‘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.