A minor miracle took me to Hyderabad, and a renewed cricket career, in July 1971. As a Probationary Officer of State Bank of India, I had been working at a small town called Anakapalle, some 20 miles from Visakhapatnam. I hadn't played cricket for more than a year, while at Anakapalle. Now I was transferred to Vijayawada, the second of the four branches I had to serve at in an 18-month training period.
I had missed the first part of the 1970-71 league season at Madras waiting for the SBI appointment letter. The great leg spinner V V Kumar, a State Bank officer at Madras, had asked me not to play for Alwarpet CC, the team I had represented the previous year, as he had inside information I had been selected by the bank after my entrance exam and interview.
Unfortunately, by the time the letter came, almost half the season was over. VV asked me to play a single game for the bank's B team, also in the first division, before I left for Anakapalle. Played on the Marina ground, my home ground for all of five years in Presidency College, it was a match against my previous team. I had a good match, claiming two wickets including that of the elegant S Nataraj, who was to marry my sister Sarada a couple of years later.
VV had advised me to contact Habib Ahmed, former captain of the bank's team at Hyderabad, if I wanted a Hyderabad posting, but I did nothing of the sort, being the introverted chap I was then. I was at Anakapalle for over six months, learning the ropes at every counter of the branch, except for a month-long training programme at New Delhi in between. The bank's POs spent time at four branches during their probation, followed by a stint at the local head office at Hyderabad, before they were confirmed as officers of the bank. I soon learnt that Vijayawada was my next branch. My wife who had been studying at Madras joined me at Anakapalle, and we were all packed and ready to go, when a string of coincidences led to the cancellation of my Vijayawada posting and our departure for Hyderabad instead. My benefactor in this sudden change in my fortunes was S Satyadev, captain of the SBI Vizag team—someone I have never met—played a key role,.
"Report to Personnel Department on July 1," said the telegram from our Local Head Office at Hyderabad. The cryptic message left me wondering whether I was now transferred to Hyderabad or summoned there on a brief errand. With hope in my heart and disbelief that my fortunes were taking a turn for the better, I duly met the Personnel Officer at the appointed hour. "It seems the cricket team wants you," the old man—he couldn't have been older than 50, but he looked ancient to my young eyes —told me with about as much enthusiasm as if he had found a fly in his soup.
The reason for the SOS was that the strong SBI team at Hyderabad was now without five of its regulars, with the new season about to start in a week's time. Three of them, Manohar Sharma, G Mohan and Mumtaz Husain were touring East Africa as members of the Hyderabad Blues team and two others, D Govindraj the fast bowler, and P Krishnamurti the wicket keeper, were in the West Indies with the Indian team that was making history under Ajit Wadekar's leadership.
A letter from me asking Satyadev if he could help get me a Vizag posting to enable me to play cricket there had been forwarded to him at Hyderabad where he was attending a training course. Just then his friend and colleague M N Prabhakar Raju, working in the Personnel Department had been entrusted with the task of finding a temporary replacement for these absent players, and one thing led to another.
It was exciting to walk into the Local Head Office of State Bank of India and meet so many outstanding cricketers there. Perhaps the first player I met was Nagesh Hammand, an attacking batsman who had pulverized university attacks in the Rohinton Baria championship in the three preceding seasons. He was also a more than useful off spinner, capable of sharp spin and thinking batsmen out. A brilliant fielder anywhere, Nagesh had been hugely successful at that level of cricket. We had played against each other at the Marina ground the previous season, when he had led Hyderabad juniors in an Inter-Association match for the P Ramachandra Rao Trophy. There was Ali Hassan, an opening batsman, who too had played in that match which Madras had won by an innings. Soon I was sitting down in the bank canteen and enjoying a coffee with these two, when we were joined by another talented cricketer, Lyn Edwards, the tall, handsome medium pacer.
I didn't know it then, but Nagesh, Lyn and Sultan Salim were to adopt me soon as their responsibility to shape as a bowler, because they believed in my talent. Not long afterwards, Krishnamurti, the wicket keeper, would join that band of young mentors. It was quite extraordinary that these cricketers took such an active interest in a fellow player, considering that each of them was no more than 23 to 25 years old.
The SBI team of that year was pretty formidable. At full strength it read: D Govindraj (captain), P Krishnamurti, Murtuza Ali Baig, Manohar Sharma, Nagesh Hammand, Sultan Salim, Mumtaz Hussain, Ali Hassan, M N Prabhakar Raju, G Mohan, Lyn Edwards, Mazhar Ali Baig, and Abid Zainulabuddin, with me bringing up the rear. Most of the players had played for their state or zone in the Ranji and Duleep Trophies, and Govind and Murti had already represented India. Add veteran Habib Ahmed, occasionally taking a break from his official responsibilities to assist us, and we had perhaps the strongest outfit in Hyderabad, closely followed by State Bank of Hyderabad, led by the redoubtable all rounder, Syed Abid Ali.