Friday, November 14, 2008

Playing for India

Former England Test cricketer Basil D'Oliveira first showed signs of his class on a tour of the West Indies with Derek Robins's team. Young Kapil Dev impressed senior Indian cricketers with his phenomenal talent on a private tour of East Africa and not long afterwards, he was in the Indian team that toured Pakistan. Teams like Cricket Club of India and Hyderabad Blues have been excellent ambassadors of India, not only in the regular Test playing nations, but in other countries where a small minority pursue the sport with passion. They take young cricketers - and veterans - to some unusual locations of stunning beauty.

I can never forget the experience of playing for Hyderabad Blues before 35,000 paying spectators at Dhaka, in January 1978, long before any Test nation toured the newly-formed Bangladesh. We might have been a loose combination of players from all over India, but as our acting skipper Ajit Wadekar reminded us minutes before the toss, no matter what we were called, we were the Indian team and it was as good as a Test match. The match was played in all seriousness, like the rest of the matches on that tour of Australia, South East Asia and Bangladesh.`

Today, we have the A team concept and India's young hopefuls gain valuable exposure to international cricket in conditions they do not experience at home. In the 1970s, tours by clubs like the Blues or CCI filled this gap admirably. What they also did was to enable young cricketers to mingle with Test cricketers, past and present, and enrich their cricket education. Equally fortunate were cricketers who knew they had missed the bus and would never otherwise visit these nations and play against their Test and first class cricketers in superb cricketing conditions full of history.

An example of the kind of preparation such tours afforded youngsters was the experience of playing in Australia, where even club grounds have 85-yard boundaries. Anyone who has chased the ball to the fence and thrown it back to the keeper on one of these vast grounds is more likely to go home and strengthen his throwing arm than a stranger to those conditions. You also learnt to bowl and bat on wickets vastly different from Indian pitches.Private tours make for greater interaction with people of the host nation than Test tours do. Very often, the visiting cricketers are billeted with cricketers' families and the resultant friendships are sometimes lifelong.

My own unforgettable memories include playing against and sharing a few beers back in 1978 at a Perth clubhouse, with a young Englishman called David Gower, who we thought was not a bad little player! Gower opened the innings for the club Claremont Cottesloe, and treating our medium pacers with scant respect, got away to a flier, making 30 odd in no time. His innings was all too brief, for the wicket yielded some purchase, and the two off spinners of our side, my skipper Jaisimha and I, created serious problems for the young lefthander. To my disappointment, a couple of chances went abegging off my bowling and Gower eventually fell to Jai, though I took five wickets in the innings.

That evening, Gower and the secretary of the club asked me if I would play for the club as a professional the following season as Gower was not returning. This was not only a huge honour but a tremendous opportunity as well, but I refused the offer as it would clash with the Indian first class season. I was at the time close to selection to the Indian team and did not want to jeopardise my chances with the long awaited tour of Pakistan round the corner. As it turned out, I did not even make it to the probables list before the tour, despite my record. Thus are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities missed by those who want to play safe.

That innings was one of the high points of my bowling on that tour in which I led the pack with 35 wickets. Another was my performance under gruelling conditions in Penang against an RAF side, when Jai cursed me fluently after I asked to be taken off (the only time in my life), having run out of shirts and trousers, drenched in perspiration as never before or after in my career, and unable to grip the ball, the sweat simply pouring out from every pore in my body. “Stop giving me f---ing excuses! Can’t grip the ball indeed! God save me from bloody sissies!” he said. I had no option but to go on.

My final figures of 30-8-47-8 leading to a thumping win were more than adequate compensation for all the trouble, but even more pleasurable was the praise Jai dished out over a couple of drinks—again for the first time in my life, because cricketers, especially those belonging to the old school, generally don’t believe in praising you to your face.

If these were some of the high points, I had a few low ones as well on that tour, starting with our first match—against Kowloon Cricket Club at Kowloon, Hong Kong. Both leg spinner Narasimha Rao (Bobjee) and I bowled badly in that game, nearly losing it for us. Occasional medium pacer K Jayantilal, our opening batsman, came to our rescue, bowling an unplayable spell of swing and seam, and picking up some seven wickets for next to nothing. That night, we received our first dressing down of the tour, with Ajit Wadekar telling us for the first time that we were the Indian team, no less. He also confessed how much he had benefited from Jai’s wise counsel on the victorious West Indies tour of 1971.

We quickly recovered from that initial shock on the morrow, when we beat the stronger Hong Kong Cricket Club by a big margin, with my brother Sivaramakrishnan and his fellow left hander P Ramesh scoring hundreds at the top of the order, and me acquiring the only hat trick of my life. Ajit Wadekar took two splendid diving catches at backward short leg, reminding us all what a brilliant close-in fielder he was.

Our experience against Singapore Cricket Club, later on the tour, was even worse. In a near replica of the Kowloon match, we were again rescued from a fate worse than death by Jayantilal, who picked up six wickets after the regular bowlers had proved to be profligate. Jai was never known to be a gracious loser, and this time was no exception. The hospitality in the barroom of the club was long and expansive, but Jai was quite happy to put our hosts firmly in their places for the crowing they had indulged in earlier when the game seemed to be heading their way. Well past closing time, everyone except Jai and the unhappy threesome of Vinod Reddy, Bobjee and I, had left, after the hosts had offered in vain to drop us home, failing to persuade our angry skipper to get up from his perch. We finally left after the staff started shutting doors and windows pointedly.

Soon we wandered out, walking extremely carefully with the kind of dignity only the inebriated can muster, but soon realised that all our hosts had gone home. There was no taxi in sight either, and Jai was ranting and raving by now, cursing his extreme bad luck that made it necessary for him to play cricket with such nincompoops. Still unable to locate a cab, we walked on, trying not to pay any attention to the captain’s lecture, not realising that we had drifted into a freeway where no vehicle would stop. We saw several taxis fly past us not heeding our desperate pleas and fluent curses in chaste Hyderabadi. All of 90 minutes later, a kindly taxi driver going in the opposite direction, took pity on us, and stopped for us. He of course had to go all the way to where we started before he could take a U turn and drop us at the hotel. It was three in the morning when we reached there!

Coming back to the match at Dacca, Bobjee and I again went wicketless on a white, gleaming clay wicket, which yielded turn but extremely slow turn. Batting first, we made over 400, with Ajit Wadekar making a hundred and Sivaramakrishnan and Jayantilal playing substantial knocks. The Bangladesh team made a decent reply, some 300 plus for seven or eight, batting out nearly two days. It was slow, excruciating attrition and the Hyderabad bowlers had to be content with containment. Tukaram Surve, our veteran wicket keeper conceded 69 byes and was mercilessly teased by Wadekar, leading the team in the absence of Jaisimha, already back in Hyderabad to finalise the arrangements for his benefit match. “You were in great form, Godfrey,’ he said, calling Surve by his nickname on the tour—after the former England great Godfrey Evans. Surve’s retort was quick and angry: “How do you expect me to keep to these spinners? One of them bowls off breaks on the leg stump and the other his googlies outside it!”

Later that evening Wadekar told Surve that both Bobjee and I were deeply hurt by his remarks. A very contrite Surve then sought me out and apologised profusely. “I’m so sorry, Rama. You actually bowled well for the first time on the tour!”

18 comments:

Bharat said...

Ram, Great reading your reminiscences, as usual. But your final sentence took the cake with its humour!

Srinivas said...

" ... walking extremely carefully with the kind of dignity only the inebriated can muster ...". Lovely stuff!

Ramnarayan said...

thank you Bharat, thank you srinivas. i can assure you i was dignity personified!

Madhu said...

Dear Ram,

I stumbled on your blog accidently and been a regular reader like many now. This is one of the brilliant piece of history you are bringing out. Being a Cricketer of pedigree and nurishing the same ambition like you of writing a book when I am of your age (little over 3 decades to go). This is giving me all the right information. thanks once again for the knowledge.

Wish you one day write about my Idol Azar as well

Rgds
Madhu Kiran
visit my blog page on "www.geechata.blogspot.com"

peaceforall said...

Thank you Ram. I look forward to reading more of your entries.

srinath said...

Sir,

The use of language and your imagination in telling the story is absolutely brilliant. In India we tend to read what foriegn teams exploits rather than our teams exploits. Very refreshing to hear Domestic Cricket stories from you .

ashfaque ismail said...

I sent you a text about this post early in the day. I can not comment on the game I am not regular watcher. But know its technicalities, how its played etc. Above all I am an Indian. And an Indian knows everything about cricket. Sir from my little experience i would say that life is very beautiful. Read this second line from a Sher. Agar Asaaniyan Hi Asaaniyan Hon To Zindagi Dushwar Ho Jaaye. I tried really very hard to carve a niche in media. But could not do so. Reasons; don't know. I laways look forward to people who have reached at the height of their career, irrespective of their fields or professions. I always admire Salman Khan, Amitabh Bachchan or never hesitate to appreciate the achievements of Sachin at the same time. I only see that they are successful in one way or the other. Its true that hard work is necessary. But my experience tells that only hard work will not get you to your destination. It is the luck factor that helps your dream come true. Both are needed. In your case, there was no suvh thing called as pooor quality of the game or etc. But I would say that you were not at the right place at the right time. From my observation, I can say that most of the big achievers; they were dragged by their luck to their destination. They were at the right place at the right time. I will end this with one of my thoughts; everyone has his or her destination. It does not matter what profession one choses in his life. But where one is destined to go, he or she automatically goes there, subsequently puts the requisite efforts. Efforts and destiny are mere modes to achieve one's targets, destiny has the answer to all our grievances

Ramnarayan said...

Thank you Peaceforall, Madhu, Srinath and Ashfaque. I hope I can keep churning them out. Dread the day the memory decides to fail!

Vijayendra Darode said...

Hey Ram, would like you to write about Kanwaljit Singh, another off-spinner from Hyd who never got a chance to play for India.

Sam said...

Ram:
Another excellent piece.

As a fan of Jaisimha who also happens to share a birthday with him (and Inzi!), I had read an earlier article of yours on the famous match against Railways in which Jai declared when faced with a deadly pitch so he could go for an outright win. I would love to hear more from you on your experiences of playing for different captains so you can share with us your insights on their approaches, strategies and tactics.

For example, if one sees captaincy as involving two major dimensions: inspiring the team and making decisions on the field, I, for one, see Saurav Ganguly as an outstanding motivator of his team but not always the strongest in terms of making outstanding on-field moves. While Tendulkar, Dravid and Kumble were less capable on inspiring their team since they often chose to lead more by example, they may have been a little better with on-field tactics even if somewhat more defensive in most cases than Ganguly. Dhoni appears to have a good mix of these two attributes of being aggressive and outstanding in his use of resources at his disposal and in motivating his team to give off their best (though this primarily appears to come through his attitude to the game and his stewardship of the team.)

And then there are clearly other abilities such as reading a pitch on an ongoing basis. I remember Jai using Naushir Mehta against Tamil Nadu to beat them in Chepauk one year effectively turning the tables on Venkat and Kumar's great work the previous day.

Any stories forthcoming on this most inscrutable of cricketing abilities i.e. Captaincy?

Thanks!

RAMGOPAL said...

Ram, It is a lot of fun to read a first person account of things we did not really hear about in great detail at the time. Thanks for doing this. Would you, at some time, consider writing about Shivaramakrishnan and his similar long struggle for selection to the national time. Having watched him bat ever so many times, I had always felt he was the left hander we missed in the Indian national team at the top of the order. Your thoughts?

Ramnarayan said...

Vijayendra, Sam and Ramgopal,
The brief answer is yes to all of you. I have actually written on all the topics/ personalities you refer to. I need to revisit thos pages and come back with a revised version. Many thanks.

hasta said...

amazing pieces of writing. It is so nice to read about cricket that happens/happened beyond the suffocating glare of media. I used to love to just go watch the first/second division matches in the madras league with a book in hand. And certain spells and innings just stick in the mind as being of the top draw. your blog is making a lot of people feel nostalgic about their not so significant cricket careers. keep going!!!

Alfred E Neuman said...

I remember Jaisimha when I was a kid - he was our neighbour in Marredpally. Very suave and very nice. I remember I was about 8 and playing cricket with my uncle when he walked up and asked me 'Do you like cricket?'. I dont remember what I told him - I did not know who was at that time. Your post brings back memories.

Ramnarayan said...

Thank you, Hasta, thank you Alfred.

Taking a short break, as I have a killer of a deadline to meet.

Cricket Bats said...

Great Blog !

Its refreshing to get away from reading the same old same old on cricket blogs.

Keep up the good work!

Josh said...

dd

Play angry Birds said...

Nice Post..Thanks for sharing..