GopalBose
Gopal Bose. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.

Gopal Bose was born on May 20, 1947. A dour opener and a handy off-spinner, Bose served Bengal for a decade. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the tale of an all-rounder who got agonisingly close to winning a Test cap.

The bespectacled Gopal Krishna Bose was one of the forerunners for the slot of Sunil Gavaskar’s opening partner in the 1970s. He had it all — unwavering concentration, resolute diligence, and that much-needed ability every captain seeks in an opener: the ability to play long innings.

He was also competent with his part-time off-breaks, which often came handy when there was a need to break partnerships. At the domestic level he was an asset with his all-round skills: from 78 First-Class matches, mostly for Bengal, Bose finished with 3,757 runs at 30.79 with 8 hundreds along with 72 wickets at 26.97.

And yet, barring a few unofficial “Tests”, his international career was restricted to a solitary ODI.

Early days

Born in Calcutta, Bose made a mark at University level, doing a commendable job for the University of Calcutta. He made his First-Class debut against Bihar at an age of 21, failing with the bat but picking up 2 for 4. In the next match, against Assam, Bose finished with 2 for 7 and 2 for 8: his career bowling record at this stage stood at 11.5-6-19-6 from three innings. He finished the season with 14 wickets at 14.35.

Selected for East Zone, Bose scored 113 — his maiden First-Class hundred — in the Duleep Trophy final against South Zone: the bowling line-up consisted of EAS Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, and Abid Ali, but Bose stamped his arrival nevertheless.

The big innings came in the Irani Trophy bout of 1973-74: the Bombay attack (consisting of Milind Rege, Abdul Ismail, Padmakar Shivalkar, and Eknath Solkar) was a potent one, but could not stop Bose from scoring an emphatic career-best 170. Gundappa Viswanath and Brijesh Patel contributed with fifties, and Bombay, forced to follow-on, got away with a draw.

The innings propelled Bose to one of the forerunners for the “other” opening slot in the Indian Test side. He strengthened his claim with back-to-back innings of 94 against Orissa and 169 not out against Bihar. He was an obvious choice for India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 1973-74.

India trailed by 141 in the first unofficial “Test” at Colombo Oval when Bose walked out with Gavaskar at the crease with well over a day to spare. India finished the day on 110 without loss, and took the opening stand to 194 before Gavaskar eventually fell. Bose duly got to his hundred, and fell to Ajit de Silva for 104. The “Test” was saved. He added 54 and five in the second “Test” (that India won).

Before the India team for the England tour was announced, a semi-trial match was held between Indian XI against Rest of India. Opening with Gavaskar, Bose scored 77 against Prasanna, Chandrasekhar, Dilip Doshi, and Salim Durani, and almost cemented his place as the great man’s opening partner. His excellent form also made him an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year.

Summer of 42: a glimpse of international cricket

Unfortunately for Bose, he failed to seize the opportunity. Opening with Gavaskar, he scored a match-saving 59 against DH Robins’ XI, but there was little else to write home about. Against Oxford and Cambridge he scored 66 and 40 and picked up 4 for 23, but that was it. He finished the tour with 328 runs at 18.22, and those remained his only 4 wickets. He did not get a Test as India tried different partners (Solkar, Farokh Engineer, and Sudhir Naik) for Gavaskar.

After India lost the first ODI at Headingley, Bose got a chance in the second (and final) Prudential Trophy match at The Oval. For some reason Bose played as the lone spinner along with three pace-bowling all-rounders — Abid Ali, Madan Lal, and Solkar; the fifth bowler was Ashok Mankad. This meant that Madan had to bat at No. 11. Exactly why Wadekar went in without a specialist spinner remains unknown.

Batting at No. 3 he scored 13 before Robin Jackman snared him. India were bowled out for 171 — a total England chased down with 37 balls to spare. Bose got his full quota of 11 overs, conceded 39 runs, and removed David Lloyd. He never played another international match.

Back to domestic cricket

Following his 62 and 100 against Karnataka in that year’s Irani Trophy, Bose was in the reckoning once again. He added a gutsy 44 for Indian Board President’s XI against the West Indians, keeping Andy Roberts, Keith Boyce, and Bernard Julien at bay.

He had another bite at the opener’s slot when Gavaskar was injured during the series. He was drafted into the squad of 14 and it was almost certain that he would make his Test debut at Madras. At the last moment the selectors decided to go in with three spinners and three all-rounders, had Solkar and Engineer to open batting, and left Bose out.

What exactly had got wrong with Bose? Many, many years later, Bose told Gautam Bhattacharya of ABP that had he got another opportunity, he would probably have handled things better. He was too addicted to cards and alcohol, perhaps. Asthma did not help his cause either.

There was an incident that is probably worth a mention here. The Rest of India side were returning to Bombay from Ahmedabad after an Irani Cup match. The train journey was short, but full of animated discussions when the incident took place.

Bose later told Bhattacharya: “All of a sudden Tiger [Pataudi] snapped his fingers to call me, ‘hey, you, give me a light.’ That was when I lost my temper. Why would he snap his fingers? We do not treat even our waiters that way. I crushed his cigarette with my feet, lit my own cigarette, and handed it over to him … I later felt guilty for behaving that way.”

But Bose never blamed the incident for Pataudi not picking him for the Madras Test: “What would I have done? Score a fifty, at best. Solkar would have contributed with bat. He would have bowled. Most importantly, with three fielders in the side, he would have been an asset at short-leg. A catch of [Clive] Lloyd or [Viv] Richards would have been equivalent to a hundred runs.”

Solkar scored 4 and 15, did not bowl, but he took 4 catches at short-leg, off 4 different bowlers.

He continued to play Ranji Trophy till 1977-78. In his penultimate season he bowled in tandem with Doshi to pick up 5 for 67 (his only five-wicket haul) against Haryana. In his last match, against Hyderabad, he batted capably with 40 (out of 197) and 49 (out of 108 for 8). He played a single Duleep Trophy encounter next season against North Zone, scoring 0 and 45.

Post-retirement

After retirement Bose took to journalism, writing for Bengali daily Aajkaal, among others. He was appointed the India manager for the Under-19 World Cup in 2007-08, the year Virat Kohli and his gang of boys won the trophy.

He was also in the frame of becoming a national selector the following year from east. He was also the Bengal under-19 coach till 2009-10 season. He quit from the post following differences with CAB.

He also became a renowned coach in Kolkata, and is currently the head coach at Cricket Club of Dhakuria. His son Arijit (who spells his surname as Basu — a variant of Bose) scored 101 on First-Class debut against Tripura, but played only 2 more First-Class matches.

In 2016 CAB honoured him with a lifetime achievement award.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)