The trouble with an interview for television or youtube is that you cannot say everything you want to say, nor can the producers of the show include everything you say. The result is that you could come out sounding slightly different.
In my recent conversation with the superb young team of Jaideep Varma and Gokul Chakravarthy, I spoke at length about my first class cricket career that ended thirty years ago—for the first time in my life. It was also the first time that anyone asked me to speak about it! We discussed the highs and lows of my career, with special reference to my exclusion from first class cricket when I was still hoping to make it to the Indian team. While on the subject, either I did not mention it or the editing process eliminated it, but there are things I wish I had done better in my cricket, even if I firmly believe I deserved a look-in by the national selectors on the evidence of my performance. I wish I had worked harder, bowled better, perhaps developed a doosra—with a legal action—improved my physical fitness and my fielding beyond being a safe fielder to a brilliant one, even my batting, AND made those strategic moves that I confessed in the interview I did not make.
I should have also stressed the fact that Venkataraghavan and Prasanna were world class cricketers, though they do not need a certificate from me. I cannot claim to be a close friend of either of them, though I played a lot of cricket with Venkat right from my boyhood, but I must mention one instance involving Venkat and me here.
I was really in seventh heaven when my name—along with my brother V Sivaramakrishnan’s—was headlined in The Hindu sometime in the second half of 1977, when both of us were included in the shortlist of 29 players to attend a physical conditioning camp at Chepauk, Madras, prior to the selection of the Indian team to tour Australia that winter. I prepared hard and when the camp conducted by Darshan Tandon, an ex-gymnast from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala, started, I was fit and raring to go. Four more players—including a certain Kapil Dev Nikhanj—were last minute inclusions in the camp, so that we were now 33 probables.
The first few days of the camp were sheer bliss, though Tandon put us through the wringer in the Chepauk cauldron. I was happy that I was proving equal to the exacting demands of our trainer, while some of the players were struggling, though after the first week almost everyone attained a good level of fitness. It was also the occasion my brother and I became close friends with Rajinder Goel, that great left arm spinner and lovely human being. Around the third day or so, Paji, as we called him, strained his calf muscle, which became a hard lump and made it impossible for him to move around, except inside his hotel room. Every evening, as we called on him, he would ask anxiously, “Is everyone fit? Ashok Mankad? Prasanna? Even Parthasarathi Sharma?” and feel extremely let down if we told him that all these players not known for their supreme athleticism were showing no signs of breaking down.
My idyll was broken by an injury I sustained during fielding practice, with our coach Polly Umrigar’s assistant PK Dharmalingam hitting a flat head-high catch for me to take. I ran towards the ball and lost sight of it against the sun, and trying to protect my face with my hands, dislocated a finger. Venkat, an expert in such matters, pulled out my skewed finger and there was some immediate relief, but the rest of the camp was ruined for me, not only because I could not bowl for a few days, but also because my injury was blown out of proportion. I do not know whether it was used against me, but 32 of the 33 attendees played in the Duleep Trophy tournament immediately after the camp, while I was not included in the South Zone 16. Ironically, the South Zone selectors, led by my former captain ML Jaisimha, met to pick the team at the very Chepauk stadium where the camp was held. It was a huge blow, and I was almost reduced to tears by the seeming injustice of it all. I tried to console myself with the thought that with the South Zone captain Venkataraghavan and Prasanna in the eleven, I would have been the third off-spinner in the squad (we were the only three off-spinners in the whole camp), but I realized that it had five opening batsmen and three wicket keepers. It was hard to escape the feeling that it was a deliberate slight.
Something that happened then made the whole situation slightly more bearable. Bharath Reddy, one of the three wicket keepers in the squad that also had the no. 1 keeper Syed Kirmani and KN Charan of Andhra, brought Venkat to my room. The skipper expressed his regret for my omission. “I am very sorry Ram,” he said, “I was not invited to the meeting and had no say in the selection. I feel very bad for you.” This time, it was hard to stop the tears.