Former cricketer Hari Gidwani rewinds to the good old times of pure cricket, simple food

The lights are soothingly dim. The ambience at Broadway’s Chor Bizarre restaurant is quite relaxing. The furniture, in part, a throwback to the Victorian era. Piped music plays gently. Asha Bhonsle, the woman whose charm refuses to fade is on song. “Aaiye meherban, baithiye jaan-e-jaan…” plays ever so softly, followed by “Jab chali thandi hawa…” A few yards away stands a modified Austen, stately, somewhat forbidding. It is like this weekend afternoon we have swapped a few moments of today for those languorous ones of yesterday; time when a certain Sunil Gavaskar was the face of Indian cricket and somebody answering to the name of Salim Durani was regarded as the debonair all-rounder. Appropriately with me today in the age of Suresh Raina-Rohit Sharma is Hari Gidwani, 58, a dashing stroke player of a generation that played its cricket in whites. And loved it too!

Gritty customer

Probably the best batsman never to have played for India, Gidwani’s case was one of so near yet so far. “I was closest to India selection in 1975-76 when I got a hundred against the visiting Sri Lankan team,” Gidwani recalls, adding “Salim bhai (Durrani) wrote a note for me which said, ‘Hope to see you in the Indian team soon’.”

That was not to be though Gidwani proved a gritty customer at the crease for many years, taking on visiting international bowlers with aplomb when he got a chance to face them. “I played for Combined Universities versus the West Indies in 1974-75. They had (Vanburn) Holder, (Bernard) Julian and (Lance) Gibbs in the bowling ranks. Andy Roberts sat out the match.” Similarly, he displayed his brand of backfoot play replete with copybook drives and pugnacious hooks and pulls when the Aussies touched down in 1978. “They had Geoff Lawson, for whom it was the first tour, Rodney Hogg, Alan Hurst and Geoff Dymock. While Dymock, who was only medium fast, gave no room to hit, Hogg and Hurst could be really fast,” Gidwani recalls, as if his encounter with them took place yesterday.

It has been some 34 years. And today sitting across the table in the 76-seater restaurant, Gidwani is not ready to hold his punches. The chef suggests we start our lunch with his signature chaat, which is a palak-patta preparation. Gidwani agrees, albeit reluctantly. Soon he realises the chef has made a good choice. Gidwani, who played for six years for Delhi before moving to Bihar, gets a shade wistful. “Maybe, I was a shade unlucky. But there were others too. Paddy (Padmakar Shivalkar), Rajinder Goel never got to play for India. Among the batsmen, I think K.P. Bhaskar deserved a chance. Maybe, Vinay Lamba and Venkat Sundaram too. Then there was Rizwan Shamshad. I think Amarjeet Kaypee and Amol Mazumdar should have played for India for sure.”

So, Gidwani is in pretty good company. As he continues his trip down memory lane, the staff brings on an assortment of kababs, ranging from mushroom kababs, paneer kababs to fish kababs and dahi kababs, which he polishes off with a delight. Then there is nimbu ka jhinga and murgha dilli tikka too. In fact, the kababs are so delectable that one forgets they are not a part of the main course! The chef suggests we move on to the main course.

Gidwani, whether in cricket or in the luncheon appointment, does not get much scope to savour the main course. He requests another helping of mutton seekh which too is a part of the ongoing kabab festival at the restaurant. “I was all along a number 3 batsman and when I was playing, the Indian team was loaded with great batsmen. Along side Gavaskar, there was (GR) Viswanath; then others like Mohinder (Amarnath), Dilip (Vengsarkar)….” He distinctly remembers his lone opportunity to take on Malcolm Marshall, the most fearsome of fast bowlers. “I faced all of them well but when Marshall came on to bowl I thought I will try and hook him. But before I could shape for the shot the ball would be in the keeper’s gloves! Marshall left a scar on my finger,” he says, pointing to the mark on his hand, more than 30 years after the tour match.

Gidwani is not all nostalgia. He has clear views on how the game is run today. “The zonal quota still exists. I played largely for Bihar, which probably did not help my cause. Few players like Randhir Singh or later Subrata Bannerjee and Syed Saba Karim went on to play for India. Today, the media tends to hype up mediocre players. Guys who cannot play genuine fast bowling are touted as the future of Indian cricket. Among the current batch, Cheteshwar Pujara is the best.”

He wants to talk of others too. At this juncture though, the trip is cut short by the chef, who suggests we try out Kashmiri phirni as a dessert.

Not one to turn down something sweet, Gidwani, a confectioner by profession who does brisk business near Fatehpuri Masjid in Old Delhi, happily signs off the meal! As Mohammed Rafi’s voice, “Jane kahan mera jigar gaya ji…” falls on our ears, Gidwani steps out to face the blazing heat and unwelcome noise of the city. Yesterday is long since over.

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