ONDRIVE with Sham Samaroo
New York, November 11, 2020 — Fifty years ago on a blessed Sunday morning in Enmore, cricket’s El Duque, Raj Doobay, arrived to the world. And just like he did so often on the cricket field, the Duke made a grand entrance. Mom told me that he was born just past midnight. One of the real pleasures for me when I visit is the opportunity to sit and talk with his Mom. She recalled the night Raj was born and how very proud and happy she was. Last Saturday, Raj celebrated his fiftieth in style with a select gathering of intimate family and friends.
I first met Raj Doobay in the spring of 1998 on the cricket field in Cunningham Park. Where else? My goodness that was 22 years ago! It has always been my firm conviction that one of the real joys of the game is the opportunity to meet genuine people who become dear friends. Someone once said to me that you also meet your fair share of Judas in cricket too. But, that’s for another time.
Of course, you might be wondering how I remember so clearly my first meeting with Raj. Well, as you can guess, there is a bit of a story there, and surprise, surprise, it is cricket related too. It was the start of the 1998 season, and we (Belair) were playing a friendly against Untouchables. I was at the non-striker’s end and I saw this bowler (whom I later learned was Raj) getting into his delivery stride, and he was wearing a pair of Clarks boots – a pair of Clarks? Now don’t get me wrong. I love Clarks. That was the signature wear in GT back in the days. I am sure some of us can remember pulling on our gabardine pants and a pair of Clarks for that Saturday night lime. But not for cricket! And definitely not for fast bowling. The Clarks would become Raj’s signature footwear throughout his career.
So how did he get the nickname, El Duque (the Duke)? That also happened in 1998. Doobay would go on to win numerous championship rings, but for me, the ‘98 season was his coming of age. Doobay established himself as one of the finest bowlers during that golden era of CSA. A high quality seamer, Doobay bowled surprisingly quickly off a disarmingly gentle run-up. On his day, he could be the most destructive bowler, mesmerizing some of the best batsmen in the league. Bowling figures of 7 for 2 in a semifinal gives you some idea. Doobay had his greatest successes playing with Untouchables, and it is the Untouchables organization that has done him wrong, failing to give him the recognition and respect that he deserved. No surprises there, Doobay is just one of several players who brought fame and glory to Untouchables, but suffered that same faith. For that, the finger of blame can point to one man only – Eric Ferrier – notorious for falsifying players’ stats to benefit or discredit a player according to his whim and fancy.
In the late 90s, Untouchables was one of the most talented teams on paper, but had failed to win a single tournament to date. It was embarrassing to see such a talented group of players lose again and again each year. The 1998 season began the same with a loss to Belair in the quarterfinals of the 30 over competition. Despite their early exit, Doobay took home the tournament’s most coveted bowling award – Most Wickets. More disappointment was to follow in the 25 over competition with a loss to Assassins in the finals. But Doobay again distinguished himself with one of the most memorable performances in the tournament. He became the first bowler to grab a hat trick in Division 1: Against Better Hope, and bowling off a shortened run, Doobay clean-bowled the last three batsmen in consecutive deliveries.
In the final tournament of the 98 season, the Knockout competition, Untouchables finally got one defeating Allstars in the finals. Doobay took home the tournament’s most coveted bowling award, Most Wickets, his second for the season. This single elimination Knockout was considered the least prestigious tournament of the season, but for Untouchables that didn’t matter. It was their first win after years of disappointment and heartbreak. Once again, Doobay was the standout player. In the first round, he demolished Blazers with figures of 6 for 19. In the next round, Untouchables met Belair, the team that humbled them in the 30 over QF, and went on to win the Championship. Once again, Untouchables strong batting lineup came a cropper; all out 129, but Doobay saved the day. He broke the back of the Belair batting with figures of 3 for 6. His victims: 30-over centurion Chris Bisram; that gem Sunil Khellawan who had previously mauled them in that QF, and the dangerously explosive Johnny Prasad. In the semifinals, Untouchables met Ace Auto, the team that knocked out tournament favorites, Assassins, in the first round. Led by their incredibly talented opener Hemchand Hardeo, Ace was off to a flyer. A flowing cover drive off Singh was, for me, the shot of the tournament. So exquisite was the stroke that I remember it to this day some 22 years later. The momentum was certainly with Ace until Doobay “the Destroyer” struck once again. Grabbing 4 for 12, he sent Ace Auto crashing to 78 all out. Doobay’s unbelievable performances in the 1998 season earned him the nickname El Duque.
With his club in disarray after the 1999 season, Doobay along with others chose to leave Untouchables. In the 2000 season, Doobay continued his exploits, this time with PDC while Untouchables went winless. In the 25 Over QF, Doobay, with figures of 5 for 12, took home the tournament’s Best Bowling Analysis award. He had an off day in the semis and PDC fell to Assassins. It is a measure of Doobay’s immeasurable value to an attack that Assassins mauled PDC to the tune of 188 runs. In what should have been a walk in the park for Assassins, they got quite a scare. But then again, nothing is ever easy against the indomitable Sunil Dhautal. The rest of PDC folded like a pack of cards. But Dhautal found a most unlikely ally in, you guessed it, Raj Doobay, and the two almost pulled off a heist. Not known for his batting exploits, Doobay was second top score with a career best 28, probably his finest knock.
In 2001 Doobay returned to Untouchables. But this Untouchables squad was very different from the one that won their first tournament in 1998. Several star players from the Belair club were now wearing the Untouchables’ colours. Untouchables captured the Triple Crown that year, and manager Eric Ferrier said to me: The Belair guys taught us how to play as a team. In the 30 over, the league’s most prestigious competition, Doobay was virtually unplayable. He won every bowling award: Most Wickets in a Match (6 for 15); Most Wickets in the Tournament (10); Best Bowling Average (10 for 43); and the MVP in the finals. In the Mini World Cup, Doobay won the award for Most Wickets in a Match with figures of 4 for 9 in the preliminaries.
By 2003, Untouchables was the most dominant team in the league having won some 7 championship rings. About that time the face of jealousy within the organization, the very thing that had consigned them to years of failure, once again began raising its ugly head. And again, the finger of blame can point to one man only – Eric Ferrier. They suffered a crushing loss to Young Warriors in the 30 over finals, to be followed by another humiliation in the semifinals of the 25 over. But in the midst of all these failures, Doobay delivered the greatest bowling feat of the 2003 season, perhaps, of all times. Doobay did a Curtly Ambrose capturing 7 for 2 in a devastating spell against Unpredictable in the semifinals of the MWC. It was Doobay at his destructive best and a league record that may still be standing to this day.
Raj Doobay, like a few of his teammates, have never gotten the recognition from the Untouchables organization that they rightfully earned. But those players did their duty regardless. They continued to play and to perform selflessly because it was their duty to their team. As the Gita says, it is your dharma, your obligation, to give of your best selflessly and not for the sake of reward.
Raj, congratulations on your fiftieth, my dear brother, and here is hoping that you continue on to a glorious century. Thanks for the memories of those stellar, unforgettable performances, but most of all, thank you for being a true friend! God’s richest blessings to you and your lovely family!