Keki Tarapore was the first bowler to take a hat-trick in the HD Kanga League © Mumbai Cricket Association
Keki Tarapore was the first bowler to take a hat-trick in the HD Kanga League. Photo courtesy: Mumbai Cricket Association

Keki Tarapore, born December 17, 1910, was an unfortunate contemporary of Vinoo Mankad. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the man who claimed the first two hat-tricks in Kanga League.

Being a contemporary of Vinoo Mankad was not easy for a left-arm spinner, especially if you were not outstanding with the bat. Keki Khurshedji Tarapore had to bear the consequences. However, he could play a solitary Test, which was one more than the unfortunate duo of Padmakar Shivalkar or Rajinder Goel.

Not to be confused with Keki Bezon Tarapore (who played a single match for Mysore and went on to coach a few legends including Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble), our hero had a short but distinguished First-Class career, playing mostly for Bombay. He finished with 148 wickets from 40 matches at 28.77.

Early days

Tarapore hailed from a well-to-do Parsee family (his father was a businessman in the liquor trade) in Bombay. He was a late bloomer, making his First-Class debut at 26 for Parsees in a Bombay Pentangular encounter against Muslims — the first match of the first season when the tournament had five teams. Tarapore got to bowl only 5.1 overs and went wicketless.

Two matches later he picked up his career-best haul of 8 for 91 against Nawanagar. That match helped him gain stature, and earned him a name in the Bombay circuit. He became a regular, and earned a penchant for bowling long, unchanged spells, keeping the opposition on a perpetual leash.

Wickets kept coming his way, but by the time World War II ended, Mankad had already arrived on the scenario. Then a Gujarat player, Mankad was easily the better bowler, and his superlative batting prowess helped. Tarapore missed out on the tours of England in 1946 and Australia in 1947-48.

Playing for CCI in the inaugural HD Kanga League season, Tarapore claimed the first hat-trick in the history of the tournament, against Catholic Gymkhana. Later that season he also claimed the second hat-trick, this time against Bohra Cricketers. There have been only four other hat-tricks (all by different people) in the history of CCI in Kanga League.

Then, suddenly, almost out of nowhere, he was summoned to play the first Test against the touring West Indians. When he took field at Kotla, he was a shade over a month short of his 38th birthday. An annoyed Sujit Mukherjee wrote in Playing for India: “The earliest experiment — a hapless guinea-pig — was greyed Keki Tarapore who was thrust into whirling West Indian blades in the Delhi Test of 1948.”

The first Test in independent India

Tarapore made his debut with KC Ibrahim in what was the first Test in independent India. The historic Test was attended by C Rajagopalachari (the last Governor-General of India) and Raja Maharaj Singh (later the oldest First-Class cricketer), the first Indian Governor of Bombay, among others.

A fiery spell from Commandur Rangachari reduced the tourists to 15 for 3 on the first morning, but Clyde Walcott (152) and Gerry Gomez (101) batted out the day. John Goddard also contributed, and Everton Weekes (128) and Robert Christiani (107) slammed hundreds as well.

Fielding at deep extra-cover, Tarapore tried to stop a boundary off a Christiani boundary off Mankad. He had to leave field, and after he returned, he was booed by the Kotla crowd whenever he touched the ball. Mukherjee wrote: “Only three wickets fell to Indian bowlers on each of the first two days and Tarapore was conspicuously innocent of them all; so the mammoth crowd diverted itself by tormenting the poor man who at thirty eight was not the most agile man in the field.”

The injury restricted Tarapore to 19 overs, in which he conceded 72 runs without taking a wicket. West Indies were bowled out for 631 and bowled out the hosts for 454. Batting at No. 11, Tarapore was caught-behind off Prior Jones for 2. Following-on, India saved the Test, finishing on 220 for 6. Tarapore did not get another innings. He never played another Test either.

Keki Tarapore (sitting, fifth from left) with the first Indian team to win a series in West Indies
Indian cricket team to West Indies, 1971. Photo courtesy: H Natarajan.
Standing, from left: Sunil Gavaskar, Rusi Jeejeebhoy, Pochiah Krishnamurthy, Ashok Mankad, Devraj Govindraj, Eknath Solkar, Kenia Jayantilal, Gundappa Viswanath.
Sitting, from left: Bishan Bedi, EAS Prasanna, Salim Durani, Ajit Wadekar (c), Keki Tarapore (manager), Srinivas Venkataraghavan, ML Jaisimha, Abid Ali.

Later days

Tarapore retired after three more matches. Playing for CCI against the West Indians he managed a solitary wicket, but he bowled marathon spells in the semi-final and final of the Ranji Trophy. He sent down 120 overs in the match against Maharashtra at Poona, claiming 9 for 299 as Bombay by 354 runs; and 99 overs, taking four for 192 in the final against Baroda at Brabourne Stadium. Bombay won by 468 runs.

Having done his BA, Tarapore took up employment at BEST. He served the Indian cricket team as manager on their England tour of 1967, and more famously, on the West Indies tour of 1971. He also served as the Secretary of CCI. There was, however, an incident worth a retell.

During the mid-1970s, Brabourne Stadium hosted a cricket camp under the strict guidance of Lt Col Hemu Adhikari. It was excruciatingly hot in Bombay, but Adhikari had ordered the youngsters to abstain from drinking water during practice. After a gruelling session, they were given daal and two chapatis, clearly inadequate food for most.

A boy, famished by then, went to Tarapore, in charge of the meals. He said that the food was adequate for it. His words were direct: “I don’t like the good, Sir. I’m a fast bowler and I need more food. Good, solid food.”

A smiling Tarapore responded with “There are no fast bowlers in India.”

Kapil Dev later said he was grateful to Tarapore for providing him with motivation, albeit unknowingly.

When he was 70, Keki Tarapore was hit by a moped and could not recover from the blow. He passed away on June 15, 1986.

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