In over 60 years of its existence, Delhi Gymkhana club has compromised neither on its revenue models nor its cricketing values. Vijay Lokaplly tells the story of one of the best teams in the Capital
His memory blurs when he visits the dark days of partition, when he travelled with his family to Delhi from Gujarat. “The Gujarat in Pakistan,” Dilbagh Singh mumbles. He strains his mind, maybe wanting to brush away those dark days, but they still haunt him.
Cricket, however, is the balm that soothes his wounds. Mention Delhi Gymkhana and Dilbagh, 80 now, traverses into time, remembering little anecdotes, identifying old members of the club as we rummage through old pictures, some withered with time, but not from his amazing ability to recall anecdotes from the past.
Delhi Gymkhana, a premier cricket club from the Capital, was born in 1950. It has stood the test of time, surviving on members’ subscriptions in times when sponsorship is in vogue. “It has been a long journey, not always rosy, but we take pride in our club. It has an identity that has roots in tradition,” says Dilbagh with pride.
The club was run from a house in East Patel Nagar with training facilities at the Roshanara ground. Nothing has changed. The club functions from the same place and ‘nets’ are held at the same ground. “Nothing has changed and that is our strong point. We are not a commercial club,” insists Bantu Singh, a first-class cricketer, son of Dilbagh, and a coach of the club, who now works for Central Bank of India. Father and son have dedicated their best period to Delhi Gymkhana. Dilbagh became a member of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) at a regal fee of five rupees. The club attracted school and college students at the ‘nets’ where trials would be held to pick the worthy aspirants.
“Those were good times. There was no money in the game but pride to play for. We would travel to cities in the north of India and earn laurels,” Dilbagh reminisces. It was the first club from Delhi to earn participation in the famed Sheesh Mahal tournament in Lucknow. On its first appearance Delhi Gymkhana made it to the final and the opponents were forced to strengthen their team with outside forces. Delhi Gymkhana lost the final because among the imports for the match were Polly Umrigar, Chandu Borde and Salim Durrani.
“The defeat did not matter because our players were thrilled at playing against such cricket luminaries,” commented Dilbagh, who started off as a coal merchant before setting up the Good Luck Sports Shop in 1978. Delhi Gymkhana encouraged guest players but not at the cost of keeping their regular and performing youngsters. Bishan Singh Bedi, Madan Lal, Akash Lal, Raghubir Saini, Rajinder Pal, Suresh Luthra, Gulshan Rai and Hyder Ali were among the stalwarts who turned out for Delhi Gymkhana but the proudest moment came from two of their own regulars — Saranjit Singh Johar, a Supreme Court advocate now, and Sarabjit Singh, who later represented Punjab. The two put on a 407-run opening wicket stand in the Sheesh Mahal tournament, a record that was never broken.
Some of the most loyal and long-serving names, well known in Delhi, are Megh Raj, who played first-class cricket for Delhi and Punjab, Sudhir Gulati, Sanjeev Wadhwa and Vijay Ahuja. The most memorable triumph for Delhi Gymkhana came in the Lala Raghubir Singh tournament when Bantu scored a century against an Indian Airlines attack comprising Rajinder Singh Ghai, Deepak Chopra and Rajesh Peter. In local circles, it was a big win against a no mean opposition.
A strict disciplinarian, Dilbagh, who played league cricket until the age of 75 along with his son, is the pillar on which Delhi Gymkhana has prospered. “Times have changed. I would host outstation players in this very room (Lucky Sports Shop). One of my guests for a club function here was Subhash Gupte (the legendary India leg-spinner). Ours is a club that aims to teach cricket the right way. Not once has the club been fined or invited criticism for its conduct,” says Dilbagh with pride.
No wonder, Delhi Gymkhana continues to be one of the best cricket institutions of the Capital.