Home Feature Walking Down Cricket’s Memory Lane with ‘Coke’ – RP Devgan!

Walking Down Cricket’s Memory Lane with ‘Coke’ – RP Devgan!

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By Kulbhushan Kain

Cricket in Dehradun of the 60s was quintessentially cricket – a gentleman’s game, played in whites or creams when the fall of a wicket, or a hit to the boundary was greeted by robust and synchronised clapping. No one imagined that cricket would ever be played in coloured clothes, with a white or pink ball, at night, with stump microphones picking up abusive language!

Aslam Khan and RP on the right.

I played a lot of cricket in Dehradun and was good enough to get colours in it at school. But I never played cricket to the level that people like Michael Dalvi, Rajinder Pal Devgan, Prabhjyot Singh (Goti), Ramesh Sampath (Shampoo), Moti, Yash Kapoor, Yash Manchanda, Aslam Khan (fabulous sportsman), Probir Sur, Sheel Vohra, Mukul Ghildiyal, my cousin Amar Sharma (who played for Indian Schoolboys) and many others did. Most of them played Ranji and Duleep Trophy and Michael Dalvi is perhaps the finest batsman in India to NOT have played Test Cricket.

I asked the much loved and revered RP Devgan about cricket in the ‘60s. “RP” as he is fondly called was a top class sportsman having represented UP not only in cricket but also Agra University in Football, and won at TT and Tennis at district level! He also played cricket in England for Kent with the likes of Asif Iqbal, Bob Woolmer, Chris Cowdrey, Graham Dilley and Brian Luckhurst among other cricketing greats. We never knew him by his name “Devgan”, but as “Coke”. He just smiled and reflected on the good old days. (“RP” is also amongst the finest Principals and headed the best schools in India and abroad).

“The most popular grounds for spectators were the Rangers’ opposite St Thomas’ School, followed by the FRI, grounds of the Survey of India, Doon School, SJA, RIMC, IMA, IIP in Mokhampur across Abhinav Bindra’s farm. There were 3 shops that sold sports equipment – Gupta Sports, Hindustan Sports (on Chakrata Road), and Laurence Sports on Rajpur Road.”

He went on to reminiscence, “The oldest Club was the Aryan Club run by the 4 brothers – Jugal, Desh, Surinder and Kailash, who owned Hindustan Sports. Lawrence and Shamrock were the other important clubs. Cricket was also encouraged and played by institutions and schools -The Doon School, St Joseph’s Academy, Survey of India, IRDE, ONGC, IIP. Lawrence Club practiced on a pitch in one corner of the Parade Ground close to the petrol pump. Shamrock practiced behind the football ground called Pavilion.”

The mainstay of the Shamrock Club used to be Shashiji. He was a rather mysterious character about whom few (if any!), knew much about. He once told me that he had come from Iran! He also told us that in a match at Dhampur, he had clean bowled Dileep Sardesai and Farokh Engineer for ducks! I have never been able to confirm the fact. Having said that – he was a great communicator, a good medium fast bowler and a superb cricket networker. I would love to know what ultimately happened to him.

Legendary matches were played between Shamrock and Lawrence Clubs. These used to be much awaited affairs and all of us would make our way to the Rangers’ Ground to watch them. The Rangers’ Ground was beautiful -fringed and hemmed by tall trees. The teams would sit under a canopy of trees with their cricketing bags. No one disputed the decisions of the umpire. I tried once – but never again because I was taught a lesson for a lifetime by Brother Donovan, my teacher.

We were playing against the RIMC at our school cricket ground. The RIMC had a dreaded fast bowler Ghoshal (I forget his first name), whose reputation preceded him to the ground. In his opening over (I was opening for St Joseph’s), Ghoshal beat me all ends up and I was given out for zero! I hadn’t even remotely touched the ball.

I stood my ground in an act of defiance!

When I returned I was summoned by Brother Donovan. He appeared furious – not because I was wrongly given out – but because I had dared to dispute the umpire’s decision. He asked me to bend and gave me a whack with the cane which he always carried.

“When the umpire’s finger goes up Kulbhushan – you look down and walk back,” he thundered!

The Doon School in many ways was the nursery of cricket in Dehradun. In fact, it hosted 3 Ranji Trophy matches, the first being played in 1951. Many cricketers went on to play for Delhi University – especially for St Stephen’s and Hindu College. There was a reason for it – many teachers were wonderful cricketers and played cricket with the boys. Sheel Vohra (fondly called Bond) played Ranji for UP, Sheel Sharma, Sarvesh Naidu, RP Devgan, were excellent cricketers who taught and inspired many a budding cricketer.

The Doon School also attracted many superstar cricketers. I end my article by quoting an incident which RP “Coke” narrated to me over a drink. Madhav Rao Scindia had brought a cricket team to the Doon School when he was the Railways Minister. The team had Bishen Bedi, Arun Lal, Amrit Mathur and Sunil Gavaskar among others. And guess what?

Sunny Gavaskar was dropped in the slips in the first over! A school master had dropped the “Little Master”!

(Kulbhushan Kain is anaward winning educationistwith more than 4 decadesof working in schools inIndia and abroad. He is aprolific writer who lovescricket, travelling andcooking. He can bereached atkulbhushan.kain@gmail.com)