Former Mumbai Ranji Trophy player Vasu Paranjpe may have not had the opportunity of playing for his country but he has followed cricket more intimately than most - from 1948-49 - when he watched his first Test at the Brabourne Stadium.
Apart from being an early mentor to Sunil Gavaskar (it was Paranjpe who nicknamed him 'Sunny'), Paranjpe has been highly instrumental in the growth of several Mumbai players.
He advised players to be practical and never to be afraid. Before Sandeep Patil left for his maiden tour of Australia, he told him, "You watch Dennis Lillee for the first half an hour and for the next five and a half hours, he'll be watching you."
As captain of Dadar Union Sporting Club where he led players like Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar and Sanjay Manjrekar, Paranjpe was an adventurous captain who loved the Australian way of playing cricket.
He is a devotee of Sir Don Bradman but adored Sir Frank Worrell too. "If God gave me a chance to play cricket again, I would play like Worrell. He always kept the game alive while Bradman murdered bowlers. Worrell played cricket the way it should be played," he says.
Right from his early visits to the Brabourne Stadium, Paranjpe has never been coy to express an opinion even in the presence of more illustrious cricketers. Paranjpe happened to be at the Wankhede Stadium press box when the scorer announced double centurion Sunil Gavaskar's involvement in a huge partnership with a batsman in the 1978-79 Test against the West Indies, Paranjpe is believed to have exclaimed, "this is not a partnership, but a sole proprietorship."
Barring the 1969-70 India vs. Australia Test, in which he missed the last couple of days, till the mid-1980s, Paranjpe did not miss a ball. He was never a minute later than 30 minutes before the start and preferred to watch over second slip. "You know exactly what's happening when you watch over second slip," he says.
When television coverage got better in India, he preferred to watch on television from his Matunga living room. "From a coach's point of view, replays are important. I don't miss going to the cricket. Back then, people came to matches to appreciate cricket and not to heckle.
His best memories from the stands of the Brabourne Stadium is the buzz Lala Amarnath's 39 created in 1948-49, an innings which set up India's victory bid against the West Indies and Polly Umrigar hitting a six at the pavilion end to reach his century in 1952. Himself being a fine fielder, Paranjpe reckons Graham Dowling's 1969-70 New Zealand team was the finest fielding team to tour India. "Their fielding and catching was a delight to watch. Fielding is the only aspect that can bring crowds to see you. In batting and bowling there is a break. In fielding you are watched every ball. The best fielder in my time was Polly Umrigar. He was a giant in any position but if you are referring to only short leg, it has to be Eknath Solkar," he says.
Here he reminisces about a few of his fondest memories:
On the first match he watched:
The first Test match that I watched was the fifth Test between India vs West Indies at the Brabourne Stadium in February 1949. One cricketer stood out for me in that Test which India nearly won - Lala Amarnath. The India captain scored a scintillating 39 aided with six fours. He created a buzz around the ground as India were chasing 361 for victory. We fell six runs short. Amarnath was bowled by Denis Atkinson and only the leg stump bail fell. Everyone was talking about that innings and I was only listening to them. Amarnath really impressed me and I remember him keeping wickets because P Sen got injured and Lala kept brilliantly.
On his favourite team:
The Australians gave me the most pleasure. I watched them first in the 1956-57 Brabourne Test where Peter Burke and Neil Harvey got hundreds. GS Ramchand got a terrific hundred against an attack of Ray Lindwall, Pat Crawford, Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud. Crawford wreaked havoc. I have never seen anyone bowl so fast. He sent back Pankaj Roy, Umrigar and JM Ghorpade in quick succession and it was not only pace. He was very accurate too. Harvey was a treat to watch, always stepping out and driving. I remember the first ball he faced off Subhash Gupte which was square driven. What a beautiful shot it was! Gupte bowled a lot to Harvey.
On Hanif Mohammad:
Hanif Mohammad's 160 in 1960 was the one of the best hundreds I have watched in my life. He was unstoppable. Hanif's defence could be heard even in the stands. It was a perfect hundred. I remember him being run out from a throw by Vijay Manjrekar from third man for 160. Hanif showed people how to bat!
On the most thrilling game he watched:
The India vs Australia 1964-65 Test was the most thrilling game I watched. Chandu Borde and KS Inderjitsinhji saw India through but I also remember Bob Simpson dropping a few catches and Vijay Manjrekar, who scored a half century in the first innings and hooked Alan Connolly into the east end. I haven't seen a hook as ferocious as Manjrekar's. Manjrekar was my hero. He was everything to me as a batsman. But he didn't play too many good innings at CCI and that disappointed me. I expected India to win because Tiger was leading us and his leadership always made a difference. We never got bogged down despite the strength of the opposition.
On the one time he missed a Test:
I watched only a bit of the India vs Australia Test of 1969 at the Brabourne Stadium. MAK Pataudi and Ashok Mankad put on 146 runs but Ashok was miserable against Graham McKenzie, a truly great fast bowler. He claimed five wickets and bowled an inspired spell with the old ball. Bowling with the old ball at the CCI was nothing short of punishment. I was not there when the riot took place. It was rare for me to leave before the end of play.
On the best fielding side he watched:
Graham Dowling's New Zealand team was the best fielding side I saw on Indian soil. Their fielding and catching was a delight to watch. Fielding is the only aspect that can bring crowds to see you. In batting and bowling, there is a break but you are seen every delivery while fielding. The best fielder according to me was Polly Umrigar - a giant in any position, but if you are speaking only about short leg, it has to be Ekki (Eknath Solkar).
On the invincible West Indies team:
The match at Wankhede in 1974-75 was totally dominated by Clive Lloyd' 242. No one remembers that Roy Fredericks too played a good, attacking innings of 104 and Alvin Kallicharran was dismissed two short of a hundred. Lloyd just murdered the bowling. Bedi missed a caught and bowled chance. He got his hands to it else it would have gone through his neck. For me though, Sunny played the best for India. His 86 on the third day was a fine exhibition of strokeplay.
He thrilled me with that knock and I have always said he should bat like that. In our little arguments, I used to say, 'if you do it once, you can do it again.' His reply invariably was, 'It's not so easy, Vasu' and I was forced to say, 'I have nothing to say on that.' Ekki scored the only Test of his career in this Test and I remember the torture he endured from going from 90 to 100. Vishy's 95 was superb and he continued his form in the series. The best knock anybody has played for any team was his 97 at Madras in the same series.
I don't think anyone has played a more timely knock than him and India's victory in that Test was caused by Pataudi's positive captaincy. Only a captain like Pataudi could win it. I loved his captaincy. He was always positive and never worried about being defeated and that to me, is the only way to play this game.
The next time West Indies came to India was in 1978-79. I assisted Bapu Nadkarni in preparing the Wankhede Stadium wicket for the opening Test. The wicket was slightly soft and when Alvin Kallicharran won the toss and put India in, my heart was in my mouth. I wondered how the pitch would play but Sunny played superbly, especially against Sylvester Clarke, and got a double hundred. It was a very fine innings against a bowler who had been written about a lot. After Sunny's 205, the next best score was 52 by Chetan Chauhan and Vishy. Kallicharran scored 187 and perished to a shocking leg before decision off Kapil Dev. It was a horrible decision because the ball hit Kalli very high.
On the Jubilee Test:
The 1980 Golden Jubilee Test was extraordinary. The ball moved from Day One to Day Four when England won by 10 wickets. Ian Botham bowled splendidly for his 13 wickets - the more wickets you get, the better you bowl and he proved that during this Test. Of course, the Jubilee Test will be remembered for Vishy recalling Bob Taylor. I didn't agree with his decision. It was a great gesture but I wonder if it was worth it. I wouldn't have done that at a crucial juncture in the game.