I was one of those cricketers destined, it seemed, to be known and appreciated at the local, state level at best. I found even Ranji Trophy cricket out of my reach for a long time, unlike the several sterling cricketers just below the Test level with whom I rubbed shoulders. (As, bolstered by a few milligrams of the finest produce of Scotland, I once picked up the courage to declaim to a boastful Test cricketer, I strongly believe that we often played stirring cricket of an intensity comparable to the best that world cricket could conjure).
Until I was 28, it seemed I would never play first class cricket, thanks in the main to the timing of my birth—a few years after that of India’s greatest off spinner EAS Prasanna and just two behind his own rival for a spot in the Indian team Venkataraghavan—and the curious, often cruel concatenation of circumstances that always seemed to be conspiring against my chances of winning the selectors’ nod. More later about all that, and the amazing turnaround in my fortunes in 1975 which almost, but not quite, led to a fairytale ending to my cricket story, but I must confess that during my years in the wilderness, I often thought of writing a book I would call “Autobiography of an Unknown Indian Cricketer” in imitation of the title of Nirad C Chaudhuri’s great memoirs, because I always immodestly believed I belonged as an off spinner at the highest level—a view some wonderful cricket mates shared and nurtured—with a story to tell.
My story would also include in its sweep some of the best cricketers not to have played for India, though its bias would ever so subtly tilt towards the best South Zone cricketers I have had the privilege to partner or oppose on the field of play. KR Rajagopal, B Kalyanasundaram, S Vasudevan, V Sivaramakrishnan, P Ramesh, Abdul Jabbar, P Mukund, AG Satvinder Singh, N Bharatan, V Krishnaswamy (all Tamil Nadu), Mumtaz Husain, Noshir Mehta, P Jyoti Prasad, T Vijay Paul, Kanwaljit Singh, Saad Bin Jung, Shahid Akbar (all Hyderabad), AV Jayaprakash, VS Vijayakumar, Sudhakar Rao, Vijayakrishna (all Karnataka), D Meher Baba and MN Ravikumar (both Andhra) are among the fiercely combative cricketers and unforgettable characters I would profile in this tribute to the great game as I saw and played it.
In the evening years of my cricket career, however, I discovered I had excellent recall of the many experiences and personalities good, bad and mostly funny, which had enriched my days under the sun. That was when some of my friends began to urge me to write those stories for public consumption. The result was a column I called Curdrice Cricket, largely a lighthearted tribute to cricket in Tamil Nadu. Mostly about the players and unique flavour of cricket in my home state, but including very little about my own cricket, it later formed an important part of my first book, Mosquitos and Other Jolly Rovers: The Story of Tamil Nadu Cricket
My sojourn in Chennai was only one part of the story of my cricket. The decade I spent in Hyderabad was the more fruitful, rewarding part of my career and I had not touched on it in Curdrice Cricket or Mosquitos. I moved to Andhra Pradesh in 1970, joining State Bank of India as a ‘probationary officer’ and spending most of the first year of my tenure there at rural Anakapalle, before the glorious uncertainties of life took me to Hyderabad and a fresh opportunity to play cricket in July 1971. I was four months short of my 24th birthday.
The struggle to make a mark was long and hard. It took me well nigh two years to even gain a regular place in the bank’s star-studded team in the local league and two more to be selected to represent Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy. What followed was a minor miracle and I was an official Test probable within a year! While I savoured every moment I spent in the exalted company of my illustrious teammates and being recognized as someone with an outside chance of replacing Prasanna or Venkataraghavan in the Indian team, my swift dismissal from all forms of first class cricket five years later left me bewildered, hurt and angry.
Distance, or the passage of time, rather, lends enchantment and I turned to cricket writing once I was sure I could do so without bitterness, and that is how, aided by the devastating effects of a couple of poor career moves I made, I became a freelance journalist around 1994, starting with contributions to the Saturday Sports page of The Hindu. The demands from my close friends to write my cricket memoirs have continued over the decades—and, thanks to the encouragement I have received from some better known authors—I have finally decided to inflict them on the reading public.
The confidence and excellence of some of today’s cricket writers have been the biggest factors responsible for my finally taking the plunge, changing my long held perception that only international cricketers had any chance of succeeding as authors of cricket books. With their style, keen love of cricket, and sense of history, such accomplished writers as Suresh Menon, Harsha Bhogle, Rahul Bhattacharya, and Gideon Haigh have provided the inspiration; so you know whom to blame for my belated entry into the world of cricket memoirs.