Jayasinghrao Ghorpade (2nd from right)
Jayasinghrao Ghorpade (second from right) played a 8 Tests for India. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan

Jayasinhrao “Mamasaheb” Ghorpade, born October 2, 1930, provided yeoman services to Baroda throughout the 1950s — and later. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an all-rounder who never made it big at the highest level.

Despite his well-known relation to the royal family of Baroda, Jayasinhrao Mansinghrao Ghorpade was a humble person. The uncle of the brothers Fatehsinhrao, Ranjitsinhrao, and Sangramsinhrao — all First-Class cricketers — “Mamasaheb” (or “Mama” — which means maternal uncle — to close ones) Ghorpade was a Baroda mainstay for a decade.

The relationships do not represent the ages properly. If anything, Fatehsinh was a few months older than Ghorpade, while the other brothers were eight and 11 years younger to him respectively. Fatehsinhrao, however, went on to become the Maharaja of Baroda in 1968, and managed the Indian tours of England in 1959 (where they affectionately called him “Jackie Baroda”) and Pakistan in 1978-79 and 1982-83.

A gentleman on and off the field, Ghorpade was immensely popular in the Baroda cricket circuit. His thin 5’7” frame, complete with glasses and a prominent moustache that made him look more scholarly than sporty, would have been more at home in a University classroom than on a cricket field.

On the field, however, he was an outstanding fielder to begin with; his leg-breaks were good enough to earn him 114 wickets from 82 matches at 30.83 with 4 five-wicket hauls, but he never got a Test wicket (though it must be admitted that he got to bowl only 25 overs from 8 Tests).

His explosive batting made him a perpetual threat to the bowlers, but it often brought his downfall: he retired with a rather pedestrian batting average of 25.54 with 2 hundreds. In Tests it dipped even further: he never scored a fifty, and finished with 229 runs at 15.26.

Early days

Ghorpade was born to an affluent family. His father, the village Sardar (chieftain) at Panchgani, was also a successful wholesale wheat merchant. He moved to Baroda, went on to do a Bachelor’s in Commerce, but also made his First-Class debut in a Ranji Trophy encounter against Gujarat, scoring 1 and 7.

However, it was his fielding that caught the eyes of the selectors and fans. Playing for Indian Universities against the touring Pakistanis Ghorpade suddenly became a big name when he combined with Gundibail Sunderam to rout the tourists for 92. He finished with a career-best haul of 6 for 19.

A call-up out of nowhere

He had to travel a long-distance for next First-Class match as he earned a surprising call-up as a replacement for the West Indies tour of 1952-53. He did not get a single practice match before he was thrown to the wolves in the third Test at Queen’s Park Oval.

Ghorpade came out to join Polly Umrigar at 211 for 7, but soon lost his senior partner. Soon afterwards Frank King broke Ebrahim Maka’s hand, and Ghorpade had to guard Subhash Gupte, who had no pretension of being a batsman. Ghorpade scored 35 before Alf Valentine snared him; by then he added 50 for the last stand with Gupte. Gupte restricted West Indies to a 36-run lead; Ghorpade was run out for a duck in the second innings, bowled 16 overs for 70, and the match petered out to a draw.

The selectors dropped Ghorpade for the fourth Test at Bourda, but brought him back for the fifth at Sabina Park. With Pankaj Roy and Vijay Manjrekar scoring hundreds to erase a 264-run deficit, India secured another draw (and lost the series 0-1). Ghorpade scored 0 and 24, and was given a mere 6 overs in West Indies’ 206.1-over first innings of 576.

In and out

Ghorpade made sporadic appearances in the Test side thereafter. He was drafted in for the Eden Gardens Test against New Zealand in 1955-56, where he played perhaps the finest innings of his life. India slid from 41 for 1 to 49 for 5 when he walked out; he was the only one to put up a resistance of some sort with 39 as India were bowled out for 132.

Once again there was a splendid rearguard action, this time from Roy and Gulabrai Ramchand; Ghorpade fell for 4, and New Zealand, having set 235, met with a sudden collapse, recovering in the end to finish on 75 for 6. Once again Ghorpade found himself out of the Test side. Coming back against Australia at Brabourne Stadium next season he scored another duck as Pat Crawford ran through his defence.

Ranji Trophy, 1957-58

Baroda lifted their fourth Ranji Trophy title in 1957-58 with Ghorpade playing a stellar role. In consecutive matches his performances read 37 and 4 for 81 against Maharashtra; 108* and 5 for 106 against Gujarat (he remains one of only seven Baroda cricketers to score a hundred and take a five-for in the same match); 59 against Saurashtra; and 123 and 3 for 52 against Rajasthan in the semi-final. He did not do anything of note in the final against Services, but his contribution was undeniable.

Those two remained the only hundreds of Ghorpade’s First-Class career. His tournament statistics read 335 runs at 83.75 and 14 wickets at 23.28. When the touring West Indians played Baroda the following season, Ghorpade top-scored with 57 as Wes Hall and Sonny Ramadhin ran through Baroda.

The final comeback

With India trounced by 203 runs at Green Park, Ghorpade was brought back for the next Test at Eden Gardens in a series infamous for the four captains India appointed for the five home Tests. Pushed to bat at first-down, Ghorpade was all at sea against Roy Gilchrist and Hall before he fell for 7. He did marginally better in the second innings: he scored 18 before he was left out. Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly) he was picked for the England tour that followed.

India were whitewashed 0-5 in the series. Ghorpade walked out at 61 for 3 at Lord’s and scored a career-best 41, helping Nari Contractor add 83. However, India lost their last 7 wickets for 24 against Tommy Greenhough. England’s lead was restricted to 58, India were bowled out for 165, and lost by 8 wickets.

Ghorpade played two more Tests — at Headingley and The Oval — and managed 37 from 4 innings. His tour numbers read a dismal 833 at 23.80 without a single hundred. He never played another international match.

Continuing for Baroda

Though his appearances became more and more sporadic, Ghorpade continued to play till 1965-66. In his last match, against Saurashtra, Ghorpade scored 39 and 19 and picked up 3 for 123. He went on to become comptroller, Baroda Household.

He also served as an Indian national selector till he passed away at Baroda from a sudden heart attack on March 29, 1978 at an age of only 47. The Baroda Cricket Association Under-19 three-day tournament has been named after him.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)