As I opened Friday’s edition of the Hindustan Times sports page, the news related to the death of Dicky Rutnagar, my childhood hero, left me shaken. He died at the age of 82 in London on June 20, 2013. My memories of 1974 came back to me after reading the news of his demise. That year, Ajit Wadekar was leading the Indian cricket team and was touring England for three Test series. Those were the times as far as cricket is concerned. Till then, nobody had heard about either limited-over cricket games or Twenty-20 matches. I was barely nine-years-old and was following cricket all the time. The first Test match was scheduled to begin on June 6, 1974. I was ready for that. My radio was ready well before 3.30 pm, when the commentary was to begin, I switched on my radio.
AIR announced, “Now, we will take you to the Old Trafford in Manchester for commentary of the first Test… Your commentators will be Dicky Rautnagar in English and Jasdev Singh in Hindi, who later became a great friend. There was a pause. And then came Dicky Rutnagar with his well-known and well-established husky voice. After introducing himself briefly, he began his commentary in full flow. He was describing the game with authority and in a language which even a Hindi medium type (HMT) could easily understand.
It is possible that the present generation of cricket buffs would not have heard his commentary or even read him. It is understandable, as we are living in an age where former players are becoming commentators and listeners have no option but to listen to their appalling quality of commentary. No offences to the likes of Kapil Dev, Madan Lal and Ashok Malhotra.
It goes without saying that my first tryst with Dicky made me his eternal fan. Along with Tony Cozier, I placed him in the august company of cricket greats who were responsible for making the game popular. He was a Parsi, who had migrated to England in 1960s, and perhaps, was a class apart. He had a perfect understanding of the game, the weather condition and the pitch, in fact, he surpassed his well established peers. Noted Hindi cricket writer, Padampati Sharma rightly said Dicky was the ‘encyclopedia of cricket’.
Later, I became a humble journalist, however, my interest for cricket had begun to take a back seat, but I kept on listening to his commentary with a great interest. I also read his reports in The Hindu as well as in ‘Sports Star’. It was always a learning experience. While working for a national daily, I got a chance to cover the first day of India-West Indies Test match at Kotla Grounds in New Delhi. I thank my senior colleague DP Singh for the chance that he had given me at that time. It was perhaps 1989. I had never thought of Dicky, when I entered the Press box.
As I was beginning to settle there, I found two very familiar faces indulged in a very animated discussion with Mohinder Amarnath. Lo and behold! they were Dicky and Tony Cozier. I was speechless and simultaneously elated that my two heroes were right in front of me. It was more than a dream coming true for me. More than the match, I was looking at them. At lunch, after mustering enough courage, I introduced myself both of them were very gracious enough to talk to me and even asked me to have lunch with them. What more can one asks for?
Dicky Rutnagur had seen the ups and downs of Indian and world cricket for decades together during which he had covered more than 300 Test matches. And his unbiased astuteness remains underlined by the above observation. Rutnagur was known for the riches of cricketing anecdotes. For decades, he churned out columns for The Daily Telegraph. But, often enough, he could be spotted in Bombay, now Mumbai, with old cricketing buddies like Madhav Apte, Nari Contractor or Bapu Nadkarni, regaling one and all with tales of near and far cricket fields, all the while smoking away like a chimney and cracking delightful jokes.
Last but not the least, Rutnagar was lucky enough to cover two great knocks of cricket. He was there when Sir Garry Sobers clobbered Malcolm Nash for six sixes in an over at Swansea in 1968. Again, he was there in 1985 when Ravi Shastri repeated the feat at the Wankhede Stadium, dispatching Tilak Raj six times over the ropes.
Rutnagar will be greatly missed by his fans.RIP.