By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
Gutsy former India opening batsman Chetandra Pratap Singh Chauhan, who recently succumbed to Covid-19, never captained the national team. But former India team manager Shahid Ali Khan Durrani, who famously saved a potentially explosive situation during Sunil Gavaskar’s attempted walkout in the controversial 1980-81 Melbourne Test, had even 39 years ago felt that Chauhan was India captaincy material.
Lucknow-based Durrani, now 84, wrote in glowing terms about Chauhan’s game in his manager’s report of that tour to Australia and New Zealand — accessed by IANS — and even today he stands by his report. To justify his report, Durrani said Chauhan was “non-controversial”, “polite”, “dedicated”, “punctual” and made meaningful contributions in team meetings during the four-month twin tour. Additionally, Chauhan was in good form in Australia and ended up as the second highest scorer in the three-Test series.
In his crisp 21-page report, in which he wrote a paragraph each on all 17 players in the team, Durrani, a decorated retired Air Force Group Captain, wrote: “The dour Rajput with determination excelled in his limited batting potential. Excellent fielder and useful with the ball, too. A good student of the game. Has the makings of a good captain.”
However, Chauhan never captained any big team, be it Maharashtra and Delhi, which he represented in domestic competitions, leave aside captaining India. Gavaskar was India captain on that 1980-81 tour and then Kapil Dev took over from him, followed by Dilip Vengsarkar.
Durrani though must have seen some leadership qualities in the soft-spoken Chauhan. “My impression about Chauhan as a captaincy material was based on the following factors: his cool temperament, matured outlook, dedication towards task on hand, helping nature towards youngsters in the team, non-controversial, punctuality, and politeness,” Durrani said from his Lucknow residence.
“These traits in Chetan were so very obvious to me on the four-month tour, and I stand by what I wrote about him in my report to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI),” said the man who as a Lucknow University student was part of the organising committee of the India-Pakistan Test match staged in Lucknow in 1952.
Durrani revealed that Chauhan’s contribution to the team’s strategy making was immense. “During crucial team meetings he was never a mute spectator. He participated with zeal and compassion. Most of the time we agreed with his understanding of the opposing team. He was a keen student of the game and I found his observations sound and useful,” he said.
On his personal relationship with Chauhan, Durrani said it was purely professional. “My equation with him was limited to that of a manager with a team member, nothing else. I always found him polite and respectful,” he said.
And when Chauhan got elected to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly in 2017, Durrani keenly followed his activities as a cabinet minister in the Yogi Adityanath government.
“I followed his nearly three-year stint as a cabinet minister in Lucknow with keen interest through newspapers. I didn’t have the occasion of meeting him in person, though there was no particular reason for that,” said Durrani who hardly ventures out of his Lucknow home as he is not in the best of health these days.
Former India captain Chandu Borde, under whose captaincy Chauhan made his first-class debut for Maharashtra in Ranji Trophy in October 1967, remembers him as a gutsy batsman, though he couldn’t recall if the right-hander ever captained any team. “He was a very determined and gutsy batsman. But I didn’t see him captain Maharashtra. Maybe he captained his college in Pune. He was coached by professor Kamal Bhandarkar,” Border told IANS from Pune.
Chauhan shifted to Delhi in 1975, when legendary left-arm spinner Bishan Singh Bedi was Delhi captain. Bedi excused himself from reacting to Durrani’s opinion.
“I don’t think I am equipped to go with or not with Durrani’s opinion on whether Chauhan was captaincy material. Generally speaking, if someone is captaincy material it emerges very early in a player’s career, not after 30 or so,” he said.
On Chauhan’s transfer from Maharashtra to Delhi, Bedi said: “At the time, he was struggling to get into the west zone team while representing Maharashtra. And Delhi, needed a typical ‘khadoos’ (dogged) batsman and it benefitted both Chetan and Delhi.”
In only his first match after relocating to Delhi, Chauhan hammered 107 in 270 minutes for the Bedi-led North Zone against the visiting Sri Lankans at the Ferozshah Kotla, Delhi, in November 1975. And in his first first-class match, a Ranji Trophy, for Delhi, Chauhan opened the batting with the stand-in captain Vinay Lamba and scored 20 in the only innings against the Services at Palam ground, Delhi. “Chetan was definitely a prolific run getter. He was a very brave and gutsy cricketer,” said Lamba.
After that famous walk-out attempt by Gavaskar in the Melbourne Test, in which he was the top scorer for India with 198-ball 85 in the second innings as the team won by 59 runs, Chauhan got to play only three more Tests, on the New Zealand leg of that 1980-81 tour, before being discarded. He was 33 years and 240 days old at the time.
Overall, Chauhan tallied 2,084 runs in 40 Tests, between 1969 and 1981, with 97 in the second Test in Sydney in 1981. He also played seven ODIs. Later, he took the plunge in politics and was elected Member of Parliament and most recently to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly from Naugawan Sadat, one of the five constituencies of Amroha Lok Sabha constituency. He passed away on August 16, aged 73 years 26 days, at a Gurugram hospital after being afflicted by Covid-19.