Sunday, March 1, 2009

Farewell innings

"Mr Ramnarayan must have his coffee", the sardonic voice behind me said. When I turned to look at the speaker, however, the gaze was friendly and the smile affectionate. It was 'Tiger' Pataudi, former India captain and now my teammate and mentor, who was making that comment on my habit of asking for the cup that cheers after lunch at the Lal Bahadur Stadium, something my Hyderabadi friends found amusingly idiosyncratic.

He then asked me whether I was planning to go to Madras to watch the Test match against England. When I answered in the negative, this is what he told me in his best solemn manner: "You may well be playing it, for all you know." Though I was bowling well enough that season, my second in first class cricket (1975-76), I found Pataudi's statement a bit farfetched, as both Prasanna and Venkataraghavan were firmly entrenched in the Indian squad.

This was in the middle of a Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup match, and I earned the singular honour of being complimented by Tiger at the end of the day's play for my fielding. When I started my first class career barely a year earlier, fielding was one department in which I needed to improve. I had worked very hard at it, so that I could chase hard and throw flat and accurate, almost as well as my younger colleagues. Coming from the former Nawab, who set a superb personal example in the field himself, and never dished out praise unless you really deserved it, that was a compliment for me to cherish forever. A little later in the evening, I came to know that I had been included in the Rest of India team led by Bishan Bedi to take on Bombay in the Irani Cup match to be played soon afterwards.

The news brought home to me the significance of Pataudi's mysterious remark at the lunch table. Though I never actually succeeded in breaking into the Indian team, despite good bowling in that Irani match and the few times I played for South Zone, I still remember that little gesture with gratitude. I realised that Tiger must have gently nudged the selectors to pick me for the Rest of India team.

Tiger Pataudi had been a great source of encouragement ever since he first saw me bowl at the nets a couple of years earlier, before the start of a Moin-ud-Dowla match. I had clinched the issue a season later by claiming eight for 75 against a star-studded team he led in the same tournament. He was one of two batsmen I did not dismiss in that innings; he was dropped off my bowling.

It was Tiger who ran up to congratulate me on my first Ranji Trophy wicket at Trivandrum, and wish me many more wickets, only to tell me to "stop bowling rubbish, for God's sake", and start bowling in my natural, sharp style. I ended up with six for 33 in that innings and never looked back. Again, at the end of my first season, when I took seven for 68 in the first innings of our quarterfinal match, he seemed thrilled beyond words, and kept muttering almost in disbelief: "Seven against Bombay!" He then warned me that wickets would be harder to come by in the seasons to come, as batsmen began to take me more seriously. He also informed me he had played his last match for Hyderabad, a stunning blow from which I never recovered. It was as if a loved one was leaving me for good. I felt utterly desolate.

Hyderabad cricketers will always remember a marvellous innings Pataudi played in December 1975 against Tamil Nadu at Chepauk. Here is the story behind that knock.

We were staying at Admiralty Hotel, at Mandavelipakkam, Chennai. As we sat on the lawns, enjoying a few drinks, as was customary for the Hyderabad teams of that vintage, a number of fans descended on us, mainly to catch a glimpse of the stars of the team, Pataudi, Jaisimha, Baig and Abid Ali.

Among the autograph hunters was a man originally from Hyderabad, who asked Pataudi some awkward questions.

Fan: Nawab Saab, is it true that you can't play Venkat and Kumar? They say you are Venkat's bunny.
Pataudi: (Mutters under his breath).
Fan: Beg your pardon?
Pataudi: (Aloud) Of course, Venkat is a very fine bowler.
I then politely showed the visitor out.
Pataudi: Jai, I'm opening the innings tomorrow.
Jaisimha: Like hell you will.
Pataudi: I'm dead serious Jai. I'm going to score a double hundred. Venkat's bunny, indeed!
Jaisimha: (By now mellow) Okay, Tiger, have it your way. You open the innings tomorrow.

The next morning, the atmosphere was electric as Jaisimha and Venkataraghavan went out to toss before a capacity crowd. Hyderabad won the toss and elected to bat. The mood in the dressing room was equally electric, with three batsmen padded up to open the innings. Pataudi was all set to go in first, to the surprise of the regular openers Abbas Ali Baig and Jayantilal. It took all of Jaisimha's persuasive skills to get him to agree to bat at No.3, still three places ahead of his usual batting position.

When his turn to bat came, Pataudi turned on the old magic. He started by playing some spanking shots against the brisk pace of Kalyanasundaram. He was equally severe on Venkataraghavan and debutant left arm spinner S K Patel, off whose bowling he was reprieved early. He raced to his hundred, playing strokes all round the wicket.

Pataudi was not satisfied with a century that day. He took fresh guard and dug himself in, his defence studiedly elaborate, as if to give his thoughtless caviller of the previous day a message. When he finally returned to the pavilion to a tumultuous ovation, he had made 198. Just two short of his own prediction.

None of us knew it then, but that was Pataudi's last innings at Chepauk. At the end of that season, he announced his retirement from first class cricket.

14 comments:

RV said...

That was a marvellous anecdote! The Hyderabad team of the seventies had oodles of charm and grace, the exploits of Pataudi, Jaisimha, Abid Ali, and of course you, Mumtaz Hussain brings out a very different world - and dare I say it, a better world - than today!

I understand with Prasanna & Venkat around, you couldn't break into the Indian team. But after the 79 England tour, how did Shivlal Yadav break into the Indian team ahead of you? Of course, I am sure that no selector has ever talked to you directly, but you still may have some theories at least...

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much. I'll have to email you the reply! Will do so.
warm regards.
Ram

Karrileaf said...

Dear Ram,
Not everyone gets to signoff in style. Thanks for the wonderful story on Tiger.
Would be keen to know how a generation of spinners - of the same age or younger people like Yourself, Rajinder Goel, Shivalkar- who did not get a chance due to the spin quatret gave way to others like Shivlal. Was it overall team balance, other factors?

Best Wishes
Ravi (rkarri@gmail.com)

would love to hear

Anonymous said...

Goel and Shivalkar were great bowlers, unlucky to be born in the Bedi era. Bishan was arguably the greatest of his kind in cricket history, and I think the two stalwarts magnanimously accepted that. Of the two, Goel was in the squad for the Bangalore Test against the West Indies, in place of Bishan who was being disciplined by the Board for some imagined misdemeanour if I remember right. The team management chose to go in with two off spinners and Chandrasekhar, I think, for fear Goel might embarrass the selectors by doing so well they would be forced to prefer him to Bedi when he came back! As for off spinner Shivlal, his selection was ostensibly a vote for youth, though the wise men preferred Dilip Doshi's experience over the youth of Rajinder Singh Hans, the other left arm spinner in contention.
Ram

GuruGhantal said...

Ram thanks for the article...Its unfortunate that I was not born in that era to enjoy the cricket, i envy my dad who keeps describing some passages of play which he watched and keep listening to the stories of our complete family going to cricket stadiums with lunch/snacks packed and making way for a picnic in the cricket stadium.
Thanks again Ram
Raghu

Anonymous said...

Gurughantal, thanks. Wonder if I know your dad.

Ram

GuruGhantal said...

Ram,
I guess may be not...we are from mysore and lived all our life in bangalore watching cricket in the KSCA Chinnaswamy Stadium and the only other two venues at which i watched cricket are the Chepauk and Eden Gardens in 2001 Aus Series. My dad stopped going to cricket field in the late 80s.
Thanks again for the nice articles

Vatsa said...

Wonderful story yet again and written in such simple language.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Vatsa. I saw your comment so late. I see you like books I like, and I agree with your choice of top three singers!

Ram

Anonymous said...

I remember this match, since I watched two days of it. Pataudi is a somewhat glorified icon of Indian cricket. This was a good knock no doubt, but he did have two lives and finally got out to Venkat who had the last laugh. It is quite a stretch to say he was severe on Venkat. May be Ramnarayan got a bit carried away here. In any case, Pataudi had his own favourites in the Indian team which is why he could never produce consistent results overall.

Ramnarayan said...

Anonymous,
I just saw your comment. I do not generalise in these accounts of matches or incidents. It was an outstanding innings, as big knocks usually are. I'm sure he gave chances--if you insist, he was dropped by Venkat once--but most big knocks have a chance or two. Your comments may have a place elsewhere, but not here, where I have stuck to a day of cricket and the eveni8ng before, exactlt as it happened. He was severe on all the bowlers until he reached his hundred, after which he slowed down. It was all so funny because of the tantrum the previous evening. Unfortunately, you don't seem to see the funny side. You speak of favourites etc., and I don't deny such things happen in cricket. I, like other cricketers, have also sometimes been at the receiving end of someone's likes and dislikes, but still choose to celebrate cricket. If you like to read about Venkat, you'll find an appreciation by me of him in this very blog. And please don't be anonymous.

khurshid said...

hi iam khursshid from andhara bank how r u nice see ur blogs.u must have got lots of them to tell abt hyd crk.in those days it was a very talented team in fact the most talented but cld not win the ranji trophy. cannot forget the semifinals agst rajasthan the guy who took wkts agst hyd later local crk in hyd for army i think he was shaktawat his was hit all around by local guys.he cld hardly take a wicket in our local league.but on that day he picked up 5 or 6 wkt for rajsathan to reach the finals

Ramnarayan said...

khurshid, nice to hear from you. Hope you are douing well. i remember your left arm spin very well. yes, shaktawat took 6 against hyderabad but he was before my time in ranji trophy. i think he had a doubtful action, if i remember right. all the best.

Badri said...

Ram, wonderful post. Thanks for this.