Darshak Mehta is a man of many parts

Kersi - Darshak Mehta 1AA









Darshak Mehta with Steve Waugh

By Kersi Meher-Homji

Darshak Mehta is one of the most well-known and well-liked Indians in Australia. His name pops up when you mention cricket or charity down under.

He served as Chairman of The LBW (Learning for a Better World) Trust which he co-founded in 2006 with journalists Peter Roebuck and Mike Coward and solicitor Peter Strain. He is currently its President.

He is also a Patron of the education charity,  Pratham Australia. Pratham (in India) is the largest children’s education charity, helping millions of Indian children realise their potential.

He has also been on the Advisory Panel of the Sydney Big Bash League (T20) team  Sydney Thunder  since 2013.

From a very young age, Darshak has been actively involved in public life. He was the President of the Bombay Industries Association at 27 (youngest ever). He was also the youngest member of the Managing Committee of the venerable Indian Merchants Chamber, when 26. So, heading an NGO 25 years later, albeit in another country, did not faze him in the slightest.

The LBW Trust  is a very worthwhile charity which tertiary-educates over 1500 students in eight developing countries including India,  Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, South Africa, Uganda, Afghanistan and Jamaica. In India alone, the Trust assists with the tertiary or vocational education of over a thousand students.

Kersi - Darshak Mehta 3 with Barry O'Farrell











Darshak with ex  Premier Barry O’Farrell

The Patrons include some of the most prominent and respected names in Australia such as the Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, former GG Sir William Deane, former Defence Minister Hon. John Faulkner, former Reserve Bank Governor Ian Macfarlane and cricket legends Rahul Dravid, Greg Chappell, Adam Gilchrist, Kumar Sangakkara, Michael Holding, amongst others.

Many Australians and Indo-Aussies know about Darshak of the LBW Trust fame but few know about Darshak,  the leg-spinner.

I first saw him bowl in 1989-90.  It was the final of the Indira Gandhi Cricket Tournament in a suburban ground in Sydney. And I was fascinated by his leg-spinners and googlies. He could turn almost as much as Shane Warne (who was then a newcomer) without sacrificing his accuracy.

The mystery is why he did not play first-class cricket when he was a college student at Sydenham College in Bombay University from 1974-78. He always brushes me aside modestly when I describe him as a possible Test-class leggie in his youth.

“Don’t pull my leg, Kersibhai”, he would retort with an embarrassed smile.

It was a pleasure interviewing Darshak, born in Surat, and an old friend.

At which level did you play in Bombay?

“’A’ division Kanga League (equivalent to First Grade Sydney) for the  Cricket Club of India  (CCI) where the venerable bowlers graveyard, the Brabourne Stadium, was my home-ground! Other clubs I played for included  United Cricketers, Sassanian CC, Matunga Gymkhana  and even  Dadar Union  ”“ the champion club of my time.”

The highlights and low lights of Inter-collegiate?

“Sydenham College played Podar College in the 1976 inter-collegiate semi-finals and I dropped a hot caught & bowled chance from Dilip Vengsarkar on 72. Vengsarkar went on to make over 240, was picked within days to play Irani Trophy for Bombay against Rest of India, played a blinder again (110, this time against Bedi and Prasanna!) and shortly thereafter, picked to play for India. So, I reckon Dilip owes me plenty!”

Were you close to Ranji Trophy selection?

“Suru Nayak was already playing for Bombay as an all-rounder (leg-spinner cum opening bowler, batsman and brilliant fielder), so I had no chance. Suru even played two Tests for India against England at Manchester and The Oval in 1982.”

I know Bombay then had six to seven Test cricketers so it was almost impossible to get in. Did you try other States like Gujarat, Saurashtra”¦?

“My coach Vasoo Paranjape’s philosophy was that if you are good enough, you should be good enough to force your way into a strong team and there is no point in playing for weak teams. So, I did not even try – though I could easily have qualified to play for Gujarat, being born in Surat.”

Or you were concentrating on studies and job opportunity?

“Luckily, having chosen my parents well, studies or work always came second to cricket, all my life!”

Your best performances in cricket in India.

“My most memorable performance was in the inter-collegiate quarter-final, in the very first match played at the Wankhede Stadium in 1975. I took 5 for 27 for Sydenham College. I have had ”˜5-fers’ in England and Australia as well, on a few occasions.”

Were you also a good batsman?

“A ”˜high’ hitting ”“ if not, a hard hitting batsman! I batted at no. 8 or 9 in a strong CCI batting line-up which consisted of nine first-class or Test cricketers!

When did you get married?
“In 1984 to Alpana. We  have two daughters Sannidhi 28 and Sohini 21 year old, both living in London”.

Kersi - Darshak Mehta and wife Alpana









Darshak with wife Alpana

Did your daughters show promise in cricket?

“Both girls played cricket in Sydney during school but I was the father from hell (coaching from the sidelines!) and they ultimately gave it up!”

Which year did you arrive in Australia / Sydney?

“In  February 1988.”

Did you play Grade cricket here or just concentrated on business?

“I was invited to play for Mosman in 1988 and practiced with their First Grade team for a month, with the likes of Greg Rowell, Phil De Freitas and others but had to give it up as I had to set up a factory, my cable-recycling business.”

Highlights of your cricketing achievements down under?

“Apart from playing for clubs such as the  Primary Club, I. Zingari, Non-Descripts”¦I really enjoyed playing for the champion team in the Indian competition. Our club was the  Indo-Australian Cricket Club  and we were the feared ones. We had some terrific cricketers who were also wonderful blokes and whose company I still relish greatly, ten years since we disbanded due to old age! We catch up for two team dinners a year and still discuss how great we were! The longer we have retired, the greater we became”, he said with a big smile.

Which type of business do you run?

“I established a pioneering Scrap-cable granulating plant (Sanalco Pacific P/L) which was designed and manufactured by Eldan Recycling of Denmark. It was a state of the art plant and inaugurated in 1989 by the then Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Leo McLeay. We processed Copper, Aluminum, Steel cables and also recycled Lead, Brass etc. I sold it in 1995 when I moved back to Bombay for three years but it is still operational and flourishing, in Villawood.

“Currently, I am on the Board of  Link Intime Pvt Ltd,  a fully owned subsidiary of  Link Administration Holdings Ltd, Australia. We are amongst the largest Australian employers of Indians in India! We are share registrars with over 900 public companies in India as clients.

You have toured India along with Australian cricket teams. What was your role?

“Yes, I toured with the 1998, 2001, 2004 and 2008 teams. I helped out when asked by the team management/players and advised on cultural, social and logistical issues.”

Did you give Aussie bats practice playing your leggies and googlies in Indian conditions?

“NO! But I did have a couple of nets and in fact, Matthew Hayden in his book, credits me with helping him perfect his sweep shot which destroyed the Indian spinners in the 2001 series. But, I was merely the idiot net bowler ”“ the hapless victim of his savage sweeps!”

Your role models and heroes in cricket?

“I hopelessly loved the Australian cricket team, growing up in Bombay in 1970’s and 80’s.  Adam Gilchrist  has been my favourite cricketer of the past 15-20 years whilst  Steve Waugh  with his acute social conscience and never give-in attitude got my respect. I also love  Ian Chappell  and his brave, principled, compassionate stand on the issues of asylum seekers/ refugees.

Your proudest moment?

“To be invited to write the Foreword of the Autobiography (Fierce Focus) of my hero Greg Chappell was simply a ridiculous privilege and a rare honour.”

Now to your views:

Do you think India should stop making pitches (dust bowls) which help their spinners?

“Every country in the world has wickets which have their own inherent characteristics but these days most countries (except perhaps, Australia) are shamelessly doctoring wickets to suit themselves and gain an unfair advantage. In India, they are making rank turners and badly under-prepared wickets. I think it is time to abolish the toss and give the visiting team the option of either batting or bowling first.”

Like neutral umpires, should ICC appoint neutral curators who supervise pitch preparation which should have some / little grass on day one and start spinning on days three and four?

“I think close ICC oversight and intervention is necessary whenever Tests do not even last four days.”

What do you think of T20 matches?

“Despite serving on Cricket NSW’s Sydney Thunder T20 franchise, at heart I am a hopeless traditionalist and worry about anything that will impact on the sanctity and health of Test cricket.”

Has T20 cricket spoilt the technique of batsmen who can now bat only on flat tracks and buckle down when the wicket takes turn or seam?

“Absolutely. Shrinking boundary lines, heavy bats ”“ verging on illegal, all manners of rules stacked against bowlers, and generally conditions which humiliate bowlers. (Said like a true bowler, have I not?!)”

Finally, your opinion on the Day-Night pink ball Test?

“Test cricket is NOT in trouble in Australia or England. This concept should be left for the ICC to trial.”

Thank you, Darshak. Hope I have not bowled too many googlies?

“A pleasure, Kersibhai.”

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