Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Third man

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.


Satya said...

That's a lovely insight! Thanks for opening up!

Nikhil said...

Fantastic piece....

yogi said...

Your pieces really bring out the human side of cricketers. A book please, sir.. A book please..

I also really liked the way you spoke in a down to earth fashion in the interview. There is not the bitterness one sees with cricketers who missed the bus narrowly.

Between, have you written elsewhere about why Tamil Nadu has not produced more cricketers of note ? For a city with supposedly the best leagues in the country and the best audience, this is surely puzzling.

Ramnarayan said...

Thank you Satya and Nikhil. Yogi, I'm working on completing the book. Shd do it in 2011. I wish I knew the answer to the question why TN can't do it. For starters I believe it doesn't have good role models, a statement which will make me unpopular, I'm sure.

Abhik said...

Another nice anecdote. Nice to hear such an account of the aspirations of budding cricketers who went on to be big names later on. Especially like how you've portrayed not just your own emotions but also of others around you.
The lack of role models might be a result of both luck as well as other issues similar to what you experienced. For instance, in recent years, Badrinath was probably unlucky initially because he played in the era of the big four. However, even after that, he wasn't given too many opportunities.

Vatsa said...

Brilliant sir. Always lovely to hear these anecdotes.

Guru Prasad said...


How are you and Gowri? Great to see you blogging again. Missed reading your articles.

Nice article again. Saw the video last week before I read this today. So very nicely expressed, brings out the human side of cricket.

I remember speaking with you about your cricketing days. All these add a new dimension to it.


Balaji Sethuraman said...

Dear Mr. Ramnarayanan,

Reading your mentioning about Mr.Prabhakar ( SBI ) made me nostalgic! He was the original version of Sehwag even in the early 80s and I have witnessed many match winning knocks in The Hindu trophy played in Marina ground. He used to stretch his left leg wider and will just swat the ball and it will sail over the stands adjacent to the Koovam river . What an awesome sight it was !!! While Prabhakar used to hit right from the first ball, his opening partner Mr.Kedarnath was all grace and sheer class. The cover drives of Kedar used to be touch of delicacy resembling that of GRV. Another fascinating player was Mr.Abdul Jabbar ( who resembled Rajesh Khanna those days ! ) . Jabbar's was the consolidating role in the middle order.

I used to see Mr.Prabhakar residing next to Post office in kutchery road...He was like a star cricketer for us and with admiration we used to see whether he is around or not . I still remember his strong wrists !!

I also observed that you studied in P.S.High School North for sometime. May you pls join the Alumni Association. It will be great.


Ramnarayan said...

Thank you, Abhik, Vatsa, Guru and Balaji.You are all giving me mew ideas and reviving forgotten memories, so the book is going to be further delayed. That has been the problem all along. I haven't been able to take the long leave I need to focus entirely on the book, and each fresh memory is adding to the problem!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the lovely thoughts. Sorry to go off on a tangent but do you have anything to say about the leg spinner VV Kumar? The few times I have watched him when he was well into his 60's and I thought he had the most beautiful bowling style that I have ever seen.

vramnarayan said...

Yes, anonymous, VV was a great bowler. And an incredible character. Worth a whole chapter in my book!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind response. Are you planning another book?

Anonymous said...

Ah, never mind. I missed reading the previous comments. Looking forward to the book.

Ramnarayan said...

Anonymous, pl stop being anonymous. Cheers.

Karrileaf said...

Sir, I am visiting your blog after a long time and glad to see more frequent posts. I am writing from Hyderabad and would like to read more about your experiences there. Mr. Nagesh Hammand passed away recently. Keen to know your association with him.

Ramnarayan said...

Nagesh was a very close friend. I wrote on him in this blog a few years ago and I recently posted it on my facebook page. I also attended the 13th day ceremony at Secunderabad on 29 May.

Sridhar said...


Exteremely interesting reading. Any thoughts on Michael Dalvi, Satwender Singh, P K Belliappa. Appreciate your response


Ramnarayan said...

I have written on Dalvi, Satvinder and Belliappa in my columns and my book on TN cricket.

Ram said...

HI Sir,
I had contacted you when I was based in Singapore. After being there for 11 years, I have just moved back and will be based in Bangalore. If you dont mind, can I met up with you in Chennai, when I come there?
Your blogs as usual, are worth their weight in gold.
Looking forward to more insights, laced with humor..
cheers, Ram

V Ramnarayan said...

Ram of Singapore/ Bangalore,
You are most welcome. Saw this post only now, sorry.
All the bestr.
Ram 9840020602