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Adieu, my friend, Polly!
November 08, 2006
I was very close to Polly. He used to call me 'Chan" and not 'Chandu' like others did. We were chums and indulged in a lot of leg pulling during our times together. It made us understand each other and acted as some sort of a team building effort though it was not planned.
I remember one particular journey together. It was from Kolkata to Mumbai by train which used to take forty hours those days. We were returning after India had lost to the mighty West Indies in the Kolkata Test of the 1959 series.
When the train stopped at Bina we found a large gathering of fans at the station and were surprised to see so many people to greet us even after our defeat. We thought it showed the love and affection of the fans towards us. They gave us a box of sweets too which, on opening once the train started leaving the station, was found to contain ladies bangles. We had a hearty laugh at this.
I vividly remember the incidents on the 1962 tour of the West Indies, especially after the unfortunate skull injury sustained by Nari Contractor. We all donated blood - Polly, I, Bapu Nadkarni and Sir Frank Worrell (the West Indies captain).
We were all worried for Nari. Dr Ford, who was attending on him was not a neuro surgeon. But the situation was grim and he said if he were to back down, it would be very difficult for Nari to survive as already paralysis had set in on his left side. It was an emergency.
Our team manager, Ghulam Ahmed, was desperately trying to contact people in India. Dr Ford went ahead and performed the operation. And on the next day came an Indian origin neuro surgeon from, I think Fiji, and he appreciated the surgical skills of Ford and felt the surgeries had been nicely done.
It was in the backdrop of this that we played later in the series. We were all very scared to face the West Indies fast bowlers. You have to remember we were playing without helmets. Umrigar, a very mild-mannered man, played a courageous and great knock of 172 in the fourth Test in Port-of-Spain.
People underrated his bowling skills as he was not a big turner of the ball. But he used to deliver the ball from a great height and got good bounce. It was difficult to judge the trajectory of the ball that came off his hand. He once got five wickets against Australia with his off breaks.
The running between the wickets when Umrigar was in a partnership with Vijay Manjrekar is among my abiding memories.
Polly was a very quick runner and Vijay was not. There used to be several yes-no situations and we could feel the heat on the field. It was quite interesting to watch.
Another abiding memory is the Madras Test of the 1958-59 series against the West Indies when the team had four captains leading it one after the other. Polly was named as the captain. We were given a civic reception before the match and then one of our players, I think it was C D Gopinath, who fell sick and we needed a replacement.
Polly insisted on (Mumbai's) Manohar Hardikar whose abilities as a batsman and skills as an off break bowler were well known to him. But the selection committee insisted that Jasu Patel who was in the standbys would be the replacement. Polly was not ready to accept this and stepped down from captaincy.
It was a terrible thing to happen to Polly and I saw him crying like a baby. It was such a sad thing to witness.
Then Vinoo Mankad took over as captain. He went for the toss and then had rashes all over the body. G S Ramchand was named the captain but was hit on the head (during the Test) and finally Col. Hemu Adhikari was told to lead the side.
Polly was great and ever eager in giving tips on the game to youngsters. He was very generous and gave youngsters lessons on how to prepare for a game and mentally be ready to face the opposite team's fast bowling attack.
The partnership we had in the Madras Test against Pakistan in 1960-61 would for ever be etched in my memory as it helped India save the match.
We put on 177 for the fifth wicket with Polly scoring 117.
We were under tremendous tension and pressure and I don't know what would have happened had we lost the match.
We were in trouble after losing two or three quick wickets. There had been some rain and Pakistan off spinner Haseeb Ahsan, who had a doubtful action and did not play much later, was turning the ball at right angles.
In the beginning we were cautious before Polly started to attack him which helped me also to grow in confidence. It was amazing, the way he handled that fellow. Our partnership helped us to save the match. A loss to Pakistan would have been terrible.
When I visited him ten days ago at his residence along with Raj Singh Dungarpur, he remembered that partnership very clearly and we talked about it with tears in our eyes and with him holding my hand.
I needled him saying he was selfish. I said you were hitting him for fours, while asking me to take singles!
Polly had been looking forward to my visit, his daughter said then. I could see the joy on his face when he saw me. It was a wonderful experience. When I left he told me "Chan come back again", for another visit. I feel very bad now. There won't be another visit to see him alive.
Here I would like to give credit to his wife Dinu who used to look after him very well and given him encouragement right through their times together. She was there for him on his good and bad days.
I would like to mention about one habit of his. He always used to sleep with a cloth tied around his head, like a dupatta, which was his wife's. He was very fond of his family.
He was an intensely religious man and never missed going to the Meher Baba Ashram in Ahmednagar every year when they used to have a 'mela'.
Polly was loved and respected by everybody, even cricketers from other countries. I used to call him "Ajatshatru", meaning a man with no enemies.
Adieu, my friend, Polly!