Dilip Doshi, Former India Cricketer, Thankful His Life Has Run Parallel To India’s Journey from Independence

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Tryst With Destiny

Born in Rajkot 18-and-a-half weeks after India won her Independence in 1947, Dilip Doshi played in 33 Tests for India, picking up 114 wickets at an average of 30.71 with six five-wicket hauls and a best of 6/102. The left-arm spinner may have made his Test debut at the age of 32, but his life has run parallel with independent India, seeing her progress along with his growing up years. “I feel India is possibly the oldest civilization in the world. It is a very old country, has tremendous tradition, a lot of history and a peaceful country overall. As a nation, we are just about 74 years old. This is modern India that was established when the British left us.

“I am very thankful to have been a part of the journey simultaneously because I was born in 1947. The privilege of being born in 1947 is that, soon after independence, India was still finding its own feet and we were a part of the journey as school children, as collegians. I was very lucky to be brought up traditionally in Calcutta (as Kolkata was known then). I still feel that Calcutta in my growing up days in the 1960s was the most important city in India. Calcutta was quite majestic those days. I very much enjoyed being part of the culture. Calcutta was always cultured art-wise and sport-wise. I felt very privileged, “remembered Doshi.

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He also reflected upon how Independent India has evolved over the years: “Though I don’t consciously think like that, it is inbred the way you grow up. I feel India has given so much to the world over thousands of years. I don’t look only at industrial development,” said Doshi, adding, “We compare our country with other developed countries, fair enough. We as a country have got to take forward strides. The industrially-developed countries realise the mistakes they have made. Look at global warming, the processed foods and mechanised life among others. People are now going back to square one. I have lived in England for 30 years and people are changing. People are looking at yoga, breathing. There has to be a balance.”

One of India’s defining moments in cricket in its 74 years of independence is the 1983 World Cup win under Kapil Dev, by which time Doshi had played his last of his 15 ODIS (22 wickets) for the country.

Asked about what he thought was the defining moment in Indian cricket, Doshi said: “It is a progressive thing. If you have to single out a few moments, I am not going to single out the 1983 World Cup win as the only moment. To me, it is one of the moments. For me, real cricket is Test cricket. ODI cricket is good. The success in the 1983 World Cup was because we had very confident Test cricketers in it; they were not ordinary cricketers. For me, the development was very progressive. We slid back because of our own system, certain failure in regional bias. One of the pinnacles of Indian cricket was the last Test series win in Australia (2-1 in 2020-21), beating Australia after being down the way we were. That was one of the most major victories ever. If you look at Indian cricket, at different junctures, people brought victories and the team won and made us realise that we can do it. If we can make it frequent under Kohli and Sourav Ganguly in the 2000s, that’s when people stand up and say, ‘Hey, this is a world class team’. Consistency is the name of the game.”

And as a proud Indian, Doshi was confident of the country’s future. “I think we as Indians ought to realise that we have been the melting pot of the world for thousands of years. Our country has got races and breeds of all kinds that you cannot imagine. The charm of the land is such that people have made India their home. We need to think beyond religion, beyond all the other aspects of life, look at the country and respect each other totally. We need to tolerate each other, be comfortable with each other. I am not saying we are not, but we need to aim towards that more and more. India should come before anything else.”

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While speaking highly of the future of Indian cricket, Doshi issued a warning: “We need to take care of some important things. Youngsters and parents have to get educated and made to understand that Test cricket is the nursery of the entire game. Playing cricket with the correct approach, technique and attitude is the most important thing, which I see slowly but steadily lacking as you see the Indian Premier League, and the short form of the game becomes an ambition for the youngsters to achieve, which is sad. I would like them to be emulating great Test cricketers, becoming successful at first-class games. This is where I would like the BCCI to take first-class seriously a lot more than it has done.”

Doshi is one of the rare cricketers who fought against the odds, made a mark in his chosen sport and played the game with pride and the determination to bowl the team to win. He had to compete with a certain Bishan Singh Bedi before forcing his way into the Indian Test team three months before his 32nd birthday in 1979.

And in the four years, while his Test career lasted, he played in 33 Tests, picked up 114 wickets at an average of 30.71 with six five-wicket hauls and a best of 6/102. Picking up more than 100 Test wickets was a rarity in those days and those figures stood out prominently, and so did Doshi in world cricket. He did play crucial roles in some of India’s Test victories, the most prominent being the win in Melbourne in February 1981 to square the three-Test series 1-1, playing with a broken foot.

Doshi made his mark in the Indian domestic cricket for Bengal and East Zone and simultaneously for Nottinghamshire and later for Warwickshire in the English county circuit, picking up wicket by the bagful with his left-arm spin. Interestingly, Doshi played for India before even playing the Irani Cup (played between Ranji Trophy champions and the Rest of India), though this was not in his control. “To survive was a challenge to me but the passion to play cricket, to represent India, and to become good was in me. I tried to improve at every stage, and when other people recognise you and appreciate you, it’s a great satisfaction,” Doshi said.

One such appreciation and recognition came from none other than Garfield Sobers of the West Indies, the greatest all-rounder ever to have played the game. Doshi recalled how the turning point of his career came: “My real breakthrough came in England when Sir Garfield Sobers recommended me for Nottinghamshire (the mid-1970s). This was a fairy tale for me because the world’s greatest cricketer ever who had no clue about this boy from Calcutta watched me bowl and recommended me for Nottinghamshire. It was just an unbelievable passage of life. Of course, I was able to play county cricket, hone my talent, gain experience, and play against the world’s best. County cricket in those days was a different cup of tea. The world’s best were playing there. I know many cricketers who were vying to play there but never got an opportunity. As a non-Test cricketer, I was very privileged. And being an Indian spinner, I got an opportunity. I am quite grateful to England cricket and its system for allowing me to participate and prove my talent.”

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Such was Doshi’s talent as a left-arm spinner that even as he entered his 30s, he was taking heaps of wickets that he could not be kept out for long. He said: “I enjoyed the game, loved the game. Nothing ever disappointed me. If I did not bowl well, I looked at it and analysed. It was always a dream to play for India. There were many great cricketers like Rajinder Goel and Padmakar Shivalkar who never played for India. I was lucky to get a breakthrough. While you continue to play, you are improving your skills. As a bowler in those days, you were expected to bowl from one end and win matches. The very fact that I kept on performing at the highest professional level in England also must have tilted the balance in my favour.”

The Indian team under Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane posted back-to-back Test victories in 2018-19 and 2020-21. Doshi knows what it meant to win a Test in Australia, having played a key role in one of India’s famous wins in Melbourne in 1980-81 to level the three-Test series 1-1. Doshi’s bowling figures in this Test were 3/109 in 52 overs in the first innings and 2/33 in 22 overs as India won by 59 runs, defending a meagre target of 143. Kapil Dev took pain killers for a thigh injury to return figures of 5/28 with incredible support by Doshi at the other end.

Doshi was determined to play this Test and contribute to India’s win despite suffering a broken foot.

In his own words: “This has got to be the most satisfying Test match of my career for the reasons that we didn’t win often in Australia. Even the series wins in Australia recently came after ages. Winning overseas was very foreign to us. Every time you have an opportunity, that too in Australia, was a major thing. Also, it was a three-Test series, and to come back and square it was almost unheard of. I broke my foot on February 1, 1981, and the Test started on February 7. After an X-ray was done, the doctor said that I should not be walking at all and that I needed to rest. I was determined to play and said ‘I have got to play, we have got to win. That was the hunch, the feeling in my heart. I was bowling well. With a slice of luck and blessings, I could win the match. I felt I would have an important role to play. The rest is history. I did not leave the field even for a second. Squaring the series was the greatest satisfaction.”

Such were the skills of Doshi that even the legendary Australian captain-turned-television commentator, Richie Benaud was of the view on Channel 9 that if Doshi bowled to his potential and spun a web around Australia, India would win that Test. And so it happened. “Imagine the pressure of bowling with the broken foot, managing the workload, and living up to the expectations of many people. I was playing for my own satisfaction. It was enormous. I feel blessed to have been able to do that, it was for my team and the country, and nothing came greater than that,” Doshi said.

Doshi’s limited-overs representation for the country was limited but he did have memorable outings including 3/32 on his ODI debut in Melbourne in 1980 besides having some unimaginable figures of 8 overs, 7 maidens, 1 run, 1 wicket for Nottinghamshire against Northampton in John Player League in 1977 and a man-of-the-match performance of 6/48 for a World XI led by Clive Lloyd and including Viv Richards, Richard Hadlee, Sunil Gavaskar, Clive Rice, Zaheer Abbas and Malcolm Marshall against a full England XI in Bristol in 1980.

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