From left: Probir Sen, Pankaj Roy, Vijay Hazare, Ramesh Divecha, Vijay Manjrekar, Sadu Shinde    Getty Images
From left: Probir Sen, Pankaj Roy, Vijay Hazare, Ramesh Divecha, Vijay Manjrekar, Sadu Shinde Getty Images

There was a grand spectacle on show on the morning of February 15, 1980 at the Wankhede Stadium in connection with the Golden Jubilee celebrations of BCCI, part of which was the one-off Test between India and England, the Test in which Indian skipper Gundappa Viswanath endeared himself to one and all by recalling the England wicketkeeper Bob Taylor after he had been given out unfairly, an action that resulted in an England victory by 10 wickets. The main attraction of the event was the conglomeration of retired Indian Test players, including Lall Singh (part of the India s first ever Test team in 1932), who had made the journey to Bombay all the way from Malaysia.

Reporting on the event, veteran columnist Dicky Rutnagur, based in the UK, had this to say: The scene was a beautiful, sentimental journey into the past. Memories of childhood adolescence and a long professional life in cricket journalism flitted past as the stars of yesteryear, some feeble, some sil ve r – haired waved to the stands. The stars of yesteryears that day included one Ramesh Divecha.

Ramesh Divecha was born October 18, 1927 at Kadakvadi, Maharashtra. He was the son of Vithaldas Divecha, a club cricketer who would later become President of the Bombay Cricket Association and Vice-President of BCCI.

While a student at Wilson College, Divecha had participated in the Quit India Movement, launched at the Bombay session of the All-India Congress Committee on August 8, 1942, and been arrested in this connection. He is reported to have quit student politics after the arrest episode. Divecha later switched to Elphinstone College. Over a period of time, Elphinstone was to produce players like Madhav Mantri, Dattu Phadkar, the brothers Madhav and Arvind Apte, Vasu Paranjape, and Subhash and Baloo Gupte, in addition to Divecha.

Divecha discovered the joys (and some heartbreaks) of cricket relatively early in his life. Developing gradually into a hard-hitting lower order batsman and brisk right-arm medium-paced bowler, he made his First-Class debut in the semi-final of the Bombay Festival Tournament of 1946-47 at Brabourne Stadium, Bombay, in 1946-47. He scored 6 and took 2 wickets in the only innings he bowled. One of his teammates in this match was the legendary Palwankar Baloo.

Around this time, Divecha was representing Bombay University in the Rohinton Baria Tournament. His first game for the University was against Mysore University, played at Bombay that season. Captaining the Bombay team was Madhusudan Rege, who marked the occasion with an innings of 131. Another centurion for Bombay was Polly Umrigar (106). The home team declared at 546 for 8, Divecha contributing 50 not out. He then took 3 wickets as the game ended in a draw. He played 2 more matches that season, against Nagpur and Madras Universities.

England and Oxford soon beckoned and Divecha was enrolled at Worcester College, spending four years in the cloisters and turning out for the University every year. Makarand Waingankar had this to say about Divecha in The Times of India: Once upon a time, there lived an Indian in England whose name the English couldn’t pronounce. Exasperated with their failure to utter those mystical syllables, they found another name for him: ‘Buck’. Buck Divecha soon became an integral part of the cricketing life at Oxford, playing 30 First-Class games for them at an average of 19.41. He also took 121 wickets at 23.29 in a stint from 1948 to 1951.

With Don Bradman s Invincibles toured England in 1948, Divecha turned out for Northamptonshire against the tourists only once, at Northampton in June. Bradman was not playing this game and Lindsay Hassett was in charge. The hosts were dismissed for a sorry 119 but found an unlikely batting hero in Divecha as he top-scored with 33. The Australians declared on 352 for 8, in which Divecha got Neil Harvey. He scored 15 in the second innings as the hosts crashed to an innings defeat.

His first 5-wicket haul was against Yorkshire, no less, at Oxford in 1950. The White Rose County were shot out for 247, Divecha taking 5 for 64. He added 2 more to his tally in the second innings. Having developed his quick bowling skills under the watchful eye of Alf Gover, Divecha learnt to swing the ball both ways at brisk medium-pace. He later added off-breaks to his repertoire with telling effect. He achieved his highest First-Class score of 92 while playing for Oxford against Surrey at Guildford that same year. Indeed, 1950 turned out to be a good year for him: he took 54 wickets in his 13 games (the first of his three 50-wicket hauls) at 24.40 and scored 463 runs (his highest for any season) at 25.72. He won his Blue in 1950.

In 1951 he played only 10 matches but took 57 wickets, his highest tally for any season. Perhaps his defining performance of the season was against the old enemy Cambridge, at Lord s 1951. That the University Derby game has always been given sufficient importance by the authorities is quite evident from the fact that Frank Chester and Dai Davies, perhaps the two most experienced umpires at the time, were nominated for the game.

Murray Hofmeyr won the toss for Oxford and batted first. They were bowled out for 178 against Robin Marlar (5 for 41) and Cambridge captain John Warr (4 for 31). Well, Cambridge were dismissed for 168 the next day, Divecha taking the wickets of David Sheppard and Peter May for 36. Tony Jose, the other new-ball bowler, took 4 for 46.

The Oxford innings ended on the third day at 208, Brian Boobbyer scoring 80 and Donald Carr 50. The unlikely wrecker-in-chief was Subba Row, picking up 5 for 21. With a winning target of 219, Cambridge made a good start, putting on 44 runs for the first wicket between Sheppard (42) and Ken Mathews (15). Thereafter, the innings lost momentum and gradually fell apart, May (33), Warr (28), and William Hayward (35) being the only ones to do anything of note. Divecha was in his elements for Oxford, producing an analysis of 43.2-19-62-7 with his mixture of medium-pace and off-breaks. Oxford won by 21 runs. Carr used to remember Divecha s performance with respect: He took 7 for 62 with mostly off-spin in the second innings. In that entire Oxford season, Buck took a total of 52 wickets. That performance against Cambridge brought him such praise that he got selected to play for the Gentlemen against the Players in the traditional annual match at Lord’s.”

Well, Buck did not disappoint those who had put their faith in him in the other customary fixture at Lord s that year, although the Players won by 21 runs. Denis Compton won the toss for the Players, batted first and put up 361, built around a splendid innings of 150 from the skipper himself and 80 from opener Jack Robertson. Divecha opened bowling and took 5 for 81, his victims being Compton, Len Hutton, Godfrey Evans, Roy Tattersall, and Brian Statham, all Test cricketers.

The Gentlemen, led by Nigel Howard, replied with 301, Peter May (119*) being the standout performer, well-supported by Doug Insole (50). The Players declared on 188 for 3, with Compton (74) and Willie Watson (49) remaining undefeated at the declaration. The Gentlemen, however, were dismissed for 227. Alec Bedser, with 4 for 53, led the attack. Only Insole (44*) batted with any conviction.

Having acquired a Masters and completed his education at Oxford, Divecha was back in India for the 1951-52 season. He was soon locking horns with the touring England team on behalf of Bombay at Brabourne Stadium. This was his first match for Bombay and he began with the proverbial bang . The tourists scored 338, rookie Divecha picking up 6 for 74. Five of his victims Tom Graveney, Allan Watkins, skipper Nigel Howard, ‘keeper Don Brennan, and Eddie Leadbeater were bowled.

In the Bombay innings of 291, the star performances were by Rusi Modi (86) and Ranga Sohoni (58*). The match ended in a draw but Divecha had made an emphatic statement in Indian cricket, so emphatic that he soon found himself making his Test debut against England in the third Test Calcutta. India fielded two other debutants in this Test, Vijay Manjrekar and Subhash Gupte: Divecha was in distinguished company.

England batted first and scored 342. Divecha claimed 2 for 60. India replied with 344, Divecha (26) making a useful contribution. England declared their second innings at 252 for 5 after Dick Spooner (92) shone with bat. Divecha and Vinoo Mankad took 2 wickets each. When the Test ended in a draw, India had put up a score of 103 for no wicket, the not out batsmen being Pankaj Roy (31) and Mankad (71).

Divecha made his Ranji Trophy debut later that season. The author is indebted to the eminent cricket statistician B Sreeram for the information that Divecha set the trend for three other players to follow in later years, players with the same peculiar record of playing a Test match for India before making their Ranji Trophy debut: Budhi Kunderan, Vivek Razdan, and Parthiv Patel (of course, this excludes cricketers who played Tests before the inception of Ranji Trophy).

Divecha then had the satisfaction of being part of India s first ever Test win, in the fifth Test against England at Madras. England scored 266, Dick Spooner (66) and Jack Robertson (77) being the main scorers. For India, Mankad was the undisputed bowling star with figures of 8 for 55. The Indian reply was a robust 457 for 9 declared with centuries from opener Roy (111) and Umrigar (130*). Divecha scored 12. The England second innings was rounded up at 183, Mankad and Ghulam Ahmed taking 4 wickets each. Divecha took 1 wicket in this match.

The tour for the fifth official tour by India, to England in 1952, was announced by the selection panel comprising Homi Contractor, M Dutta Roy and CK Nayudu (with skipper-designate Vijay Hazare being co-opted to the panel). Two Indian stalwarts were not available for the tour, Vijay Merchant (unfit and on the verge of retirement) and Mankad (honouring his commitments to Haslingden in Lancashire League). Hazare had requested the Board for permission to use Mankad for all the Tests in England. Haslingden refused to release Mankad in time for the first Test. It was only the silver-tongued oratory of manager Pankaj Gupta on behalf of the Indian team that later persuaded the League team to change their mind. Sir Herbert Merrett, President of Glamorgan CCC, paid a monetary deposit to obtain Mankad s release.

On a tour plagued with controversy, the powers that be in Indian cricket showed themselves in rather poor light with regard to the deployment of Mankad on this England tour. Despite the presence in the squad of bowlers of the quality of Phadkar, Putu Chowdhury, Gulabrai Ramchand, Divecha, Ghulam, Sadu Shinde, Chandu Sarwate and the like, the new skipper did not appear to be confident of his bowling attack, an attitude that was reportedly aided and abetted by Gupta. Citing the reason of Mankad s familiarity with English conditions consequent of his playing in the local Leagues (but quite forgetting, or ignoring the fact that Divecha had also been playing cricket in England, the think-tank was keen on availing the comfort of having the experienced Mankad in their ranks, to bolster both bowling and batting.

It is, of course, on record how Mankad stamped his undoubted class in the second Test at Lord s. This is what Wisden had to say about Mankad s performance in this test: Even a magnificent all-round performance by Mankad could not save India. Released by his Lancashire League club, Haslingden, Mankad marked his first appearance for the touring team by scoring 256 runs, including a record 184 for an Indian Test player, and bowling 97 overs for five wickets that cost 231 runs. His powers of endurance seemed inexhaustible. Unfortunately for India only Roy and Hazare gave him any real support with the bat.

The final figures for the tour make sorry reading for Indian fans: the high preponderance of draws on the entire tour speaks of a very timid attitude on the part of the tourists, who seemed to be more interested in staving off defeat rather than to taking the fight to the opposition. India lost 3 of the 4 Tests, the other being washed away. They were tormented and terrorised by Fred Trueman. They were bowled out twice in a day at Old Trafford and were reduced to 0 for 4 at Headingley. However, they managed to win 6 matches on the tour, and lost only 2 matches outside the Tests.

Divecha turned out to be one man who had a relatively successful tour as his figures testify. He played 16 matches on the tour, scoring 294 runs at an average of 21 and taking 50 wickets at 25.88. He also had a hat-trick as part of his 6 for 29 in the Surrey first innings of 71, dismissing Geoffrey Whittaker, Jim Laker and Alec Bedser. In his very next game, against Glamorgan, he achieved his best First-Class bowling figures of 8 for 74, 6 of his wickets coming without the assistance of a fielder. He played 2 Tests on the tour, picking up 6 wickets.

When Pakistan toured India in 1952-53, India won the first Test at Delhi by an innings and 70 runs, Mankad taking 13 for 131. Pakistan reciprocated by winning the second Test at Lucknow by an innings and 43 runs, Nazar Mohammad carrying his bat with 124 and Fazal Mahmood capturing 12 for 94. The third Test at Bombay again went to India, the victory margin being 10 wickets, thanks to Hazare (146*), and Umrigar (102), and Mankad (8 for 124). The other Tests, at Madras and Calcutta, ended in draws.

Divecha was selected only for the Madras Test. Marred severely by bad weather, there was play only on the first 2 days and ended in a lacklustre draw. Divecha took 2 for 36 in the Pakistan only innings and did not bat. This turned out to be the final experience of donning the India cap for Divecha. He finished with 60 runs at 12, 11 wickets at 32.81, and 5 catches from his 5 Tests.

Matches: 5

Innings: 5, Runs: 60, Highest Score 26, Average: 12.00, Catches: 5

Balls: 1044, Maidens: 44, Runs Conceded: 361, Wickets: 11, Best Innings Bowling: 3/102, Average: 32.81

Contemporary reports speak of the intense rivalry between Vithaldas Divecha (of Bombay Cricket Association), and Merchant (of BCCI), both being powerful contemporary cricket administrators in Bombay. The upshot of this was that the younger Divecha was selected for only 1 Ranji Trophy game for Bombay. Madhav Mantri was made the scapegoat in this unsavoury affair and had to bear the brunt of this squabble. In Indian Cricket Controversies, this is what author KR Wadhwaney had to say about this: In 1953, Mantri was removed from captaincy (sic). His crime was that he did not include Ramesh Divecha in the team. Some selectors reportedly made it clear that they would teach Mantri a lesson for excluding Divecha from the team.

In the end, Divecha played only 6 Ranji Trophy matches in all, 1 for Bombay, 1 for Madhya Pradesh, and 4 for Saurashtra. He eventually finished with a First-Class haul of 1,424 runs at 20.34 and 217 wickets at 24.89. The 4 matches for Saurashtra were in 1962-63, eight years after he played his previous First-Class match, and also the season in which his brother Ajay, 13 years younger to him, played his last match. The brothers never played in the same match at First-Class level.

A sociable and affable man, Divecha made many friends, particularly Donald Carr and his wife Stella, with whom he maintained a lifelong bond. He had two children, daughter Sandhya and sons Suneet and Sharad. He made a career outside cricket as an executive with the petroleum conglomerate Burmah Shell, and with Mahindra & Mahindra. He became an avid golfer later in life. Having suffered from Alzheimer s disease for a prolonged period, he passed away on February 19, 2003 at Mumbai, aged about 75.