Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lawrence of Madras

‘T.E.’ The initials can mean only one person in Madras: not the English genius T E Lawrence or Lawrence of Arabia, but T E Srinivasan, one of the better batsmen Tamil Nadu cricket has produced over the decades. And like ‘El Aurans’, our own TE is not your conventional hero but a man of quite a few parts, each of them as intriguing and eccentric as the other.

But first things first. TE was a brilliant player of fast bowling in his time, whose better innings were reserved for the big occasion. And he was completely self-made, an original who honed his batting technique on the concrete wicket at the Nungambakkam Corporation School ground. Even as a youngster playing for Vivekananda College when I was turning out for Presidency College—for that’s how old TE is, though he hardly looks it—TE had the foresight and ambition to realise that he had to play pace well if he wanted to play international cricket. Towards this end, he regularly hired bowlers from the neighbourhood to bang them in from 15 to 18 yards on the fast surface.

In first class cricket, TE was a bit of a late bloomer, mainly because he was very uncomfortable against spinners who hounded him along the way. I remember a string of poor scores in the Duleep Trophy before he hit the big time, when he would complain bitterly: ‘Ennada, what kind of cricket is this, you have to face bloody slow bowlers all the time!’ I think he first broke the jinx by scoring a brilliant hundred against North Zone at Bangalore in the 1977-78 season. TE went on to play many more attractive innings in the Duleep Trophy, against touring teams, and an all important Irani Cup match which earned him a berth in the Indian team that toured Australia under the captaincy of Sunil Gavaskar.

That TE had a reputation as one of the characters of the game, whose big mouth cost him quite a bit, is constantly brought home to those of us who played with him in our interactions with the cricket watching public. Even today, at cricket conversations, people ask me if it is true that TE told Gavaskar during the Australia-New Zealand tour what was wrong with his (Sunil’s) backlift, and if that is what cost him (TE) his career! I find it difficult to believe that even TE was capable of such effrontery or that it could have made any difference to Sunil Gavaskar’s attitude to his cricket. Of course, another story that has done the rounds since that tour, is even more spectacularly funny: that of TE landing in Australia and informing the press, ‘Tell Dennis Lillee TE has arrived!’

Whether either of these stories is true or not, I can confirm that TE successfully riled another Australian fast bowler Rodney Hogg by confronting him on the lawns of a hotel in Hyderabad during a tour game and begging him ‘to please stop bowling flipping off spinners.”

If the other TE was known to seek anonymity following his high pressure Arabian adventure--he once enlisted as an ordinary soldier in the army under the assumed name of Ross, the central character of the eponymous play by Terence Rattigan--our own TE loved playing the fool with officials by pretending to be someone else, just to prove that some of them did not watch cricket. Sure enough, no sooner had he once introduced himself as Sivaramakrishnan to a national selector than he asked him, “And how is TE Srinivasan?” TE’s response was classically zany. He said, ‘That fellow TE is thoroughly irresponsible, he’s always smoking and drinking and neglecting his cricket.’ On other occasions, he has passed himself off as a visiting overseas dignitary at five star hotels, even sung ‘Ceylon bailas’ on stage as Cheena from Colombo, all totally impromptu, and with no intent other than that of having some fun.

This is what I wrote a few years ago about TE: “Today, Cheena runs a coaching clinic. The way his bat comes down whenever he demonstrates technique to his wards is still a purist’s delight, though his advice may often be unconventional. In his mid fifties, he looks decades younger and has the waistline of a teenager. He has even become a grandfather recently, but a less credible senior citizen it is hard to imagine. TE will always be TE!”

I must have really tempted fate with those words, for not long afterwards, came the bad news of a major setback to TE's health. His battle with cancer, a saga of courage, has been told elsewhere (Nirmal Shekar, for instance, paid him a moving tribute in The Hindu) and I am one of many friends and admirers who pray for his recovery. No praise is too high for his wife Mala who has looked after him devotedly. God bless them both.

15 comments:

Swaminathan said...

Thanks for sharing your memories. I have always thought that Indian cricket between 19950-1980 ( before television came along ) has been poorly documented, especially the stories of our first class cricketers. I am sure there were many fine and eccentric personalities whose stories have sadly never made it to print.

Soultan of Swing said...

Sir,
It's really great to see you sharing your (unique) perspective on the (little known?) cricketers from your days as a player.
Like Swaminathan said, today's kids know little about the great players and one-shot wonders of yesteryear. Dr. Ram Guha did do a really good job in the Sunday Hindu, and in his books.
Looking forward to more articles from you!

Anonymous said...

Sir,

Could you write about your former colleague (late) Mumtaz Hussain some time. He is an intriguing figure for those interested in Indian cricket history because of Sunil Gavaskar's description of his bowling in his autobiography.

Vatsa said...

Lovely memories and romantic cricket of an era not captured on camera or websites. I have added you to my blogroll, I hope that is fine.

Ramnarayan said...

Thank you all. I hope to cover many of my contemporaries. Mumtaz my dear departed friend will surely find a place. And thanks Vatsa for adding me to your blogroll. I'm honoured.

Ranga said...

Great memories of TE.Thankyou.I enjoyed watching
Ramesh batting .Do you have any interesting stories
about his battjng and his style .
I was a great fan of V.Sivu.Very stylish batsman.

yogi said...

Really wonderful to read of these people who have enriched the domestic scene and have not even been afforded footnotes by a star-blinded media.

RV said...

Dear Sir,

I grew up reading Hindu sports page in the seventies. Those days, Ranji cricket was a big deal, and cricketers like yourself, your brother Sivaramakrishnan, TE, Dalvi, Abdul Jabbar, V.V. Kumar, Nowsher Mehta, Mumtaz Hussain, Sudhakar Rao, Vijayakrishna, Ramesh Sampat, Meher Baba meant a great deal to us who played our cricket with tennis balls on streets.

I am delighted to stumble onto your blog! It is truly brilliant, and hopefully you will keep on writing...

Why was TE dropped after a single test? Do you have any insights into this? I don't think you had retired by 79, so why was Shivlal Yadav considered ahead of you?


My favorite piece is the Visvanath quote - "hum ko dukh hota pa" Hilarious!

Ramnarayan said...

I do hope to write about the people RV has mentioned. Out of those, Ramesh Sampat and Meher Baba are no more with us. I have a couple of memories worth recalling about them. Both were fine cricketers who instilled pride in their teammates with their stirring performanvces against stronger opposition.

There are mysteries in Indian cricket that need a superior intelligence to unravel. I am sure I'll speak out on this subject before I'm through with this blog, but I'm not ready yet.

RV said...

I didn't know that Ramesh Sampat & Meher Baba are no more. It is really too sad - stalwarts all, quite unfortunate not to have been gotten more chances.

When Ravi Shastri was selected as the replacement for Doshi during the Aus-NZ tour, I was among those surprised - wondered why didn't Meher Baba get that chance. Of course, Shastri grabbed his chance, and never looked back...

venkat reddy said...

It is fascinataing to read old cricketers rugurgitate great cricket stories. One of my friend's dad who himself played league cricket during that time has told me this story about T.E Srinivasan and Gavaskar. Though i guess noone knows the truth. But this stuff about telling Rodney Hogg was brilliant. Great men who played the game because they loved it and nothing else.Gone are the days i suppose.

Srini said...

Ram,

Brilliant stuff. Quite Nostalgic really for someone like me watching Ranji/Duleep and League Cricket in Chennai. Sharad Diwadkar who brought a Bombay University team to play in Madras in 1982, confirmed the story of TE and Gavaskar! I am really saddened by TE's current ill-health - Nirmal Shekar's piece in Hindu had me in tears.I still remember with awe TE hitting Madan Lal for five fours in the first over in the second innings in the Ranji semi-final in 1982,when LS made his Ranji debut. I would have loved to see a 20-20 team from SOuth Zone with Sultan Saleem, GRV, Krishnasamy, TE, Cheeka and P.Ramesh (or Selvakumar) in the top order.

Anonymous said...

About the "Tell Dennis TE has come" -- I remember that there was an interview of T.E. in Sportstar (?)(the sports magazine published by The Hindu group) sometime in the early-mid 1980s. This issue was brought up, and T.E. noted that it was not him, but someone else (if my memory is right, he said Chetan Chauhan) who said that.

I watched quite a few innings of TE - the one which sticks in my memory is the Deodhar Trophy game against West Zone at Chepauk, when your brother was bowled first ball of the game and TE came in - he actually managed to outshine Srikkanth in that game (I still remember the first ball that Srikkanth faced, after TE had taken a single of the second ball - a magnificent cover drive). After Srikkanth got out, Vishwanath came and it was one of the best partnerships to watch.

Ramnarayan said...

Anonymous, you shouldn't believe everything TE said! And you are not supposed to remember my brother's ducks! Thanks anyway for your comment.

Arun said...

Ram Anna:

This is Arun Dev from Syndicate Bank and Osmania. I am very very happy to see your posts and I really hope to see many more about those days