Thursday, December 9, 2010

TE is no more

"I fell in love with his batting the first time I saw him play,” Mala, my friend and cricket mate TE Srinivasan’s wife said to me, as we stood next to his mortal remains, minutes before his funeral last Tuesday. “I knew nothing of cricket, though,” she continued, “TE’s batting had that kind of effect on you. It was like listening to Madurai Mani Iyer or MS Subbulakshmi for the first time, even if you knew no music.”

Srinivasan, TE to everyone who knew him, played a solitary Test for India, but had a huge fan following in the south, especially in Tamil Nadu, thanks to his carefree approach to the game and audacious strokeplay.

TE was also one of the characters of the game, quick-witted, mischievous and blessed with a zany sense of humour, bordering on the wild. This aspect of his personality must have impressed former England captain Michael Atherton to mention him in his autobiography. Unfortunately Atherton gets it all wrong like many English and Australian cricketers on matters Indian. He describes TE’s batting as “wild and unorthodox”, a blasphemous statement as anyone who ever watched TE bat would know. The swing of TE’s bat was a purist’s delight, it came down straight as an arrow as he took on the bowling, especially of the quicker variety, with aggressive intent, style and flair. Some of his theories on the game were unorthodox, but his technique was pure. He loved to hit the ball on the up and deal in boundaries rather than do anything as tiring as running between the wickets.

Atherton also reveals a talent for fiction in his references to TE, when he quotes Sunil Gavaskar as stating that TE might have played more Tests for India had he not been born in a low caste. This is a ridiculous assertion as TE was upper caste as they come, and surely Gavaskar knew that? Unless of course, TE fooled the Little Master with one of those crazy stories he liked to tell against himself sometimes, as when he misled Ghulam Ahmed, then chairman of national selectors. Greeting Ghulam at an airport, TE quickly realised that the veteran off-spinner, not unlike other selectors of the time, had not recognised him. “Good morning Sir,” he said, “I’m V Sivaramakrishnan sir, the opening batsman.” “Ah, Siva, good morning,” was Ghulam’s reply. Incredibly, he then asked TE, “How’s our friend TE Srinivasan?” giving him a glorious opening for one of his pranks.” TE’s reply was not only instantaneous but completely mad. “TE, sir? That rascal is up to no good sir, always drinking and getting into trouble.”

I played a lot of my early cricket in the company of TE, back in the 1960s. We were intercollegiate foes, and many were the stirring contests we were involved in. He honed his batting technique on a cement wicket at the Nungambakkam Corporation School, where he asked boys to bowl or even chuck at him from 18 yards. As a result, he was unusually strong against fast bowling, rare among domestic batsmen of his vintage. This proficiency also meant that he was slightly suspect against slow bowling, especially in the early part of his innings. He did not find instant success in first class cricket, his first hundred, a brilliant knock against a Karnataka attack led by Prasanna and Chandrasekhar, coming more than five years after his Ranji Trophy debut for Tamil Nadu. His first century at the Duleep Trophy level too came after a long wait. He began with a string of single-digit scores, cursing his luck at having to face “bloody left arm spinners” all the time on arrival at the crease. When it actually happened, the hundred against North Zone at Bangalore in the 1977-78 season drew a string of superlatives from the scribes and commentators watching the game.

TE is famous for his verbal jousts, sometimes with opponents feared by his colleagues. Teammates cannot forget the expression on the face of Aussie paceman Rodney Hogg, when TE cornered him after the first day’s play of a tour game at Hyderabad and told him, “Why don’t you stop bowling off spinners and try to bowl fast instead?” He is also reputed to have informed the media as soon as the 1980 Indian team landed in Australia, “Tell Dennis Lillee TE has arrived.”

TE battled brain cancer with great courage and good humour. When I said to Mala, “We all admire you for the way you took care of TE; how incredibly brave you have been,” she said, “On the contrary, TE looked after me even when he was desperately ill. He kept my spirits up with his good cheer, never complaining of his pain or suffering.”

Judged by his single Test appearance, perhaps TE was an underachiever, perhaps the selectors did not give him his due, but he gave spectators and colleagues sheer joy with his stylish batting, his bravado, his raffish gait reflecting his hero-worship of ML Jaisimha of Hyderabad and India. He was quite simply one of a kind.