"I still have a lot of regret about moving to Jamshedpur from Delhi. I could have played for India had I stayed." © Hari Gidwani

“I still have a lot of regret about moving to Jamshedpur from Delhi. I could have played for India had I stayed.” © Hari Gidwani

“He was a silken timer of the ball with a prodigious range of shots. Yet he sadly lacked self-belief,” wrote Ramachandra Guha in his 2001 book, An Anthropologist Among the Marxists and other Essays. Guha was talking about Hari Gidwani.

It’s easy to imagine the former Ranji Trophy stalwart being a delightful sight at the crease (he still effuses plenty of class), but there are no signs of the lack of self-belief Guha was referring to. Sitting under a Gulmohar tree, sipping on lukewarm masala chai and watching Delhi play Karnataka in a Ranji Trophy game in Bangalore, the 64-year-old Delhi selector looks at ease.

With a sleeveless sweater on, Gidwani seems the perfect candidate for a throwback-commercial as he blends into the quaint setting, but when he is reminded of his cricketing days, a certain pain surfaces. He slips between nostalgia and regret, as if still recovering from a bitter end to a memorable relationship.

Gidwani started his first-class career in 1972 with Delhi and enjoyed a successful run before shifting base to Jamshedpur on work in 1978. He went on to represent Bihar thereafter and continued to stack up runs. He ended his 20-year first-class career with 6805 runs from 119 matches at an average of 42.53, including 15 centuries and 32 half-centuries. Yet, despite five consecutive Ranji hundreds, his is a career of what might have been.

Memories of Ranji Trophy debut:

I made my debut for Delhi during the 1972-73 season, I was 20. That was against Jammu and Kashmir in Srinagar. First of all, that game was played on a matting wicket. I got some 30-odd runs and I felt like it was a good knock because I managed to play all my shots properly. I remember after I got out, Bishan Singh Bedi, the captain, saw my anxiety and said “Don’t worry son, you’re going to play the next match also.” The next match I played against Services at the (Feroz Shah) Kotla and I got a hundred there.

My first impression of Virat Kohli, when he won the (Under-19) World Cup in 2008, was that there was something in him. We (Delhi) needed more energy and Kohli was the right man for the job (captaincy) that was in the hands of Aakash Chopra. I pursued that argument and Chetan Chauhan (the chief selector) agreed with me. “Isko captaincy do, kuch kar dhikayega (make him captain, he will make things happen),” I told Chetan, and he saw some sense to my logic. Midway through that season, Kohli was made captain.

In 1971-72, I joined Hindu College and we were playing the final against St Stephens. Ram Prakash Mehra, the then president of DDCA (Delhi and District Cricket Association), and Bishan were both at the ground watching the match. I got 57, but they were impressed with the way I batted. Bishan, who was the captain of the side, said “Son, come to the Kotla grounds”. I landed at the ground and they put me in the squad.

My older brother was a cricketer. He played for the college, and he played with Ashok Gandotra (former Indian cricketer). My brother saw a bit of talent in me and encouraged me. He was the only one who was fond of cricket in my family. The family was hardly bothered about where I was going and what I was doing. My father had passed away when I was 11, so my mother handled everything. She was an old-time woman and she wasn’t aware of what was happening. Times were very different back then.

Turning point of his career:

In 1974-75, Clive Lloyd’s team had come to India. I got selected for Combined Universities to play against them in Indore. Aunshuman Gaekwad got a hundred in that game and I made some 40-odd in each innings. The next year, there was another Combined Universities game against Sri Lanka in Bangalore. Brijesh (Patel) suddenly came and took admission to a Law course, he wanted to play this game that badly! He captained the side. I got an exact hundred in that game. Anshuman scored some 80-odd. Dilip Vengsarkar got out early in the first innings, but scored a hundred in the second innings.

I feel like the selectors should have picked me directly (to the Indian team) after that performance. Instead, they put me on trial again. They selected me for the Rest of India squad for the Irani Cup to play Bombay. But in the case of Vengsarkar and Aunshuman, they pushed them right into the Indian team. I failed in that Irani game. That put the brakes on my career. After that particular innings, I was very consistent throughout the season. In 1978, I moved to Jamshedpur with Tatas, they gave me a fabulous job as a management trainee. Bishan kept telling me not to go because I would get good chances with Delhi and improve my chances of playing at a higher level. But a good job was also essential. Cricket was a not a profession then. When I played for Rest of India, I only got Rs 100.

On whether staying in Delhi would have helped:

Maybe. Maybe a little regret is there even now because cricket is my first passion. The job was okay, but I wanted a job also because I can’t sit idle. That little regret I have at having moved to Jamshedpur… If only the selectors had been a little more caring…. I think because I was from East Zone, they didn’t recognise the runs I scored.

"One such ball I faced off Malcolm Marshall was a bouncer that was so fast that it hit the flap of my cap and the cap did a 360 while still on my head." © Hari Gidwani

“One such ball I faced off Malcolm Marshall was a bouncer that was so fast that it hit the flap of my cap and the cap did a 360 while still on my head.” © Hari Gidwani

Most cherished moment of his career:

In 1978, I played for East Zone against West Indies in Jamshedpur. Alvin Kallicharan’s team came though many of their players were playing the Kerry Packer series. I got 62 facing Malcolm Marshall without a helmet. This is the place I got hit on 48 facing Marshall (shows his severely bent index finger on the right hand). I had a split-finger. I went and got it stitched and came and batted again. Marshall’s bowling was fire. He was very quick. He’s the fastest I have played although I have faced quite a few fast bowlers… Michael Holding, (Vanburn) Holder, Andy Roberts, Eldin Baptist, Bernard Julian… but Marshall in that game was something else.

Also, the five consecutive hundreds in my Ranji Trophy career, equalling records held by Nari Contractor and (Syed) Mushtaq Ali, was memorable.

Most cherished Ranji Memory of his career:

Delhi against Karnataka at the Feroz Shah Kotla when BS Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna were playing. Though I scored only 57, I was happy because playing those world-class spinners was a real challenge. Also, there was that 229 I scored against Karnataka in Jamshedpur in 1991. Roger (Binny) was leading the side and they had a fairly decent attack, (Anil) Kumble, (Javagal) Srinath, Raghuram Bhat…

Toughest conditions he has played in:

It’s the same Marshall game. It was a very fast and bouncy pitch. One such ball I faced off Marshall was a bouncer that was so fast that it hit the flap of my cap and the cap did a 360 while still on my head.

Toughest opponents he has faced in Ranji Trophy:

It’s always either Bombay and Karnataka. I think it’s because both of these teams have a culture of cricket and they really value their wicket. Delhi used to have a good culture of cricket. Not anymore. We were very dominant at one point. Six of our players were in the Indian team.

Life after retirement:

I retired in 1991-92 and my last match was against Maharashtra in Pune. I was bowled for 99 by Prasad Kanade. The year before, I told my team that I wanted to retire. Rusi Modi, the chairman of the company, was told of my decision. He called and fired me, saying: “Who the hell asked you to retire? You have to take my permission before retiring”. You see, cricket was practically run by the Tatas in Bihar. He said: “How do I find a captain so suddenly? You go and play for another year.” I was around 37-38 but I felt nice and that motivated me to play for another year.

"When I was made a selector in 1997, I watched four boys — Mithun Manhas, Aakash Chopra, Ashish Nehra and Virender Sehwag — in the nets, and I had decided that I was going to push for these players." © Hari Gidwani

“When I was made a selector in 1997, I watched four boys — Mithun Manhas, Aakash Chopra, Ashish Nehra and Virender Sehwag — in the nets, and I had decided that I was going to push for these players.” © Hari Gidwani

Also, I took over the running of the family sweet shop (Chaina Ram) in Delhi after. We had a store in Anarkali in Lahore, and during partition, my parents came to Haridwar. We came here with nothing but the clothes on our back. My father then moved us to Dharamsala and he went back to Lahore despite the risk and managed to return with some money. We set up a shop in New Delhi, and after my mother’s passing on November 3, 1993, I took over the shop. I was forced to then move from Jamshedpur to Delhi.

On-field fracas with Salim Ahmed:

Oh, that was just a bad advertisement for the game. Basically, what happened was that he was told by some of his Haryana teammates that I couldn’t handle constant chatter from behind the stumps. It was the quarterfinal match in Faridabad in 1987 and he kept on talking, more than most ’keepers. I scored 137 in that game, and as I was walking off after getting out, I showed him the finger. I was just tired of his constant chatter. He lost his cool and held me by my collar. The good thing was that Haryana cricket dropped him immediately. He never played for Haryana again.

On his selectorial stints with Delhi:

When I was made a selector in 1997, I watched four boys — Mithun Manhas, Aakash Chopra, Ashish Nehra and Virender Sehwag — in the nets, and I had decided that I was going to push for these players. It was a fiery selection meeting and people didn’t see my logic but Sunil Dev, who was the then sports secretary, understood my reasoning and supported me. My only argument was that they were young and we needed fresh players to replace a lot of the older players in the team.

My first impression of Virat Kohli, when he won the (Under-19) World Cup in 2008, was that there was something in him. We (Delhi) needed more energy and Kohli was the right man for the job (captaincy) that was in the hands of Aakash Chopra. I pursued that argument and Chetan Chauhan (the chief selector) agreed with me. “Isko captaincy do, kuch kar dhikayega (make him captain, he will make things happen),” I told Chetan, and he saw some sense to my logic. Midway through that season, Kohli was made captain.