Sachin Tendulkar, captain of the India Legends, lofted Makhaya Ntini of the South Africa Legends towards the long-on boundary fence and fans erupted at the Kanpur Stadium where the two teams were playing the first match of the 2022 Road Safety World Series T20 tournament. For a brief moment, it was yesterday once more.

I could not but think of January 1992, when Tendulkar had a magnificent first tour of Australia, and back home, India lost a precious, young cricketer in a road accident. A Road Safety Series is the best way to remember Dhruv Pandove, a bright talent lost too soon.    

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In the bleak midwinter of 1985, I was in Srinagar representing Himachal Pradesh in an away tour for the zonal U-15 nationals. A day before the match, on a foggy morning on my way to the lush green Shere-i-Kashmir Stadium I saw through the mist a stocky, balanced, left-handed batsman taking serious throw-downs just inside the boundary. It was a semi-formal net where he just had his right leg pad on, he must have been wearing a guard and he had on his batting gloves.

Dhruv Pandove was being treated as special. I was transfixed seeing him bat in the shroud of the mist, the stadium grill, and drizzle between us.  There was complete harmony in how he met the ball and not once was he in no man’s land during that period. Dhruv was way quicker than it seemed he would be given his broad frame. Within a year there would be a buzz around his name.

I knew in a second that if this boy, younger than me, was what would play cricket or India, I would need six more lives before thinking of doing the same. 

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Dhruv, the son of BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) heavyweight M P Pandove, died at 18 in a road accident while returning to hometown Patiala in a Maruti Omni having played a Deodhar Trophy match against South Zone. The Wisden Almanack carried an obituary. “Pandove, Dhruv Mahender, was killed in a car accident near New Delhi on January 31, 1992. He was an attractive left-handed batsman, full of promise, and at 18 was already being tipped for Test honours. The Indian team observed two minutes’ silence for him before the start of play during the Fifth Test match against Australia in Perth. In November 1987, aged only 13, he made 94 for Punjab against Himachal Pradesh on his debut in the Ranji Trophy—an astonishing achievement—and a year later he hit 137 against Jammu and Kashmir in his third first-class match. He became the youngest player ever to have reached 1,000 runs in the Ranji Trophy when he scored 170, his second century, against Services a few weeks before his death,” it read.  

Dhruv had taken a train from Sambalpur in Odisha to Ambala Cantt, from where he set off for home in a cab in the night on January 31, 1982. The car crashed soon after, killing Dhruv and the driver and leaving another passenger critically injured. 

He died during the series where Sachin Tendulkar, then 19, announced himself to the world making an excellent hundred in the Sydney Test and then an unbelievable one in Perth. Navjot Singh Sidhu, the one who had made it from Patiala, must have led the silence for the loss of a rare cricketing gem. The Patiala stadium has been rechristened after Dhruv Pandove and road safety must never forget the tragic loss.

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Anil Kumble, who bowled to Dhruv in the Deodhar trophy match that turned out to be the last for the stocky left-handed opening batsman, said, “I remember Dhruv as a good, up and coming batsman. It was so sad to see a talent promise the world and then suddenly leave it.”

After Srinagar, I saw Dhruv in action while playing the U-17 in Patiala. Ajay Jadeja was a name being mentioned at that time for immediate selection to the Indian cricket team and he was playing for Delhi in a team led by Nikhil Chopra’s (Nikhil also played for India) elder brother Vikram Chopra—much more well-known for his “I say chaps” role alongside Shah Rukh Khan in the TV serial Fauji.

I also met Dhruv Pandove when he played in my home-town Mandi. I spent two hours chatting in his hotel room and some of the Punjab players also came home. The thing that struck me and that I saw and heard others mention about him was how he looked like a million dollars every time he walked out to bat. He would run his teammates’ runs as hard as he would run his—sign of a big player—and he never looked rushed. That time he had to play fast-bowlers is something of a gift, you either have it or you don’t, and Dhruv had that ability to meet the ball at the precise point to begin with.   

Dhruv was a livewire with an infectious energy about him and he was also a kid with a very solid head. A cricketing head on young shoulders. There was a unique in-built stability about him: He looked and played the part.  

Jadeja, who must have played a lot of junior cricket with Dhruv in the opposition side and in the same dressing room when the zonal sides must have been picked, reminisced, “He had so much life in him. I have not seen anyone so young so fearless. He could take on anyone. His spirit to fight was infectious.”

Road Safety and Cricket: For those who saw and played with Dhruv Pandove the irony could not have been keener.    

(Deepan Joshi is a Senior Editor at Opoyi. He played cricket at the U-15, U-17, and U-19 junior national level.)