Tuesday, June 23, 2009


K R Rajagopal came like a breath of fresh air to Madras cricket from Bangalore, when he joined the star-studded Jolly Rovers team of the 1960s. He quickly established himself as one of the most entertaining batsmen in the state, an opener crowds went miles to watch.

Rajagopal was one of the most aggressive opening batsmen around. He played his shots from the word go, shots based on a straight bat, free downswing and follow-through. With his keen eye, swift footwork, perfect balance and steely wrists, all buttressed by a sound technique, he looked for scoring opportunities all the time, and for a few years culminating in the 1967-68 season, he electrified both local and national matches played at Madras.

In an era of swing bowling, Raja had an equally delightful answer to the outswinger or the inswinger. He cover drove imperiously, but he also played a gorgeous ondrive. He loved to hook and cut.

Raja struck a fine partnership with his teammate and captain Belliappa. Both were openers and wicket keepers, and as state captain, Belliappa was the first choice behind the stumps, though Raja was brilliant in that department. When Raja was a strong contender for a place in the Indian team touring Australia in 1967-1968 after a magnificent domestic season as a batsman, another wicket keeper Indrajitsinhji was preferred to him on the pretext that Raja did not keep for his own state.

Raja is a simple man. For most of his playing days in Madras (he earlier played for Mysore), he worked at Sankarnagar, Tirunelveli, and took the night train to Madras to play league matches on the morrow for Jolly Rovers, the highly successful team sponsored by his employers. He brought as luggage a ridiculously small bag and went straight to the house of another “Raja”, P N Sundaresan, The Hindu’s cricket correspondent and the father of his teammate P S Narayanan.

On the morning of the match, Raja enjoyed the simple home cooking of Mrs Kamala Sundaresan, topped by the ubiquitous curdrice, jumped on to the pillion of Narayanan’s Lambretta, tousled hair, stubble on his chin, crumpled shirt and trousers and all, with his cricket shoes wrapped in an old copy of The Hindu. He might carry a bat with him, or simply pick one up from the team kit bag once he reached the ground.

Such was Raja’s pre-match preparation, but once he put on his pads and settled down to face the first ball of the innings, the change in him was electric. Slight of build and short in stature, he was a picture of poise as the bowler started his run towards him. Little notice did he give of the daring strokes he would soon play all round the wicket, but soon they sprang forth from his bat, audacious hits on the rise, dancing down the wicket, or swivelling effortlessly on to his backfoot as the mood captured him and the hapless bowler was left floundering.

Few batsmen in the history of Tamil Nadu cricket have given as much pleasure to so many, except perhaps those at the receiving end of his fury.


Late Inswing said...

Sir, Each and every one of your posts are tastefully written. In this age, we know every quirk and mannerism of our 'stars' thanks to TV. However, we only have the writing such as yours to know more about yesteryear's generation of cricketers.

Your vivid descriptions of KR Rajagopal in this post and many other stalwarts of TN and Hyderabad cricket in earlier posts are truly a delight.

Thanks for the reading pleasure.

Ramnarayan said...

Many thanks.

Good Reading said...

Ram, thought Rajagopal made it to the Australian tour after all. Lovely description of a humble, great cricketer!
RC Rajamani

Ramnarayan said...

Sorry, Rajamani, saw your comment only now. No, I'm afraid Raja did not make it to Australia. He never played for India. Ram

Anonymous said...

Well said! Krr was a genius in his own right.

Vijay said...

I have seen K R Rajagopal score a brilliant 73 against Bombay team (Mumbai now) against a strong attack comprising of Bondre, Varde, P.Shivalkar, Baloo Gupte, Eknath Solkar, Manohar Hardikar and Vijay Bhonsale, He and Belliappa put up a century partnership in no time with Belliappa getting out on 51. I had seen Rajagopal employ sweep shot to a great effect against Shivalkar,one of the most difficult bowlers to score using a sweep shot. Rajagopal was run out for 73 and that was the only way he could have got that day. It is a pity that he never played for the national team. The match was won by Bombay, the year was 1968 and the venue was Brabourne Stadium. The match was fought on an even keel and Bombay prevailed thanks to the first innings lead that it had taken.

Anonymous said...

I have seen K.R.Rajagopal open the madras innings and also keep wickets. he is a type of pening batsman who can never be kept down. Amazing were his shots and his work behind the wickets.
Its a pity that K.R.Rajagopal turned up for Tamilnadu then Madras. has he been born and played for Mumbai he might have taken permanent slot in the Indian team.
Electrifying opener Rajagopal is Rajagopal and none to match him.
Gone are the days of 1960s and early 1970s. How much I wish to get younger and see them all over again.