A century on debut was not enough to propel Deepak Shodhan to dizzy heights but Vijay Lokapally finds the left-hander a happy and healthy man at 85

He calls it fate. He was not supposed to play but then Vijay Hazare pulled out and paved the way for Deepak Shodhan’s debut. He batted at No. 8, obviously not to his liking, but again fate backed him. He made a hundred. Two of his teammates allegedly threw away their wickets to try and deny him a century. “I was lucky, very lucky,” he mumbles.

A century on debut against Pakistan at the majestic Eden Gardens! A grand start any cricketer would conjure up in his dreams. Shodhan did one for real. But two more Tests and he faded into oblivion. Not that he regrets. He is “happy” and “healthy.” At 85, you can’t ask for more.

One of the oldest living Test cricketers, Shodhan may appear an under-achiever. An aggregate of 181 runs from four innings was not worthy of this left-hander, who revelled in stroke-making. “My defence was not very good but I could play all shots,” he sounds confident even now when speaking from his residence in Ahmedabad. He played nine years of first-class cricket after his last Test in 1953 at Kingston when he watched the three great Ws of West Indies cricket, Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes, hit a century each.

“I fell sick on the first day (after the toss) and did not bat in the first innings,” he recalls. In the second, he went in at No 10 (still unwell) and returned unconquered at 15 as India managed to draw. “I never could have imagined it was to be my last Test.”

Why was he never picked again?

“Politics,” asserts Shodhan. “Some of my team-mates were not keen that I scored a century on debut. I could do nothing. I was new and never thought the politics would be so bad. Two batsmen got out and almost denied me the privilege but I had a gentleman partner in (last man) Ghulam Ahmed. He hung in with me and I got my century (110) batting at No 8 (with India on 179 for six).”

It was strange for the only left-hander in the team to bat so low down the order. “No 5 or 6 should have been my batting slot,” agrees Shodhan, who made his debut at 24. He earned the opportunity only because Hazare withdrew from the Test.

Reflecting on his career, Shodhan notes, “Selection was biased in my time. Critics couldn’t accept that someone good on matting would excel on turf. A Gujjubhai doing well was sort of unacceptable. It was sad but if you see the records you’ll know how I and Jassu bhai (Patel) did well on turf. I think I was very lucky I played for India.” Shodhan bowled round-arm. “A bit like (Lasith) Malinga,” his laughter is so infectious.

Cricket administration, in Shodhan’s view, has undergone a complete transformation. “When I was playing cricketers from Bombay were favoured. Obviously, they came to dominate Indian cricket,” he lamented. To overcome his frustration, Shodhan would actively indulge in tennis, badminton, football and a bit of hockey. “I even got a left-hand stick made.”

Shodhan remembers attending a selection trial along with Jassu Patel in Bombay. Prof D. B. Deodhar was a national selector and, looking for opening options, he asked Patel to pad up against fast bowlers. “Jassubhai couldn’t get his bat to a single ball and eventually told Prof. Deodhar that “I don’t open but I close the innings.” It was hilarious seeing Jassubhai struggle against the fast bowlers.” The professor quickly realised his folly and Patel was spared further agony.

For someone who started off as a left-arm spinner, Shodhan aggregated 1802 runs in 43 first-class matches with 73 wickets too. His career best was a 261 for Baroda against Maharashtra. “It was at Ahmednagar in 1957 and I batted ahead of Hazare and (Chandu) Borde.”

A blazer “full of holes” is all that is left of his cricketing days. Also Datta Gaekwad and Madhav Apte from the playing eleven of his last Test. Shodhan is one of 12 Indians to have scored a Test century on debut. “I tell everyone to play the game as it should be played.” A pity, some of his teammates thought differently.