My cousin Raman
Any mention of Coimbatore cricket reminds me of a number of exciting cricketers, most of them delightful people as well. Sundaresan, Giri to all, was an eccentric wicket keeper batsman in the 1960s. He was eccentric only on the cricket field. His orthodox ritualistic ways, which included cold showers in the morning followed by sandhyavandanam, were perfectly acceptable off the field to those used to such practices, but his continuance of these at the batting crease raised a few eyebrows. He constantly looked at the sun between deliveries and followed these glances at his favourite god with some earnest sloka muttering, severely testing the patience of the fielding side, waiting irritably for him to take guard. Imagine the plight of Bangalore Agricultural University when Giri scored a double century back in 1969.
I was Giri’s teammate for Madras University that day. One of the men he annoyed during that innings was P Mukund, the rival captain, who went on to do a masters degree at the Agricultural University at Coimbatore. He played for Coimbatore for the next couple of years. He was a fine all rounder, a great future India prospect, who unfortunately did not go beyond Ranji Trophy in any significant way. Mukund, Giri and that elegant and consistent batsman P R Ramakrishnan—equally unfortunate in his cricket career—are among the Coimbatore players I have admired and known personally over the years. In recent years, we have been able to meet and talk of the old times, largely through the efforts of Mukund.
The Coimbatore cricketer—if I may call him so based on his five years of cricket for PSG College of Technology and the district—closest to my heart was my late cousin PS Ramachandran, PSR in cricket circles, Iyer-Nadar at PSG, and Raman in the family, an attacking opening batsman and fastish leg spinner, who was enormously successful at schools and university cricket.
Raman was to all intents and purposes my elder brother, in true Indian extended family tradition. He was my first cricket hero and his exploits in schools cricket fired my imagination before I entered my teens. He was a leg spinner of considerable potential, the best in PS High School and the best in the city and state as I was to find out soon. He was an orthodox spinner then, who took wickets by the bagful and could bat a bit, known more for brutal power than finesse of any sort. He took eight wickets playing for the City Schools XI once and his photograph appeared in the newspaper, to the delight and pride of his growing band of young admirers in the neighbourhood and at school.
It was in college that Raman blossomed. He joined the PSG College of Technology at Coimbatore, where for the next five years he constantly hit the headlines. Very soon, he was opening the innings for his college, the District Colleges and eventually Madras University, besides bowling fastish legbreaks from a good height. He had abandoned his earlier slower, well flighted style when he shot up in his first year in college. He found he extracted considerable bounce and as most of the cricket at that level was then played on matting wickets, Raman was soon a successful and dreaded bowler. His batting was positive, full of attacking shots. He drove powerfully on the rise and, with strong wrists, he could flick the new ball over square leg or midwicket for six.
At the university and junior level Raman was a most successful cricketer. He was a contemporary of BS Chandrasekhar, the great Indian leg spinner, and bowling in a similar style, PSR was just as successful for Madras University and Juniors, sometimes outperforming Chandra to win matches for his side.
When he finished his engineering studies and found employment in Madras, he was expected to graduate to Ranji Trophy cricket, but unfortunately, his form deserted him. He had a miserable couple of seasons in the TNCA league, when he strung together any number of single digit scores. He worked hard, practising for long hours at the nets, where he looked to be in no discomfort, but runs just dried up. His bowling too seemed to have gone to pieces. He was hardly able to land the ball. I was his teammate, generally enjoying greater luck with my form, and it broke my heart to watch his cricket disintegrate.
Raman had other problems as well in the local league, in which matches were occasionally fixed to help one team to garner championship points or another to stave off relegation. He refused to be party to such unsporting practices and even walked out of a match half way through. Among his calculating peers and his secretary, he found no sympathy, but I respected and admired him for his honesty and integrity—which marked all aspects of his life, accompanied by a somewhat short fuse.
Raman later migrated to New Zealand and from there to Australia, where his cricket enjoyed a second innings. Playing grade cricket in Sydney, Raman was a team mate of a young man beginning to make waves in Australian cricket, Steve Waugh. His leg spin bowling had made a comeback when I met Raman in Sydney in the summer of 1986. I was touring Australia as a member of the late Ram Ramesh's team Madras Occasionals, consisting mostly of Madras Cricket Club players. He was happy to show me a newspaper clipping in which Steve Waugh had praised his bowling. I was delighted to meet my cousin at a time when he had regained his form.
Raman came to India a year later, but by then he was a condemned man, a victim of lung cancer. His enthusiasm for life or love of cricket hadn't waned one bit. He was there at Chepauk to cheer Tamil Nadu to its second Ranji Trophy triumph in the 53-year old history of the championship, and he had to endure great physical hardship to go to the stadium and climb the stairs to the pavilion terrace enclosure. (He refused to watch the game from downstairs because he enjoyed the view from the terrace). He was happy and proud that Tamil Nadu won, doubly so as my younger brother V Sivaramakrishnan played a key role in that victory.
When Raman went back to Sydney, we all knew that we would not see him again. The end came soon—the end of an honest, hard working career, in cricket and at work. He was a devoted husband and loving father to the end.