Although a nondescript team in the local league, Malviya Club would transform into a fearsome outfit during tournaments in and around Delhi. Vijay Lokapally tells the story of the local club that attracted national talent

Ashok Vaswani was a ‘poacher’ in Delhi’s cricket circles. A builder from South Delhi, he was known to assemble a team, a formidable combination mostly, and plunder titles on the local circuit. Many club officials would check if Malviya Club was among the entrants in the tournament. Seeing the name, some would withdraw, some would reconcile to participating with a prayer they did not run into Malviya until the last stage.

The club, formed in 1968 mainly with neighbourhood talent in Malviya Nagar, was a force to reckon with. It had some nondescript members when it played the local league but the team would undergo a stunning transformation whenever it participated in tournaments in and around Delhi. Names like Kapil Dev, Ashok Malhotra, Yashpal Sharma, Yograj Singh, Chetan Sharma were regulars, giving nightmares to their opponents, who could not afford star cricketers. Interestingly, Malviya ‘imported’ mostly from Chandigarh. Even Navjot Singh Sidhu was available during the summer. And all came for free.

Vaswani reminiscences, “I would receive them at the inter-state bus stand in the morning and see them off in the evening. All I gave them was the bus ticket to go home and good lunch after the match got over. Those were lovely days.”

Those were indeed lovely days when stars played local matches. I vividly remember the huge turn outs at matches involving Malviya Club at various fields across the Capital. Even the skipper was nominated on the day of the match because you never knew who all would report. The same applied to cricket fans. They thronged the venue hoping to see Kapil, Sidhu or Malhotra. “It was great fun. This gentleman (Vaswani) would give us an opportunity to play in Delhi. The cricket was very competitive and we strove to win matches for him. I have fond memories of playing local cricket in Delhi during the summer,” recalls Kapil.

Kirti Azad, a National Institute of Sports (NIS) loyalist, would succumb sometime to requests from Vaswani. “I did not play the league matches but it was exciting to compete in the tournaments. Malviya used to be a fearsome side,” remembers Azad, who, incidentally, gave Vaswani the nickname “Kerry Packer”, the original cricket poacher. He was ably assisted by former Haryana wicketkeeper Maninder Singh Jaggi, who played a huge part in ensuring the Chandigarh ‘gang’ came in full strength to play for Malviya.

Chetan Chauhan played his first match in Delhi’s local circuit for Malviya. “I made him lead the team,” says Vaswani. With regular participation and contributions from the Chandigarh ‘gang’ the club gained in strength as Sarkar Talwar, Surender Khanna, Rakesh Handa, Sunil Saggi, Mahesh Inder Singh, Paramjit Singh, Sheikhar Hardas, Subhash Sharma, Hemant Harlikar, Rajesvar Vats, Nischal Gaur, Sachin Khurana, Jaggi, Pritam Nirankari, Pradeep Kashyap, K. K. Sharma, Arvind Mathur, Ashok ‘machchi’ Bhardwaj helped Malviya sweep many titles.

Paramjit was a hockey player who took to cricket on Vaswani’s advice. “He was an excellent left-arm spinner,” recalls Vaswani. With time, Paramjit grew into a fine first-class cricketer and went on to captain East Zone in Duleep trophy. In 1979 on tour to India, dashing Pakistan opener Majid Khan rated Paramjit the “best left-arm spinner” in the country. Nirankari was the North Zone captain in all-India schools cricket with Kapil Dev in the team too.

Malviya Club happens to be the most popular team in Bangkok. For 29 years, the club has been participating without fail in the Royal Bangkok Sports Club tournament, winning the title a few times. “We have travelled for club matches to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Mauritius and England,” says the 67-year-old Vaswani, who played in the club as an off-spinner after a stint with Young Friends Club and counts Shivdasani as his mentor. Test batsman Malhotra says, “I have been on tours with Malviya and enjoyed every moment of local cricket too. The best part was the team would lose little time in adjusting to the demands. We were a flexible combination and all because of the respect we had for Vaswani. He would have invited four No 4 batsmen but we would adjust and accommodate.”

The club changed hands recently. The new owner may take time to match the organising and administrative skills of Vaswani. Malviya Club will certainly miss its ‘Kerry Packer.’