Khar resident Walter (89), one of the two living members of Gujarat’s first Ranji Trophy final team, recalls the 1950-51 battle vs Holkar
Walter D’Souza demonstrates a leg-side shot on Tuesday. Pic/Sayed Sameer Abedi
The news of Gujarat dominating Mumbai on the opening day of the ongoing Ranji Trophy final produced just the kind of warmth a near 90-year-old body needs to make a winter evening more pleasant.
Middle order batsman Walter D’Souza, one of two surviving members of the Gujarat team (Jyotindra Shodhan is the other) who figured in their first ever Ranji final against Holkar at Indore in 1950-51, was chuffed when told that Gujarat had restricted Mumbai to a low score. “202 for seven?” he asked more than once in sheer delight and with clenched wrists.
He lives in Khar, but spent his childhood in Baroda and Ahmedabad where he took to cricket “just as a pastime” after excelling in athletics. He wasn’t coached.
D’Souza, who claims to be the first Goan to play in the Ranji Trophy, has played with and against the cream of Indian cricket — Vinoo Mankad, Polly Umrigar in the same Gujarat team — and legends like CK Nayudu and Mushtaq Ali in the opposition.
D’Souza is a true cricketing gentleman, who swears by old values. “Life is a gesture of good feelings. Be straight forward, honest and humble,” is his mantra. He was one of Gujarat’s important performers with the bat in the 1950-51 final. “Fifty and 77.” He remembers his scores in that season finale which was won by hosts Holkar by 189 runs. He also hasn’t forgotten Jasu Patel (better known for his off-spin which helped India beat Australia in a Test for the very first time in 1959-60), who scored a whirlwind 152 at No. 10 in the fourth innings of the game.
“When I got out for 77, CK kept on clapping till I reached halfway to the pavilion. I will never ever forget that gesture and the time he spent with me when I asked him for some batting advice. He was a great man, yet a simple soul. I liked playing the cut shot, but CK said I can’t do so every second ball. His advice was sound,” he said.
D’Souza fancied his chances for a higher grade of cricket. “I think I had good enough scores to be considered for the All India team. I was a good fielder too, thanks to my success in 100m sprints and I could throw accurately from the deep. But there was too much favouritism. Bombay players got a lot of preference and it was difficult to beat that. Many of our players deserved more opportunities. Deepak Shodhan scored a hundred on Test debut and he only played three Tests. Jasu, a brilliant off-spinner, figured in only seven Tests. Some felt he was a chucker, but he had some problem with his wrist, caused by an injury in his younger years. Of course, no one took that into consideration. Jasu was not a chucker, he was unplayable and he had the stamina to bowl all day,” he said.
D’Souza scored 529 runs in nine Ranji Trophy games at 44.08. He also played for Gujarat against Frank Worrell’s 1950-51 Commonwealth XI and represented Western India States against Marylebone Cricket Club in 1951-52.
He didn’t want to rock the boat with too many revelations, but said not all great players he encountered, played for the team and one selector was reluctant to undertake ardous journeys to watch key matches in which players from his zone figured in.
D’Souza also played for the star-studded Associated Cement Companies side in the 1950s and 1960s. On the inter-club circuit he found it convenient to represent the nearby Khar Gymkhana and Sunder Cricket Club.
Playing against Bombay gave him a special adrenalin-rush. “They had several Test players in their ranks and to perform against them was very satisfying,” he remarked. The month before Gujarat ended up being 1950-51 Ranji Trophy runners-up, they encountered Bombay at Ahmedabad. In response to Bombay’s 229, Gujarat plundered 505 in which D’Souza scored 91 before he was bowled by googly bowler Sadashiv Shinde.
“I whacked him and Subash Gupte in what I consider my greatest innings. I regret not getting my hundred, but we beat Bombay by an innings and 166 runs and much of the credit should go to our bowler Hussain Reshamwala — not even medium fast — who opened the bowling with Polly and cleared up the Bombay top order. Getting beaten by Gujarat was their worst humiliation,” D’Souza said proudly.
D’Souza was invited several times by Mankad to play league cricket in England, but he was too much of a family man to leave home. “Vinoo used to say that clubs there need a consistent player like me — ‘Come along and earn some money too’, he used to say, but I didn’t go.”
He can’t wait for his 90th birthday on January 20, but before that, he wants Gujarat to claim their maiden Ranji Trophy title. He is far too wise to rule out a Mumbai fight back. “The fight back WILL come and Gujarat must score 350-plus if they have to win. I like Parthiv. He seems to have guts and we need that,” he said.
D’Souza may not have his television set on if and when Gujarat win, but turning 90 in the same month of his cricket association’s biggest triumph will make the birthday sweeter for this grandfather of six.
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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