbai in his honour. The Dilip Sardesai Award is presented by the Goa Government every year to the leading sportsperson in the state. A Dilip Sardesai Award is also presented by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to the best player of any Test series between the two countries.

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Mumbai-based cricket journalist and one of the youngest to cover the three major cricketing events — ICC World Cup, World T20 and under-19 World Cup. He tweets as @nishad_45)