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One for the road, Mr. Raiji

Vasant Raiji at his residence in Mumbai in 2017
Vasant Raiji at his residence in Mumbai in 2017
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 14 Jun 2020, 13:00 IST
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There are a few people who leave an impression on you, despite meeting them on only a handful of occasions. For me, Vasant Raiji was one such person.

He was a First-class cricketer who played for Bombay and Baroda in the 1940s. An accountant by qualification, Vasant Raiji joined his family firm and post his playing days penned down several cricket books. 

Vasant Raiji witnessed the first Test played on Indian soil:

Vasant Raiji (Pic courtesy Clayton Muzzello)
Vasant Raiji (Pic courtesy Clayton Murzello)

My introduction to Vasant Raiji happened when he was already in his late nineties.. The purpose of my meeting was to know more about Col. CK Nayudu, as Raiji had not only written a book on CK Nayudu but was also one of the few people alive who had seen India’s first Test captain’s innings of 153 against the MCC in 1926.

Vasant Raiji was also present at the Bombay Gymkhana in 1933 for the first Test match on Indian soil.  

Vasant Raiji's cricketing memory was intact:

Vasant Raiji
Vasant Raiji

Given Vasant Raiji’s age, I wasn’t expecting much, but I was in for a pleasant surprise. As he walked out of the room, the tiredness of having played a long innings in life was apparent on his face. Vasant Raiji began with the disclaimer that at his age, memory wasn’t his biggest strength and he might have to shoulder his arms to leave many questions. 

True to his words, Vasant Raiji didn’t remember much from the recent past. But as soon as the name of his favourite cricketer CK Nayudu popped up, Vasant Raiji's eyes lit up. And the conversation flowed like shots from the bat of Col. Saab.

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Vasant Raiji could recall the exact number of boundaries and sixes that CK Nayudu had hit against MCC in 1926 while playing for Hindus. In this regard, he politely told me that he didn’t have any extra copy of his book on CK Nayudu titled 'The Shahenshah of Indian Cricket' to give one to me. 

Nevertheless, I had got more than what I could have asked for. While leaving, I thanked him from the core of my heart and prayed to God for his good health. Over the last two years, before the launch of my books, I would go to Vasant Raiji's house to seek his blessings.

Each time he would flip through the book as if closely examining the quality of print. Some photos would bring a smile to his face as though it reminded him of matches from the by-gone era. 

A few days prior to his 100th birthday, greats like Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar and Steve Waugh paid a visit to him. Well, with 170 international centuries between them, the three would have had quite a few things to share with Vasant Raiji about reaching a century. 

No smoking was one of the secrets of Vasant Raiji's longevity: 

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Not surprisingly, it was an umpire, Marcus Couto, who had created a buzz around Vasant Raiji’s century. And when the D-Day arrived on January 26th, a party with family and close friends was thrown at Vasant Raiji’s Walkeshwar residence in Mumbai.

The day brought in many illustrious people like former Indian captain Nari Contractor to Vasant Raiji's house. Given the fact that a century in the game of life is a rarity, many had asked Vasant Raiji the secret behind his longevity. Vasant Raiji replied that the fact that he never smoked helped a bit (as told to Couto along with Waugh).

With this century and many years of service to the game of cricket behind him, I am sure Vasant Raiji would have been a satisfied man. In March, he became the oldest living First-class cricketer in the world following the death of England’s John Manners. 

Vasant Raiji could hold this record for just over three months when on June 13th, 2020, the almighty raised his finger, signaling the end of Vasant Raiji's long innings. Interestingly, the day on which Vasant Raiji decided to close his innings happened to be the 115th birth anniversary of Duleepsinhji on whom Vasant Raiji had co-authored a book titled 'Duleep - The Man and his game'.

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Up there in the pavilion, Vasant Raiji would be united with many of his cricketing heroes. There would be his favourite CK Nayudu, LP Jai, Victor Trumper and Sir Don Bradman (with whom he had exchanged many letters) among others. I am sure Vasant Raiji would relish all this. 

So, as Vasant Raiji climbs the steps on the stairway to heaven, I would raise a toast on his pretty fine innings and say, “One for the road, Mr. Raiji” just as his wife Panna Raiji had said to my wife and me while giving chocolates during one of our visits. 

Published 14 Jun 2020, 03:06 IST
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