Statistics can never capture the essence of cricketers like Chetan Chauhan, who passed away earlier this week due to health complications caused by COVID-19. As a regular opening batsman for India, he played 40 test matches averaging 31.57 runs and scored 16 half centuries. Chauhan and Sunil Gavaskar were a formidable opening pair for a considerable period. Together they scored 3,000 runs at an average of 53.75, in an era when fast bowling was perhaps at its very best.
The batsman’s finest hour was undoubtedly the 1981 tour of Australia, when India managed to draw the series, and Chauhan’s contributions were key to countering the fast bowling of Dennis Lillee and Lenny Pascoe. He scored a gutsy 97 in the second test at Adelaide to help secure a draw. He followed it up with an equally determined 85 in the next test in Melbourne, to set up some kind of a total for India. Kapil Dev then wreaked havoc with the ball, claiming 5-28, as Australia collapsed for 83 chasing 143.
Numerous are the occasions when Chauhan provided a solid start to the Indian innings. Not least among them was his 80 at the Oval in 1979. Gavaskar and he put on 213 for the first wicket against the legendary English bowling pair of Bob Willis and Ian Botham. With their heroic efforts, India almost chased down 438 runs in the fourth innings of the match. Gavaskar scored a memorable 221, but the game was eventually drawn with the Indian batting collapsing after he got out. Indian finished at 429/9, just 9 runs short of the target.
Despite these invaluable efforts, Chauhan may, unfortunately, end up being remembered for never scoring a century in test cricket. He did come close on multiple occasions, with five scores in the 80s and two in the 90s.
There is an endearing quality to Chauhan’s statistics. They highlight a reasonable consistency (roughly, he passed 50 once every four innings), while also highlighting his limitations. They signify Chauhan’s determination, while gently (and cruelly) reminding one that it takes so much more than stoicism to truly succeed.
A deeper examination will show that 13 of his 50s came when India drew or won a test match and India only lost nine of his 40 test matches, indicating that his runs were critical. Playing at a time when the Indian batting, save Gavaskar, was prone to imploding, Chauhan’s contributions seem even more important.
Supplying the tragic element to his consistency, these figures only serve to make Chauhan more endearing. In all those matches he helped save or win, he never took centre stage. His scores are emblematic of the ‘minor’ contribution which goes somewhat unnoticed, especially as the years pass. Not unlike a stagehand who tosses the crucial prop to the actor before the latter recites an iconic monologue, his efforts lend themselves more to forgetting than memory.