Datta Gaekwad, India’s oldest Test cricketer who captained their 1959 tour of England – obituary

Datta Gaekward, India's Test captain, pictured in London in 1959
Datta Gaekward, India's Test captain, pictured in London in 1959 - Alamy

Datta Gaekwad, who has died aged 95, was a talented and stylish Indian cricketer who played for the state side Baroda from 1947 to 1961, captaining them to a rare Ranji Trophy title in 1958, a feat that led to his appointment as captain of India for the tour of England the following year; he was the oldest living Indian Test cricketer, a mantle that now passes to Chingleput Gopinath.

Although he was a popular figure on that 1959 trip, Gaekwad had the misfortune to be skippering a team in transition, and was hampered by having recently contracted typhoid, from which he had not properly recovered. India lost all five Tests and he was criticised in some quarters for a lack of dynamism.

Gaekwad scored 1,174 runs on the trip at an average of 34.52, but in common with most of his team-mates he failed to get the measure of England in the Tests, in which he finished with a highest score of 33 and an average of 16.

Though he was an experienced player, his exposure to international cricket had been limited to just six Test matches since his debut in 1952. After the 1959 series he was relieved of the captaincy and played just once more, in 1961, leaving him with 11 caps.

Datta Gaekwad at Osterley on India's 1952 tour of England
Datta Gaekwad at Osterley on India's 1952 tour of England - Dennis Oulds

Dattajirao Krishnarao Gaekwad was born on October 27 1928, in Baroda (now Vadodara). Distantly related to the Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda, he was summoned aged 11 to the lavish Lakshmi Vilas Palace in his home city to act as a live-in sporting companion for the maharaja’s young son, Prince Fatehsinghrao, his cricketing talent having been spotted at Maharani Chimnabai High School, where he was also a promising hockey player.

At the palace, where Gaekwad lived for the next dozen years, he came under the wing of the coach Cottari Nayudu, a Test player. Later he played for Bombay University before making his debut for Baroda in the Ranji Trophy in 1947.

Gaekwad was called up for the 1952 India tour to England, his first cap coming in the first Test, at Headingley, where he was asked to bat in an unfamiliar position as opener. He made nine runs in his two innings and was dropped for the remaining three Tests.

Recalled in a more familiar middle-order berth against Pakistan later that year, he scored 32, 21 and 20 not out in two Tests, then toured the West Indies in 1953, putting in a decent performance in the first Test, in Trinidad with 43 and 24 before a dislocated shoulder in the second Test in Barbados ended his trip.

After a gap of six years, Gaekwad’s exploits with Baroda prompted a reappearance for India against West Indies in Delhi in February 1959, a match in which he scored his first and only Test half-century (52). Encouraged, the selectors took a punt on him as captain for the summer series in England, despite his international inexperience.

The gamble did not pay off. India lost three of the five Tests by an innings, and the only respite for Gaekwad came when he missed the second Test through injury, a match that was also lost comprehensively.

The poor results provoked an inquest. Wisden concluded that Gaekwad lacked the “verve and personality” for the task, and that a “more active approach” might have produced a better outcome. At home there were suggestions that he had only been made captain because the Maharaja of Baroda was team manager.

Although Gaekwad’s Test career, with a meagre batting average of 18.42, was a disappointment, he continued to be one of the most consistent performers in domestic cricket, a beautiful driver of the ball, a brilliant fielder and an occasional bowler of medium-pace and leg breaks.

When Baroda won the 1958 Ranji Trophy, beating Services in the final, his 132 in the first innings was instrumental in delivering an innings victory. Over the years in that competition he scored 3,139 runs, with 14 centuries, his highest score of 249 not out coming against Maharashtra a few months after his England Test series debacle. When he retired in 1963 his first-class batting average was 36.40.

Datta Gaekwad’s marriage to Ushadevi produced three daughters, and a son, Anshuman, who went on to play for India.

Datta Gaekwad, born October 27 1928, died February 13 2024