Devraj Govindraj: The Unsung cricket hero from Hyderabad
Devraj Devendraraj Govindraj was a former Indian and a Hyderabadi fast bowler who toured England and the West Indies in 1970/71 but couldn't play a single test match. He played 93 First Class games for Hyderabad picking up 190 wickets at an average of 27. He also played a key role in State Bank of India squad which won the Moin-ud Dowlah Gold cup twice. Here, he takes us down the memory lane as he shares some fascinating stories.
Manoj Sarma: Let us start with your childhood, how was it like? When did proper cricket training start for you?
Govindraj Devraj: My father and uncle used to play in the backyard and I learnt cricket from them. Proper cricket training for me started at the age of 8.
Manoj Sarma: Cricket now is a religion in India, but back then with no proper facilities and not much hype about the game of cricket. How was it like to play cricket back then?
Govindraj Devraj: I had my ambition to play for India and my father has encouraged me a lot to fulfil my dream. There were no cricket academies back then, there were two training camps- one at Gymkhana and the other at Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium. There was no proper cricket gear, no proper shoes but the dream to play for India pushed me against all the odds.
Manoj Sarma: You played First Class cricket for SBI and won moin-ud-dowlah twice. Can you please tell us about the Hyderabadi diaries?
Govindraj Devraj: Once I scored 56 for Hyderabad batting at number 9 and won the Gold Cup, following year I played for employee and scored 76 against Hyderabad to win the Gold Cup for the second time. It was a learning experience for me to play with legends like ML Jaisimha and Ajit Wadekar.
Manoj Sarma: You often spoke about M.L Jaisimha being your idol, how was it like to play alongside him and Ajit Wadekar?
Govindraj Devraj: "Jai was my cricketing god since I met him when I was 12 years old". Ajit Wadekar was SBI(State Bank of India) captain once Hanumanth Singh retired and I also played under Ajit for touring Indian team to west indies and England in 70/71. I learnt a lot of cricket with these two legends at the helm.
Manoj Sarma: Can you give us insights on how good a Captain Ajit Wadekar was? Who has been your favourite captain in the recent past, the one you thought reads the game well.
Govindraj Devraj: Ajit won three overseas series, the record that still stands and he was one of the best and successful captains for India. I feel MS Dhoni is best ever captain
Manoj Sarma: You had a pretty impressive First Class career yet had to wait for six long years to get the maiden call-up for India in 1971. How were the six years of wait like?
Govindraj Devraj: It was my dream to play for India and if you dream is not fulfilled you have tried till it aches and I just did that.
Manoj Sarma: You were the lone fast bowler picked for the series against West Indies and England, yet couldn't get a chance to feature in a single test match. Did you ever feel that you were born in the wrong era of Indian cricket?
Govindraj Devraj: “No, I feel I had gone on two tours being the best bowler, I was in the team despite the best spin attack India had. I don't regret at all I played with so many great players and thoroughly enjoyed my career.
Manoj Sarma: You had very fond memories of Gary Sobers and Rohan Kanhai and Sunil Gavaskar, it would be fascinating for us to hear such stories. Can you please share a few of them with us?
Govindraj Devraj: As I said playing against the greats above and also playing my own team greats very satisfying moment of a career.“I remember this incident where Jai was standing in the mid-off in a game against Barbados and indicated me to bowl a bouncer, it was totally unexpected for Gary and he just ducked under it, the next delivery Jai again told me to bowl a bouncer which Gary hit over Jai’s head for a six. I bowled Gary in that game after he scored a hundred and it was one of the satisfying moments of my career. Rohan Kanhai was one of my favourite batsmen and to play against him was a dream come true. He used to joke with me often and say “ Don’t bowl too quick to me.” He shares all these memories with a satisfactory smile on his face.
Manoj Sarma: There was news all over when Sunil Gavaskar stated that he'd have you in his team for your ability to swing the ball at pace apart from your ability to bat and have a good throwing arm. How did swing come to you, was it natural or something you have developed in the nets?
Govindraj Devraj: It was written by Gavaskar in an article some time in 82, I feel honoured because it had come from a great player like Sunil Gavaskar. Talking about swing, it was something which came very naturally to me. My stock delivery was an outswinger and had a decent bouncer. I could still control the ball swing at pace, maybe my rhythmic run -up and a side on the action(“which are essentials for a fast bowler” he says) helped me do that. I fondly remember the outswinger and the bouncer trouble the best of the batsman like Sutcliffe, Khalid Abdullah and Barry Richards(who was playing for Hampshire then).
Manoj Sarma: Who was the best cricketer for you in your time? The one who had an influence on the game and the cricketing fraternity?
Govindraj Devraj: I had posters of M.L Jaisimha, Rohan Kanhai and Normal O’Neil on my bedroom walls. These three are my absolute favourite.
Manoj Sarma: With the advent of IPL and various other T20 leagues in the world, do you think that the budding cricketers are still inclined towards the longer format of the game? Especially when you see tests being wrapped up in 2 or 3 days?
Govindraj Devraj: Budding cricketers should aim to play for the country, that's an achievement. Yes, T20 cricket does have some impact on the current generation. I often tell budding cricketers to aim to play for India rather than thinking about these cash-rich leagues.
Manoj Sarma: How much and in what ways has the game changed from your time? What's your take on modern batsmanship and the modern training techniques?
Govindraj Devraj: Nowadays you have to be super fit to play test cricket. The fitness has improved so much that players are being dropped for failing yo-yo test. The fielding standards have improved a lot when compared to our generation, in batting bat speed is so quick and the batting standards have improved a bit with all the technology coming in. I feel the bowling in the late 70’s and 80’s is far better than what it is now, the bowlers whom Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar faced are outstanding.
Manoj Sarma: India has failed in producing threatening fast bowlers, what do you think the main reason is?
Govindraj Devraj: No, we have very good fast bowlers playing now for India and the future also looks very bright. The bowlers should learn to bowl at a particular spot consecutively and still be able to swing the ball and bowl pace. We had bowlers who could bowl on a particular spot for the entire day, that’s what the modern generation should learn.
Manoj Sarma: What do you think India needs to do in order to win games overseas?
Govindraj Devraj:“Take 20 wickets with fast or spin bowling, we need a spinner of Chandrashekar, Prassana, or Anil Kumble type bowlers to win matches."
Manoj Sarma: You are back in India for seven years now, how is it like mentoring kids here at the Govindraj Cricket Academy?
Govindraj Devraj: Running the academy since last seven years and I’m sure some of them will represent Hyderabad and India in the near future. I have a few sponsors who were my friends since childhood Prem, Ramsheshu and Prabhakar Reddy, who even after these many years follow their passion for cricket.
Manoj Sarma: One advice you'd like to give to the aspiring cricketers of this nation.
Govindraj Devraj: Keep trying until you succeed, never get disheartened till you get your goal. Keep dreaming to achieve your India cap.