Mylapore, Triplicane and Egmore-Purasawalkam were the strongholds of Madras cricket in the early years. The league matches between Mylapore Recreation Club (MRC) and Triplicane Cricket Club (TCC) were even dubbed the local version of the War of Roses between Yorkshire and Lancashire in English county cricket. M J Gopalan and C R Rangachari were the stalwarts of TCC while the descendants of Buchi Babu moved from Madras United Club, or MUC, where he first defied the British, to Mylapore, to make MRC a strong force. While Mylapore, Triplicane and south Madras beyond the Adyar continued to produce cricketers of merit in independent India, a new centre of cricket emerged in T Nagar and the surrounding areas, known as Mambalam, West Mambalam and so on.
A whole new generation of talented and enthusiastic cricketers followed the birth of Mambalam Mosquitos towards the end of the 1940s. The trend continued and grew in strength, so that by the time the 1970s came round, Mambalam was as much a stronghold of cricket as the traditional nurseries of the game.
If there is one place in Chennai where cricket is played with a fervour and in numbers unmatched by any venue outside Mumbai’s maidans, it is the Mayor Somasundaram ground in T Nagar, though in recent times, the Marina ground, belonging to Presidency College, presents a similar picture.
I refer in particular to the number of cricket games that can be in progress simultaneously. Anyone who has stood and watched the mind-boggling number of informal cricket ‘matches’ that can be on at any given time on Mumbai’s Azad Maidan or Cross Maidan will understand what I refer to here. At Somasundaram ‘ground’ too, a young collection of cricketers can walk in and pitch their stumps in a territory they informally come to own over a period of time, and start an evening’s practice session or ‘sign match’ at will. It can be confusing for the onlooker when he finds the third man of one ‘match’ literally rubbing shoulders with the first slip of another (or occasionally even with someone, God forbid, involved in some other sport), though the players themselves suffer from no such handicap, as they focus on their own game to the exclusion of
In the 1980s and nineties, I was an occasional visitor to watch my younger friends who were regular players at ‘Somasundaram ground’. It was a revelation to me how many state level ricketers active in Chennai during that period owed their beginnings to that venue. The TVS and lwarpet Cricket Club wicket-keeper Venkatasubramaniam, popularly known as ‘Bondu’, was one f them. Anyone who had watched his brilliant takes behind the wicket and his attacking batsmanship, especially against short-pitched bowling, could easily guess where he learnt to hook and pull with such power. His quick reflexes and footwork were unmistakable products of tennis ball cricket honed over the years at the ground bearing the former mayor’s name.
Another fine batsman who comes to mind immediately is K Bharatan, the Railways batsman who made waves in the eighties and nineties. Leg spinner S Madhavan and fast bowler T A Sekar are a couple of other cricketers who were often seen there in their youth.
With the increasing urbanisation of our times, parks like Somasundaram grounds are fast becoming a rare commodity and children and young adults no longer enjoy the luxury of such open spaces, often being forced to adopt streets as their playgrounds. But as long as these open spaces survive, they will continue to delight young players not only of cricket but a wide a variety of games, often changing with the season.