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Remembering the Baroda ruler who was India’s first cricketer-turned-MP

Remembering the Baroda ruler who was India’s first cricketer-turned-MP

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Published: 23 April 2019 8:12 AM GMT

The prestigious Vadodara seat in Gujarat, which votes in the third phase today, was once a stronghold of the royal Gaekwad family of erstwhile Baroda. Members of the royal family have contested ten times from this seat. Among them, the first was Fatehsinghrao Prataprao Gaekwad, the last titular king of Baroda, who also became the first Indian cricketer to be elected to Parliament when he won the Baroda seat on a Congress ticket in 1957.

Born to Pratap Singh Gaekwad, the last ruling Maharaja of Baroda and his first wife Maharani Shantadevi Sahib Gaekwad, Fatehsinghrao contested four Lok Sabha elections — in 1957, 1962, 1971 and 1977 — and won all of them.

Maharaja Fatehsinhrao Gaekwad of Baroda with Prime Minister Nehru who has been appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence in 1957

Fatehsinghrao held several public offices in his life — he was the Parliamentary Secretary of the Defense Ministry, Minister of Health, Fisheries and Jails, Chancellor of the Maharaja Sayajirao University in Baroda, and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the National Institute of Sports. But in cricketing circles, he is remembered as ‘Jackie Baroda’ — a sobriquet he had earned in England — who represented Baroda in the Ranji Trophy between 1946 and 1958.

Fatehsinghrao played 28 first-class matches between 1943 to 1965 and scored 831 runs,with five half-centuries, at an average of 21.30. He never scored a century — his career-best score of 99 came against Hyderabad in his first season of Raji Trophy cricket. On that occasion, he hadtop-scored with 99 as Baroda finished their first innings at 337, then Vijay Hazare picked up 7 for 42 to make Hyderabad follow on. Baroda went on to register a comfortable victory in the end, with Fatehsinghrao unbeaten on 26 in the second innings.

Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad going to bat for Ranji Trophy at Polo Ground - 1942/43

Deepak Shodhan, who played three Tests for India in 1952-53and was a part of the Baroda team that won the Ranji Trophy in 1957-58, in an interview to Espncricinfoin 2016, had said: “Winning the Ranji Trophy in 1957-58 was the highlight of my later career. I had moved in 1956 from playing for Gujarat to Baroda. We beat the Services in the final that year. DK was captain, but the man who called all the shots was the Maharaja, Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad, in terms of team selection and batting order.”

In his last first-class match in 1965,against Ceylon at Moti Bagh Stadium inBaroda, Fatehsinghraowas dismissed for a duck. But ‘Jackie Baroda’ went on to enjoy a successful post-retirement life as a public figure and also as a cricket administrator.

In fact, even before his retirement, Fatehsinghrao went on to become the youngest BCCI president in 1963. He was only 33 then. He also served as the manager of the Baroda Cricket Association from1960 and was the manager of the Indian cricket team on their tour to England in 1959 and tours to Pakistan in 1978-79 and 1982-83.He was also a cricket commentator on radio and was made an honorary Life Member of the MCC.

Fatehsinghrao passed away in Mumbai in 1988, after which his younger brother Ranjitsinhrao Gaekwad succeeded him as the titular king of Baroda. Ranjitsinhrao had also contested polls four times, winning twice and losing the next two times.

In 2014, Narendra Modi had contested from Vadodara and won the seat. But he vacated the seat and chose to retain Varanasi — the other constituency he had contested from and won. Ranjanbhen Bhatt of BJP, who went on to win the bypoll after Modi vacated the seat, is in the running again, with Congress’s Prashant Patel being one of his key contenders this time.
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