On December 1, 1926, the Bombay Gymkhana grounds teemed with individuals. George V was then “emperor of India”. BEST buses had been launched in Mumbai (then Bombay) barely a few months again. And the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) workforce was visiting to play a recreation that was nonetheless largely the area of India’s colonial overlords. On that day, MCC was taking part in a workforce known as “The Hindus”, the strongest native workforce of the period, however one anticipated to roll over with out a struggle in opposition to a workforce that boasted the likes of Andy Sandham, Test cricket’s first triple-centurion.
A six-yr-previous boy named Vasant Raiji was on the grounds together with his father to be initiated into cricket.
It couldn’t have been a higher introduction—that was the day when CK Nayudu scored 153, hitting an unbelievable 11 sixes in a frenzied innings, and bringing in increasingly crowds until even the rooftops and treetops across the Gymkhana had been hives of cheering individuals.
Raiji was hooked. Ninety-four years later, Raiji, who will have fun his 100th birthday on Sunday because the oldest dwelling first-class cricketer in India, can nonetheless recall the unbelievable buzz of the day he first fell in love with the sport.
“That would be my greatest memory,” Raiji mentioned, sitting in a straightforward chair in his spacious South Mumbai condominium that has balconies dealing with the ocean.
“I loved Frank Worrell’s batting too; he was a very sleek batsman. I’ve loved watching Mohammad Nissar’s bowling, he was a nice quick bowler. Then, Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare’s technical excellence.
“I watched Lala Amarnath’s 118, additionally on the Gymkhana, the primary century in Test cricket by an Indian batsman. It was a nice innings. I used to be solely 12 or 13 years previous. I nonetheless have reminiscences of the crowds shouting and backing him up.”
Raiji has seen all of it—from earlier than India had a Test facet, to the nation’s first Test at dwelling, and now, when they’re the highest Test-playing workforce on this planet. In between, within the 1940s, he opened the batting for Mumbai and Baroda, taking part in 9 first-class matches.
“Naturally, I am happy,” he mentioned.
Early on in his taking part in profession, Raiji determined he was not lower out for prime degree cricket. He left the sport to make a dwelling as a chartered accountant, however the recreation by no means left him—all his leisure hours had been spent watching, studying, speaking or writing about cricket.
“The secret of his longevity is his passion for the game. It has not died,” says his daughter Renuka, who’s visiting from Perth.
Raiji, sporting a gentle brown half-sleeved kurta is himself in good cheer.
“Well, it is a feeling of joy that I am celebrating my 100th birthday,” he mentioned, sitting subsequent to his spouse Panna, who’s 94. “I am not bedridden, that’s why I am enjoying my 100th year. If the health is down and if you are bedridden then there is no point living. It is a gift from God.”
Sometimes, lately, his reminiscence performs truant. But he tries to catch Virat Kohli and his males on TV recurrently. He reckons he has seen extra cricket than anybody else within the nation.
“Cricket means a lot to me. I have played cricket, watched good cricket. I have written books on cricket, including one on Col CK Nayudu, my favourite cricketer. I am absolutely mad on cricket, you can say.”
Cricket’s legends are reciprocating that love; Sachin Tendulkar and Steve Waugh visited him collectively this week. Sunil Gavaskar got here by for a leisurely chat.
When Waugh requested him what reward he would really like for his birthday, Raiji mentioned a easy birthday card can be good.
“I have asked my family to bring the same,” he mentioned.
A Cricket Club of India common, Raiji favored to lunch there, over generously lengthy conversations on cricket.
Raiji’s ardour for cricket conversations has not dimmed, and inevitably speak turns to who could also be anointed the best Indian participant.
“It is not possible to choose one,” he mentioned. “I would put Nayudu in the same category as Gavaskar, Tendulkar and Kohli. Nayudu is the first great Indian cricketer. There were no dull moments when he was batting. After that 153, MCC captain Arthur Gilligan recommended that India is ready for Test status. Maurice Tate, who was one of the world’s greatest bowlers, was playing for MCC.”
Among the issues Raiji is most happy with is his correspondence with Don Bradman.
“I have gifted the letters to my daughter,” he mentioned. “We exchanged six-seven letters and I am amazed that he found time to write because he must be receiving so many letters from various countries and cricket fans. Stamp charges must be also high.”
On Sunday, Raiji will have fun his birthday with household coming over from all around the globe, and his many pals from Mumbai’s cricket fraternity.