(From left) Ajoy Bose, Kamal Bhattacharya, Pushpen Sarkar. (Photo courtesy: abasar.net)
(From left) Ajoy Bose, Kamal Bhattacharya, Pushpen Sarkar. (Photo courtesy: abasar.net)

The human mind is a wonderful repository of the memories of one’s life, some pleasant, some painful. The older one gets, one tends to recall as many of the happy and pleasurable moments of one’s life and to try and relive them as often as possible. One luxuriates in the childhood image of a mellow sunny morning over the New Year with a Test going on at the Eden Gardens and the live commentary over radio in Bengali with the voices of the legends: the clipped diction of Ajoy Bose (known, however, to wax quite lyrical on one unforgettable occasion); the matter-of- fact style of Pushpen Sarkar; and the no-nonsense factual comments of Premangsu Chatterjee. The one voice that one always waited for with bated breath was the fruity baritone of Kamal Bhattacharya, Bengal’s beloved Kamal-da. This was no mechanical voice reciting the dry events on the field: this was the voice of the senior citizen of Bengal cricket bringing the story of the on-field happenings right into the inner sanctum of the household in a very easy to understand, chatty and informal tone. This was the voice that encouraged even the elder matrons of the family to speak of ‘cover-point’ and ‘over-pitched ball’ with impunity. In short, this was the voice of someone very close to the hearts of the enchanted listeners.

The Grand Old Man of Bengal cricket, Kamal Bhattacharya was born September 24, 1915 in Calcutta. A right-hand bat and a right-arm fast-medium bowler, Kamal-da, as generations of Bengalis refer to him with utmost love and veneration, played 35 First-Class matches for Bengal and other teams in a span covering 1935-36 to 1946-47. He aggregated 1,001 runs from 60 innings with a highest of 71 and an average of 20.42. He had 6 fifties and 34 catches to his credit. As a bowler, he captured 117 wickets with a best analysis of 7 for 83, a very symmetrical bowling average of 19.91, 6 five-wicket hauls and one match haul of 10 wickets. But these figures say nothing about the charisma or the magnetism of universal favourite.

Kamal Bhattacharya made his first class debut for Bengal against the Australians at Eden Gardens as a 20-year old stripling on December 27, 1935, top-scoring in the Bengal 1st innings with 48, batting at one-drop, out of a total of 136 all out. In the second innings, he opened the batting with G Arratoon and scored 12. He bowled 4 overs in each innings, but did not take any wickets. It is interesting to note that Shute Banerjee also made his Bengal debut in this match, having already played 6 First-Class matches for various teams before this.

Given their all-round strength, it was surprising that Bengal did not play in the inaugural Ranji Trophy tournament of 1934-35. Bengal’s Ranji Trophy campaign began in the second year of the tournament when they took on Central Provinces and Berar at Eden Gardens on in January 1936 under the captaincy of Alexander Hosie. Bhattacharya opened bowling with Leonard Gilbert in both innings and had figures of 3 for 39 and 1 for 75 in a 5-wicket win for his team. The first-innings haul included the wicket of visiting captain, Donald Rutnam. This was the second First-Class match for Kamal Bhattacharya, and he contributed a valuable 54 not out in the second innings to see his team home.

Bengal played only one more match in their inaugural Ranji season, against Central India, at Eden Gardens from 18 in January 1936. This was a drawn game, Bengal winning on their first-innings lead. Bengal scored 283 in their first innings, Bhattacharya contributing 41 at No. 7. The top-scorer for Bengal was wicketkeeper Paul van der Gucht with 93. For Central India, their captain, the incomparable CK Nayudu, captured 7 for 63.

In the Central India first innings total of 200, the major scorers were CS Nayudu (68) and Madhavsinh Jagdale (46). Shute, making his Ranji Trophy debut, picked up 1 for 30, and Bhattacharya had figures of 2/20. The Bengal 2nd innings again saw a stellar performance from van der Gucht (71), while captain Hosie chipped in with 53.

This time the Nayudu brothers took 4 wickets each. In their 2nd innings, Central India were 195 for 5 when time ran out, with the Nayudu brothers in the forefront of the scoring, captain CK with 47 and CS with 51. Kamal-da’s lone wicket in this innings was that of the skipper’s.

Bengal achieved their first Ranji Trophy title in 1938-39 season with a 178-run victory in the final over Southern Punjab in at Eden Gardens in February 1939, under the captaincy of Tom Longfield (later to become father-in-law of the England Test captain, Ted Dexter). Bengal scored 222 in the 1st innings, NM “Kartick” Bose top-scoring with 48, and useful contributions coming from opening batsmen Stanley Behrend (39) and van der Gucht (35). Amir Elahi captured 5 wickets for the visitors, conceding 73. Lala Amarnath, already a legend in the country, picked up 4 for 44.

In the Southern Punjab 1st innings, captain Wazir Ali himself matched the Bengal score, remaining not out with 222 masterly runs in their total of 328. Bhattacharya was the chief wicket-taker for Bengal, with 5 for 100, including the scalp of Amarnath for 8. Jiten Banerjee, opening bowling with Tara Shankar Bhattacharjee, took 2 wickets for 49 runs.

In their 2nd innings Bengal scored 418, with valuable hands played by Basil Malcolm (91), opening batsman Patrick Miller (85), van der Gucht (65) and Abdul Jabbar (58). The wickets were shared by Murawwat Hussain (4 for 97) and Lala Amarnath (3 for 97), Wazir Ali and Shahabuddin picking up 1 wicket each.

Chasing 241, Southern Punjab were dismissed for a mere 134, the only contributions of note being from Amarnath (37) and Roshan Lal (35 not out). Captain Longfield took 4 for 48 for Bengal, and Bhattacharya had 3 for 57. The Ranji Trophy title was all the sweeter for Kamal-da because he picked up the first of his 6 five-wicket hauls in this match.

He was to repeat his five-wicket feat in his next match, against United Provinces at Eden Gardens in January 1940, picking up 5 for 56 in the Central Provinces 1st innings score of 295.

The match against the same opponents in December 1940 at the same venue saw Bhattacharya improve on his figures by taking 6 for 41 in the visitors’ 1st innings of 191. He also had 4 for 60 in the United Province’s 2nd innings — his only 10-wickets- in-a- match performance.

He also passed the 500 First-Class runs landmark in this mark. United Provinces seemed to be his favourite opposition because he achieved his highest first class score, 71, against them in January 1942 at Benares, in the Bengal 1st innings of 473. There were two other centuries in this Bengal innings — 128 from wicketkeeper Amiya Deb and 101 from Sisir Mustafi.

In the Ranji Trophy semi-final against Madras at Eden Gardens in February 1944, Kamal Bhattacharya not only scored 67 in the Bengal 1st innings of 235, but also achieved his best First- lass figures of 7 for 83 in the Madras 2nd innings of 265, Mustafi helping him along by taking 4 catches in the innings, 3 of them off Bhattacharya.

The four-day Ranji Trophy match against United Provinces at Eden Gardens in January 1947 was the only one in his First-Class career when the mantle of captaincy adorned his shoulders. Though Bengal won the match by 145 runs, Bhattacharya did not enjoy any success, scoring 0 and 5 and not picking up any wickets despite bowling in both innings — a very rare event for him. In this match, Pankaj Roy scored 112 not out in the 1st innings before Premangsu Chatterjee took 7 for 31 in the United Provinces 1st innings.

An analysis of his First-Class bowling efforts elicits the fact that of his 117 wickets, 30 were bowled and 10 lbw, a telling statement about his accuracy. He had 67 wickets dismissed caught (and 10 dismissed stumped!).

In 1938, Bhattacharya and Kartick Bose toured England between early May to the end of July with a team called Rajputana, which played 4 non-First- Cass matches for which scorecards are available (the 5th, 6th and 7th matches in this list, against Durham, Northumberland and Club Cricket Conference, were abandoned without the toss), and 16 other non-First- Class matches for which scores are not known. Bhattacharya played against Cambridge and Oxford but without much success.

Statistics, of course, tell only part of the tale of this remarkable man. Having hung up his playing boots, Kamal Bhattacharya turned his efforts to training the youth of Bengal in the nuances of the game that he and his fellow players had graced so well.

The story goes that Chandi Ganguly had taken his younger son Sourav, then a young boy of about 10, to the veteran Bhattacharya, the doyen of the Dukhiram Coaching Centre, organized by Aryan Club for his basic training. Pointing to coach Santosh Bhattacharya, who had himself been coached by Bhattacharya in his youth, Bhattacharya had told Sourav,” You are a left-hander, so go to Santosh.”

Sanat Kumar Mitra, another man who has been coaching for the last 20 years or more, was himself under the care of Bhattacharya in his younger days, and indeed, had been first spotted by the great man while playing on a North Kolkata street.

Ashok Mustafi was another former cricketer who had joined the newly formed Dukhiram Coaching Centre, under the auspices of Aryan Club, in 1979, on the request of Bhattacharya. Young at heart and the most generous person by nature, Bhattacharya would always go out of his way to encourage one and all to learn the basics of the game.

It has been the privilege of mine to grow up in North Calcutta in the 1960s and 1970s and to live in a house but a stone’s throw away from the ancestral home of the legend. From his terrace, I have seen the imposing figure walking down the street on countless occasions, stopping to speak to friends and acquaintances, and always with the genial smile on his face.

Kamal Bhattacharya, everyone’s friend, passed away on December 10, 1995.

(Pradip Dhole is a retired medical doctor with a life-long interest in cricket history and statistics)