In an article that he wrote in 1982, Sunil Gavaskar picked a team of all the cricketers in India who were unlucky to have missed out on playing Tests. To open the new ball, he picked Hyderabad's Devraj Govindraj.
"To open the bowling I would have Govindraj of Hyderabad. He had a lovely rhythmic run up and bowled outswingers mainly, but had a very, very nasty bouncer. No less a person than Barry Richards had to take evasive action after having been surprised with the pace with which Govind's bouncer came at him. Govind was also a very useful batsman who sold his wicket dearly and a fielder with a very good throwing arm. He could also use the old ball.'
One doesn't need to say anymore.
|Sunil Gavaskar and Govindraj - 1971 West Indies tour|
(pic courtesy Govindraj)
I played one game with Devraj Devendraraj Govindraj around 1985-86. I was an 18 year old playing for Marredpally Cricket Club (MCC). He was in India on a trip from England where he was living then. He was gaunt, slim, did not bowl and stood at mid on and encouraged us as we bowled. I was hoping he would bowl but he didn't. It was an easy game and we won and perhaps celebrated as we always did at the MLJ residence. His old captain ML Jaisimha was leading the MCC side that day so he was quite comfortable with us, a bunch of youngsters.
We knew of course, that he had been part of the 1971 Indian team that went to the West Indies and beat them, Sobers and all, a historic tour that also signaled the emergence of Sunil Gavaskar who scored over 700 runs. Govindraj was the only fast bowler in the squad but did not play a game - the team opted to open the new ball with Abid Ali and part time medium pacer Eknath Solkar. But he did play five side games on that tour and in one game, clean bowled Gary Sobers, a memory he cherishes. He also went to the historic tour of England when India beat England 1-0 but once again didn't get to make his debut despite playing many side games. But there's something to be said of being part of those two historic tours - he probably was a lucky charm. He was part of a fantastic squad from Hyderabad of which 7 were in the Test squad - Pataudi, Jaisimha, Abbas Ali Baig, Jayantilal, Abid Ali, Krishnamurthy, Govind Raj - if I got my facts right.
|The 1971 team with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi |
- inset with Gary Sobers and Dennis Lillee (pics - Govindraj)
I met Govindraj again last year when good friend Jagannath Das wanted to interview him for his paper and took me along. We met Govindraj at his cricket coaching camp at Amberpet, filled with a lively and enthusiastic bunch of kids, and he was fully involved in the process. He looked like he was enjoying his life on his terms and spoke candidly about his life and cricket. In one moment that he took the ball and loaded his arm to show the basics of bowling, I instantly knew how devastating his outswinger would have been, his control would have been, with that loading and action. Ah, I'd have loved to see him in full flow. It was fascinating to chat with him and to see his passion about encouraging local talent in the area.
This year, when the MLJ Foundation was launched in March 2021, I decided to get going on my long-pending project on finding more information about MCC and its earlier days. I decided to speak to those who played for MCC in the 60s. Arvind Rao, Govindraj and Santosh Reddy. I messaged Govindraj and asked him if I could interview him on the phone. He was fine with the idea and we finally caught up over phone the other day.
Govindraj recalled that he played for MCC in 62-63 as a fourteen year old who was in awe of ML Jaisimha. 'I would go to watch Jaisimha play all his games, at Osmania, Nizam College etc,' he said. 'I was a huge fan.' When I found that a friend of my uncle's, one Mr Samuel knew the Jaisimhas, I pestered him to take me so I could meet him. We went in Samuel's Fiat car to Marredpally. I remember seeing Jai's Buick parked in the yard. And meeting Jai, I was awestruck, so much so that I took a stone and scratched Jai's number on Samuel's Fiat car. Samuel did not much appreciate that!'
|Schools pics - Can see Manohar Sharma, Man Singh, Habib Khan, Sultan Saleem (I think), |
He was a schoolboy then, studying at Keshav Memorial, primarily a batsman who bowled a bit of off spin . Once Jai saw him bat at Gymkhana grounds and asked him to play for MCC and that began a long relationship - one in which Jai saw serious potential in Govindraj and backed him to the hilt. Also a school boy cricketer, Govindraj scored a hundred against Jai's team, Secunderabad XI, in the Zonals or what was called the local Moin Ud Dowla tournament then.
|14 year old Govindraj scoring a hundred against Secunderabad XI |
'I initially played for SUCC in the A division league and without knowing the rules played for Gagan Mahal CC the same year and was suspended because we cannot play for two teams in the same year,' he said. 'Then I played for MCC as a fourteen year old and we won the league championship and beat top teams. That year I played Hyderabad Schools, South Zone schools, Under 25 and scored runs and took wickets. In 1964, when I was 16, I made my Ranji Trophy debut for Hyderabad against Madras at the Railway ground. Jai was my captain.'
|With West Indian wicket keeper Gerry Alexander|
'Jai was a beautiful batsman,' he reminisced. 'His square cut was a delight to watch and he was aggressive, playing lofted shots once he settled in. I remember him and Budhi Kunderan getting 99 before lunch against England at the Madras Test. I went to watch that match - and stayed at Telugu movie villain Prabhakara Reddy's house. I was so happy to be there.'
The MCC team of those days comprised of Jai, Govindraj, Lakshman (leg spinner), Bobjee, Arvind Rao, Santosh Reddy, Muddaiah (who also played a couple of tests). Visiting Test cricketers like Hanumanth Singh, Balu Gupte, who would come for training with the SBI Training Centre, played a few games for MCC as did Prasanna. And Pataudi of course. 'When Pataudi threw the ball, Jai would ask two fielders to back the wicket keeper, that's how fast the throw would come.'
'It was a 40 over league,' said Govindraj. 'If we won outright i.e get a good score and then bowl them out twice we got 10 points, else 5. We won many outright games and topped the table.'
'I used to swing the ball a lot,' said Govindraj. ' And I'd bowl off a crooked run up. From off spin to fast bowling I transitioned mainly because of Roy Gilchrist, the West Indian fast bowler who was the South Zone coach. He asked me what I do best and I said I bat and bowl. He told me to bat and took his full run up which was scary. But even after he released the ball slowly, it went past before I could bring my bat down. Don't lift it so high he would say. Then he saw me bowl and encouraged me to bowl fast.'
A couple of years later Ken Barrington, who came to coach at Fateh Maidan saw Govindraj at the nets and predicted that he would play for India in two years. He did.
'I had no coaching,' said Govindraj. 'Fully self-taught. I started with 10-12 steps then 14 and finally at 16 steps run up I found my rhythm. I don't know how, but I used to swing the ball a lot and get all my wickets caught in slips or bowled. Against a Sri Lankan team, their first eleven, I got 11 wickets, six in the first and five in the second with scalps like Tennekoon, Mendis - they were getting bowled round their legs, so much was the ball swinging.'
Govindraj was picked for the Indian camp of 30 probables before the 1967 tour of Australia and though he appeared to be a certainty, he was dropped and Umesh Kulkarni and Ramakanth Desai were picked. That was the same tour that Jai was picked for after being dropped initially and called as a replacement and he scored a hundred after he landed in Australia.
'I remember bowling to Jai at the SBI nets from 2-6 pm everyday before he left for that tour,' he said. 'I also remember that I would get the best of batsmen bowled at nets - Umrigar, Manjrekar - but I could never get Jai bowled ever.'
Govindraj remembers Jai as someone who was very serious about cricket. 'He was very punctual and would practice morning and evening. All discussions would be centred around cricket - win or lose. We would discuss strategy, technique, and would conduct post mortems of each game. It was a lovely time.'
Jaisimha, Pataudi and Abbas Ali Baig were the poster boys, stylish, good looking, cultured. Pataudi was Oxford and Abbas from Cambridge. 'People would flock to watch them when they stepped out to field,' said Govindrjj. 'It was a sight. Upturned collar, scarf around his neck, that walk of his.'
Govindraj played continuously for about ten years for Hyderabad and South Zone from 1964. In 1971 he was picked for the West Indies tour and did not get a game. He went to England in 1971 and then his shoulder injury ended his career pretty much. In 1979 he left for England and settled down there. Interestingly he chose to drive buses, and loved the job. 'I never enjoyed any job more than driving the bus.'
Such joy, such comfort in his own choices and beliefs, such dignity in what life offers - a lovely insight into his personality. Do what your heart tells you to do and enjoy it without worrying about the rest of the world. Beautiful.
A Cricketing Family
I knew that his family was one where there were many cricketers. I had heard stories of his younger brother Inder Raj who people say was one of the most exciting batsman ever with an array of strokes that he played fearlessly, hooking fast bowlers off his nose. He played for Indian school boys and made two appearances in first class cricket - one for Hyderabad and one for Tamil Nadu. Three other brothers played for Hyderabad schools. I asked Govindraj how this came about.
'My father Devendraraj was very interested in cricket,' said he. 'He had a league cricket team called the Deccan Recreation Club which he started in 1936. He was an Accounts Officer at the AG's office and rose to the rank of Assistant Accountant General by the time he retired. He would wake up and go to the temple every day at 5 am and wake us up at 6 am to go for our cricket practice. He would put a Hanuman bottu for all of us every day. We would cycle to Fateh Maidan and when it rained we would go to Gymkhana. Of course we would play a lot at home, with a water drum as our wicket.'
|The Deccan Recreation Club - 1936 owned by Govindraj's father Devendraraj, a cricket enthusiast|
Five brothers from that family played state level cricket which is a rarity. Govindraj was the second brother (the first was Rajenderraj who did not play much cricket), then a sister and then he, followed by Inder Raj, Chander Raj, Narender Raj and Gour Mohan Raj. The last three played Hyderabad schools.
|Sitting - Inderraj, Govindraj, their mother, Rajendraraj|
Standing - Chandramohanraj, Chanderaj and Narenderraj
'But Inder was incredibly talented,' said Govind Raj. 'He was a left hander in the Sehwag mould, only more exciting. He would challenge me when I was at my peak that he would thrash me and I remember a game in Nizam College when he hit me for four or five boundaries in an over. We couldn't stop him and when my skipper wanted to take me off I asked him for one more over - I wanted to hit him. I hit him on the head and he got a bad injury which needed 6 stitches. He was 76 not out then, came back with his stitches and got his hundred. Sadly he wasted his talent.'
|SMG at Govindraj's home in England - with wife and son |
'Father was a huge cricket enthusiast,' said Govind. 'He would call me in England after he retired, almost every twenty minutes to update me on the games. He would tell me of Gavaskar's exploits and I would tell him - if he passes 20, he will get a hundred.'
Govind fondly remembered young Sunny on his first tour to the West Indies and how he suffered an infected nail. 'He was in agony,' said Govindraj. 'I had the same problem just before, so I advised him to treat it with lime. It worked. He missed the first Test though because of that nail.'
It was lovely talking to him of the times gone by. I asked him about any colourful stories he heard of and he laughed and said there were many but they were best kept secret. There was so much more to ask and share and I told him I would call again to pick some more stories. I told him about Gavaskar's speech at the Foundation's Memorial lecture and he asked me for the link and for Arvind Rao's number. I sent him both. He promised to send me some pics and did. I propose to catch up with him again and fill in some more details.
Lovely talking to you Govindraj Saab. Catch you soon.