When Sunil Gavaskar was given out leg before wicket to Dennis Lillee in Melbourne in 1981, he had had enough. Coming on the back of several dubious decisions, the Indian captain called for his opening partner to join him in a protest and walk off the arena.
The two had put on 165 and his teammate was left in an awkward position. Loyalty to his legendary skipper swayed him to support the protest, until the Indian manager intervened and told the batsman to stay in the middle.
With all of this going on, it was hardly surprising that he was dismissed soon after for 85.
That batsman was Chetan Chauhan who, at 73, has succumbed to COVID-19, which he contracted last month.
This controversy at the MCG was one of several close links to Australia during Chauhan’s life.
A cabinet minister in the Uttar Pradesh government, Chauhan played 40 Tests from 1969 to 1981. The Melbourne Test was one of his last, as he was surprisingly dropped from the national team soon after.
It was also an example of him getting close to a hundred – a milestone that he never reached in his Test career. Chauhan was the first to record 2000 Test match runs without a century and has the second-highest number of runs (behind Shane Warne) among Test cricketers who have not reached the three figures.
There were 16 times that he made a half-century but he could never convert.
Gavaskar blames himself for the situation at the MCG but also at Adelaide, when Chauhan made his highest Test score of 97 against Lillee, Len Pascoe and Rodney Hogg.
Gavaskar had developed a habit of not moving from inside the dressing room as a batsman approached his hundred. Yet, on this occasion, he was watching on television and came on to the balcony in anticipation of celebrating Chauhan’s first 100.
Having opened his shoulders uncharacteristically while hitting Lillee for four boundaries in a row, he was now caught behind off the great fast-bowler. Still, his contribution helped the visitors draw the Test and the series for the first time in Australia.
The opening pair was one of India’s most successful, recording ten century-stands together. Chauhan was Gavaskar’s longest serving opening partner and featured in a 213-run partnership at the Oval in 1979 as India fell just nine runs short of an unlikely target of 438.
Chauhan’s first visit to Australia was in the World Series Cricket era in 1977-78. He introduced himself with a 516-minute innings of 157 against Victoria, which featured just two boundaries. This obdurate style became well known in a tight series won 3-2 by the Australians. Chauhan’s 88 against a Jeff Thomson-led attack on a lively WACA pitch was well regarded.
Chauhan clearly had an affinity for Australia, as he returned in 1983 to spend three seasons as captain-coach of the Adelaide Cricket Club. He renewed acquaintances with Rodney Hogg there and had Gordon Greenidge playing under him. Chauhan was happy as he was well paid by the club and had a steady job at the ANZ Bank.
Tragedy struck in Adelaide in 2005 when his 19-year-old son, Karan, was killed in a road accident in the early hours of the morning while driving home from the university library. He had played cricket for Adelaide CC and was in the middle of a summer with Marion CC. Karna was studying science at Flinders University and was due to return to India for holidays.
When appointed as Indian team manager in 2007 in Australia, Chauhan declared, “I lost my son. He was a young kid and we loved him. But I will be going back. I will go to the place where he met with the accident and where he died, and I will go to the place where he was cremated. I went last year and I have made a promise that I will go every year.”
On his retirement, Chauhan stayed involved in cricket as a Delhi administrator and as a national selector who was on the panel when a 16-year-old Sachin Tendulkar was first selected.
He was a well-liked national team manager in the 2001 series against Australia. He is said to have played a key part by suggesting that VVS Laxman be promoted in the second innings of the famous Kolkata Test.
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Chauhan played an even larger role as manager on the 2007-08 tour to Australia. When Harbhajan Singh was initially banned for alleged racist remarks towards Andrew Symonds, the Indians threatened to go home in the ‘Monkeygate’ scandal. At the hearing into the affair, Chauhan’s political experience came to the fore as he helped to ease the tension. Producing photos of Indian prince and princesses adorned with monkey heads, he explained that to Indians these deities could not be insulted.
The family waited for his son, Vinayak, to arrive from Melbourne yesterday before the cremation with state honours of Chetan Chauhan. According to Gavaskar, he “was gutsy, calm, a wise senior who was always willing to go the extra mile to help anyone in the team”.
Rest in peace a cricketer whose life was so inextricably tied up with Australia.