Despite having performed virtually every role in the game with distinction, Pranab Roy has remained unsung. He tells us about dabbling in football, imitating Sunny and the dismissal on debut that still rankles
He is not exactly forgotten. But Pranab Roy has certainly remained unsung. A player, then umpire, coach, selector and now a match referee, he has performed every possible role connected with the game with distinction. Recognition, however, has not come his way.
Being the son of a famous father, Pankaj Roy, hardly put him under pressure during his growing up process. “My father was a simple, down to earth man. Never felt he was a super star. He was a more a father than a super star. He wanted us to grow up independently, never imposed his opinion. The only thing he was particular about was education,” remembers Pranab.
He was a footballer to begin with. “In Bengal, we start with football and then shift to other games. Football is the first sport we play and I was one of the 100 footballers on a field.” His first sporting acquisition was not a bat. “When my father saw I was interested in football, he bought me a pair of shoes, a jersey, shorts and socks. But when I represented state school cricket for Bengal, I played with a borrowed bat.”
Pankaj Roy, who played 43 Tests, was a regular footballer. “Our forefathers were zamindars from Bangladesh and my great grandfather was a founding member of the East Bengal Club. So, football was in the family,” Pranab informs. “My father’s first love was football. So was mine. He took to serious cricket only after 18 and I played 2nd division at 12.” Pranab scored a fifty on debut.
Initially a middle order bat and leg-break bowler, Pranab scored five centuries in nine innings in school cricket. He was adjudged the best school cricketer in an all-India Cooch Behar Trophy tournament that also had some future India players like Kapil Dev and Yograj Singh. When he graduated to university cricket, Pranab came up with three centuries in six innings.
Pranab has a tale to relate. “I was once batting in the park opposite my house when someone pointed out I was playing cross-batted shots. When I asked my father, he told me to forget it and just play my natural game. Actually he wanted me to enjoy my cricket. I heard this ‘enjoy your cricket’ line countless times from him and came to discover the importance later when I learnt the meaning of playing straight,” he says. In fact, he was known to bat in a ‘V’.
From the lawns of his 150-year-old haveli near the Ganga in Calcutta to the cricket fields of the country was a well-crafted journey for Pranab. Accompanied by his father, he once went to watch Sunil Gavaskar bat at the Eden Gardens. “The image of Sunny batting so comfortably stuck. His stance, his shots, his style just stuck with me. I wanted to be like him,” Pranab confessed.
There were no videos or live telecast of matches those days. But the passion in Pranab drove him to a nearby theatre every day. “Before the movie, there was this advertisement of Chiclets. Sunny was promoting this chewing gum and he would play the cut, drive, pull, hook in a mere 20 seconds. I would spend my pocket money on buying a ticket and watching just this advertisement. I never saw that movie. Gradually, as Sunny's batting style crept into my subconscious, I stopped buying ticket for the movie for good.”
Many years later, Pranab walked out to open for India in a Test with Gavaskar. “What a day it was in my life!” Prior to that Test, against England at Madras in 1982, Pranab had produced two good innings in the Duleep Trophy – a 98 against South Zone and a 90 against West Zone. With K. Srikkanth failing in the first three Tests, Pranab earned his Test debut along with Ashok Malhotra. “To replace Srikkanth in Madras was like replacing Sourav (Ganguly) in Calcutta,” Pranab says in a lighter vein.
“My dream came true when I opened with Sunny but I was shattered when given caught-behind. My bat never touched the ball and I was gutted really. So disappointed was I that I lost my way to the dressing room. I had batted 53 balls on a difficult pitch where the ball was flying. I remember Sunny and Dilip (Vengsarkar) being hit on the head. But that decision denied me more time with Sunny. My father was my idol but Sunny was the one I always wanted to play like.” This was the Test where G. R. Viswanath hit a classic 222.
Pranab got an unbeaten 60 in the second innings but the first-innings experience hurt him a lot. He played one more Test, made five, and never got another chance despite being picked on the subsequent three-Test tour to England. “Ghulam Parkar was preferred at Lord’s when I thought I might get a chance,” laments Pranab, who suffered a shin and back injury and gradually faded away despite his stints in domestic cricket.
“I never shied from hard work. I would run 10-km a day and do 5000 skips and at least two hours of shadow practice. But the back injury played on my mind and I was never the same batsman. The injury curtailed my footwork and strokes.” His two-Test 71-run aggregate was a pale reflection of his first-class career where he compiled 4056 runs in 72 matches with 13 centuries, with a 230 (537 balls) against Delhi at the Eden Gardens in 1987 and a brilliant 107 against Bombay, also at Eden Gardens, in 1990, among his best. A Business Executive with State Bank of India, Pranab, 56, lives in Kolkata with wife Rita. “She is a huge fan of Viv Richards.” His daughter, Debhuti, is pursuing masters in science in the United States. Pranab has no grudges or complaints but that dismissal on debut still rankles.
(Part 8 of a 12-part series on forgotten heroes of Indian cricket)