The world at large only knows the stars that wear the India cap and Indian colours. To a generation of cricket fanatics glued to their TV sets, even the names of past cricketers as accomplished as M J Gopalan or A G Ram Singh may mean little, much less the humble league cricketers, the devoted club secretaries, umpires, scorers, markers and other staff who have remained anonymous over the decades.
Early accounts of organised cricket in Madras state as it was called then bristle with the names of several personalities who enriched the game. Not all of them were champion performers; some of them added value by their passion for the game, their love of its nuances, and their loyalty to the clubs they supported. Some declared that their clubs were dearer to them than their wives! There was this devoted follower of the Palayampatti Shield league who went from ground to ground on his bicycle, stopping only to inform anxious fellow enthusiasts the scores at other grounds and to collect the details of the match in progress to share with other diehard fans elsewhere. This role of score-disseminator was performed with equal conscientiousness by the ubiquitous Rita ice-cream vendor and peanut seller.
But whether they were players, spectators, markers, umpires, scorers or club secretaries, the combined contribution of all these colourful elements to the fabric of Tamil Nadu cricket will always be greater than the sum, of that there can be little doubt. Who can ever forget Muthu of BS Nets with his trademark 'Last set Rajen' or his talented sons Padmanabhan, Arunachalam and Santosh Kumar who did him proud with the quality of their cricket? Or KRS Mani who spent a minor fortune on nurturing the game in his own way by supporting a club against overwhelming odds, neglecting his own financial security in the process, or his ecstatic celebratory run on the field in distant Pune when Venkat, Kumar and Kalli pulled off an improbable win in the Ranji semifinal? Will there ever be another 'Don' Rangan who today may be penniless and frail, but lorded over his Pithapuram grounds as the uncrowned monarch of all he surveyed, spotting talent, defying the mighty and rubbing shoulders with the great with the insouciance of a pirate king? Will we again see the likes of M G Bhavanarayanan, R Raghavan or Y Ramachandran who wheeled away long after youth had deserted them but not their love of the game or the ardour of their competitive spirit? Can sponsorship and cola wars ever produce another S Annadurai, with his nonchalant confidence in the efficacy of his methods of keeping fit and ability to pick out the promising from the merely flattering or the generous treats he gave his wards on tour paying the bills from his own pocket?
No, the march of time and technology can never produce another KS Kannan, that brilliant coach and lovable human being, whose murder of the English language entertained two generations of cricket. It cannot equal the pristine purity of the cricket played by those supremely amateur in spirit but possessed by the desire to excel--G Parthasarathi and the Bhadradri brothers; PS Ramachandran and his three sons, pace bowlers all; Ananthanarayan of the short-lived brilliance; the less known members of the Ram Singh clan—Kalwant, Satwant, Jarnail and Harjinder; J C 'Patba' Patel who habitually delivered the ball before the batsman was ready; 'Mandalam' Mani who as captain commanded the respect of far more gifted players; the ICF trio of J R Maruthi, K Chandrasekhar Rao and stylist S Jagdish, his brother S Nagaswami who migrated to the US and helped propagate the game there; 'Goofy' Subramaniam who had one splendid match versus the 1959 West Indies team; the elegant SVS Mani who once fielded in a Test match but never tasted real success, speed merchants Mohan Rai and Prabhakar Rao; champion 'poi' (literally, false or non-existent) bowlers from Najam Hussain to J S Ghanshyam; the elegant Haridas brothers Sushil and Sunil and their father CK before them; Arvind Gopinath, who could on his day bat in a manner reminiscent of his father CD; SK Patel who wheeled away for interminable hours at the BS Nets until he was ready one day to break a Rohinton Baria bowling record, and mysteriously one day lost it all; the deceptively lazy R Prabhakar who could explode with the bat; the list could go on forever and one could never do justice, because there would still be many a name left out.
People like 'Nayana' Lakshmi Ratan and Ayyadurai who played host to visiting players, both Indian and foreign, before hotel accommodation became de rigueur, Murugesa Mudaliar of The Hindu or V Pattu who took the young under their wing and laid a solid foundation for their progress, others like PVH Babu, Netaji Ramanujam, PC Ramudu, VA Parthasarathy or TP Vijayaraghavan who spent a lifetime running clubs or institutional teams, yet others like K Radhakrishnan and S Ramabhadran left arm spinners of more recent vintage who defied physical handicaps to flight and spin like the best in the trade, incredible purveyors of exaggerated flight or swing like Gopalapuram's Kannan or Vivekananda College's Krishnan, competent cricketers who are better remembered for their wisecracks and puns like KC Krishnamurthi of Crom-Best, Rajaraghavan of Jolly Rovers, Ram Ramesh of IOB, and SJ Kedarnath of State Bank, and promising young talent lost to other fields of endeavour from Prem Kumar and Vasanth Kumar of the sixties to Unnikrishnan of the eighties, all these and many, many more outstanding individuals too numerous to mention here or elsewhere-here's an unqualified apology to all of them-have made domestic cricket what it is today.
I have had the good fortune to split my cricket career into three enjoyable parts—the first decade in Madras and the second in Hyderabad, followed by a third in Madras-Chennai—so I also came into contact with the characters who made Hyderabad cricket a rich variant of the game in the south.