HomeArticlesOver to you – A Privileged Moment by Devraj Puri
Over to you – A Privileged Moment by Devraj Puri
Devraj Puri was one of the leading fast bowlers in the country in the late forties. He was a contemporary of Mohamed Nissar, the world-class fast bowler. Devraj Puri was said to be as quick as Muhammad Nissar. He played for India in the unofficial Test against Ryder’s Australian team in 1935-36. He was also an excellent ball hitter. Devraj Puri has been attending Test matches since 1950. A very entertaining and racy commentator.
The late Nawab Iftikhar Ali Khan of Pataudi was requested by All India Radio to do a running commentary on the first Test match against the West Indies. This was done at the Ferozeshah Kotla in New Delhi. Iftikhar Ali Khan of Pataudi politely declined but suggested my name instead. All India Radio approached me and I agreed. On second thought I felt I had made a significant mistake as I had never broadcast before, much less indulged in public speaking.
Unfortunately, it was too late to withdraw and I decided to continue with the ordeal. It was a great relief to know Berry Sarbadhikary would be the senior partner. Berry Sarbadhikary as I know, was experienced enough to nurse me in commentaries as he had done in the thirties in cricket. If ever I was nervous, it was on this first day of the Test match.
Berry Sarbadhikary started off and listening to him I felt there was nothing to it. He spoke so easily and fluently that it gave me courage. During his first spell which lasted about half an hour, he looked at me twice indicating that I should take over. However, each time I requested that he carry on! At last, without referring to me, he handed the microphone over to me.
If ever my tongue was unable to speak, it was at that moment. I struggled to get a few words out of my mouth but failed miserably. Eventually, I talked like in a dream. I talked on and on and when I felt I had talked for twenty minutes I handed the mike back to Berry. I was really pitiful. During mid-winter, I was profusely wet.
When I looked at my watch after the first spell was over I found that instead of twenty minutes I had been on the air for exactly three minutes! With careful nursing by Berry, I did better with each spell. There was a stage when Hemu Adhikari played so well that I kept playing and handed Berry over forty minutes later. For a moment I thought that Berry would be furious with me for talking that long but when 1 looked at him apologetically, he gave me a broad smile and a reassuring look. It was the look of a teacher when a pupil did well.
I can never forget the match against Richie Benaud’s side in Kanpur. There is no doubt that Jasu Patel did most of the damage in the first innings. But I felt all along and still feel that Polly Umrigar’s performance was really impressive. What a wonderful cricketer he was and what an excellent leader as well. But he never got the recognition he really deserved.
I am not trying to minimize Jasu Patel performance. It was wonderful and rightly recognized and rewarded. Can one imagine famous batsmen like Harvey and O’Neill looking like beginners? What a sight Neil Harvey was when Jasu Patel bowled to him. Two off-breaks (leg breaks to the left-hander) and then a straight one and Harvey walked back to the pavilion clean bowled. I was in the air when we won the match.
That was when the last Australian wicket fell. I was so excited that 1 literally jumped up from the chair, jabbering away at top speed. I then suddenly realized that I was supposed to do a commentary but there was no microphone in front of me as it was lying on the table. I eventually sat down and it was my privilege to tell the world that we had beaten the “world beaters.”
There have been many amusing incidents but it is rather difficult to pick and choose the most hilarious one. The inevitable dog is always seen on the field. It is not accidental that it appears on the field. A spectator introduces it, however. Then there are various ways crowds behave in different Test centers. To my mind, the following is the most amusing incident from cricket’s point of view.
Some years ago, I commented during a Test match in Bombay. One of my colleagues was on the air when India batted. One of the batsmen played forward to a long-length ball but missed it completely. The ball traveled harmlessly about a foot above the stumps and into the wicket-keeper’s gloves. My colleague immediately remarked on what a wonderful ball it was. Had it hit the pads of the batsman he would definitely have been out LBW.
Normally I do not like to interrupt but on this occasion, I couldn’t help it. I told him that he would have been out LBW if hit on the pads. And as the ball did not hit either the bat or the pads he should have been bowled. This, I am afraid, my esteemed colleague could not comprehend. Since I could not hold an argument at the cost of the game, I gave up after three or four minutes. My colleague felt he was right and what I was talking about concerned Gilli-Danda.
In the end, I would like to offer a suggestion concerning commentaries. I base it on the handicaps I have experienced and the difficulties I have gone through. Let’s have three commentators for the series, it does matter who they are. If this is not possible, give at least three consecutive Test matches to each commentator out of a series of five. In addition, give two out of a series of three.
During a 1 for 1 match, we had significant difficulty identifying visiting players on the field but also our own boys as well. It took me nearly two days to do this and by the time I got into my stride, the Test is over.
The next one may be a month or more later. With the changes in the teams, the same difficulty arises although not of such magnitude as the first. The next opportunity comes my way is after a year or more. Please do not think I am pleading for myself. It does not matter to me who is selected but I feel certain that whoever he is he will find the commentaries far easier.
I offered this suggestion in writing to the authorities in 1955 when asked about my views on commentaries. Another point is that there should be regular commentaries on Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, and other first-class matches. At present, Test matches are more important than national championships.
This results in a match involving the cream of Indian cricket not attracting enough spectators to meet even the match expenses. Test cricket’s popularity today is largely due to commentaries. There is no reason why we cannot make our prestigious matches as popular as Tests Match.