I remember Mahesh Raje, now an established lawyer in the city circles, as a well mannered, diffident, bespectacled young lad who could bat well and bowl his leg spinners to good effect back then in 1986 or so. Mahesh was one of the few youngsters who showed much promise in his really young days – the Under 12 onwards and when we heard of him, we already knew of his exploits at the junior levels. He was a serious student and was academically inclined as well, which not many cricketers were, which set him apart from the rest of the rowdy bunch. But the years that I knew him well were the years when we played for the Osmania University. One year in particular, the 1990-91 season.
|Mahesh Raje and I in his office|
Osmania University had not won the South Zone championship for almost ten years despite being one of the strongest sides and this was a stigma we carried. In fact one of the strongest sides was the one led by Swaroop, in 1986, which had 8 members from the Ranji pobables – Swaroop, Ehtesham, D. Suresh, Abhijit Chatterjee, Zakir Hussain, Srinivas Chakravarthy, Vidyuth Jaisimha and myself. Ramana Murthy, who later went on to perform so well for Hyderabad for many years including the final which we won against Delhi in was also in the team. That team was so good that they were already planning to book our tickets for the Rohinton Baria tournament even before we played the South Zone! Selection issues, infighting and bad blood within the team due to a few members, were the root cause of the team never delivering to its potential right from 1984 - the first year I represented the University. And it was only in 1990-91, under the captaincy of my good friend, Vijay Kumar, did we win the South Zone trophy in Vishakhapatnam.
It was my last year in the campus, my second year of MBA. I was not too keen to play anymore, having played five years for the University already and not looking at furthering my cricketing career in anyway,but Vijay asked me to and so I went. Mahesh Raje, a close confidant and ally of Vijay right from their younger days, was part of the team. Also present were Masood, Riasat, Moheb Ali, Bansi, Srikant Iyengar, Karthik, Harikrishna, Akram Quadri, Ayub - a team with a mix of experience, youth and some odd balls. We had to win five games to win the trophy.
We planned each game – a small brains trust comprising of Vijay, Mahesh and me, sitting in some seedy bar in Vizag. Every evening, that was the feature, as we planned to take it match by match only, and not go too far ahead. We planned our bowling, our batting our strategy in those balmy December evenings and went through the tournament just as we planned. A tight first game against Kerala University, an easy second game, a thriller against Bangalore University and a semi final I do not remember, but the final we beat Madras University comfortably – and almost ten days later – we were all celebrating in the Ramakrishna Beach, some of us drunk to the gills (I was really celebrating and even gave a rousing slurring speech to the team). The record was finally set right and it is one of the happiest moments of my cricketing life.
I kept meeting Mahesh on the campus. By then he was orienting more towards academics than cricket and after completing his graduation from Nizam College, he got into the Law College at Osmania University. Soon after he passed his law exam, I heard that he was practicing and that impressed me. He was as serious about his practice as he was about anything else. I met Mahesh a couple of times, called him for the book launch, but he was busy in his world of criminal and civil cases.
So it was a great reunion after so many years, to see Mahesh again, with the same smile on his face. Now a successful lawyer with his own practice, Mahesh looks very much the content professional who knows what he is doing. He showed me his office in the High Court, where he sits as a Director on the Advocates Co-operative Bank. We recounted our old days, had some chai, and promised to meet again soon. With Vijay of course!