I did not think that I would be writing an obituary to my friend and opening partner, Chetan Chauhan.
Covid-19 has thought him fit to swallow — but at least it should have considered his pedigree and class! I am at a loss for words to fling at the menace that is chewing up our world. Chetan was on ventilator support and his vital parameters had been sinking. The wisdom and expertise of the doctors attending to him appeared to be no match to the nefarious designs of the vicious virus.
I have been recalling Chetan the cricketer and what made him so special. Before I met him, I interacted with his father, a retired colonel, who was a regular at the Delhi University grounds. He would travel to Delhi from Muradabad and regale us with stories of his son. Chetan was then playing for Maharashtra. The father would lament that his son was a highly accomplished opening batsman, but the mandarins in the Board were not giving him a fair opportunity.
We used to respect the old man, and wonder why he was not hurt.
Then in 1974, if memory serves me right, Chetan moved to Delhi. There was a lot of speculation as to who would partner him? We had two established openers, Vinay Lamba and yours truly. Within a week of his arrival we had a match coming up at Mohan Meakins in Ghaziabad against (I think it was) the Railways. I was told to open with him. We went out to bat quietly — we were not introduced. On our way to the pitch I told him my name and said, “As you are senior, you take the first strike.” We put on 119 and the opening pair issue was settled then and there.
As the season progressed, three discernable factors differentiated Chetan from the rest of us. He was from the Mumbai school of batting. He was not an impressive batsman in the sense of being a stroke player. He was principled. Basically, a sound defence, sideways, and unflappable. He played a few shots that he was sure of: A push to mid-wicket, a dab to backward point, a fierce square cut and pushes on the off side.
While most of us were stroke players and often paid the price for our impetuousness, Chetan was circumspect. “Aise hi hone ka, khelna hai toh khelo” (“this is how it is, play on if you want to) was his favourite take on things when umpiring or other factors went against us.
Chetan was superbly fit and hardworking. I do not remember him ever leaving the ground even once in the decade that we played together. He used to say, “I have played under Chandu Borde, and he was a tough task master.”
Chetan also had a unique sense, the “business” as I call it, of scoring runs. He could manipulate the strike and knew when to defend and when to attack. The other batsman who had this trait in those days, and from whom we tried to imbibe this, was Sunny Gavaskar.
If Delhi and North Zone is a power house now, the credit for this in a large measure must go to Chetan as many of us learnt the finer points from him. Of course, our skipper, Bishan Bedi, needs to be saluted for enticing him to Delhi and reviving his seemingly defunct cricket career.
As a friend, I recall that we were both together when India was playing the Prudential World Cup final in June 1983. When we were all out, Chetan told me “Venks lag raha hai India jeet jayaega” (It looks like India will win). I asked why, to which he just said, “I can sense it!”
His smile and commonsensical approach defined him. His humility was touching. I have lost more than a partner, a mentor, an official who supported my efforts to put Kotla on the cricket map after it had been banned, a pal.
Rest in peace, Chetan, till we meet again.
Venkat Sundaram is former captain of Delhi and North Zone, ex-chairman of Grounds and Wickets Committee, BCCI, and ex-manager of the Indian cricket team.