Saturday, September 24, 2011

The music of cricket

25 Aug 2003 18:40:30

The music of cricket
V Ramnarayan

The late MLV, we are told, in the year she got the Sangita Kalanidhi, spent the whole day at Chepauk and then in the evening set off for her concert at the Academy. This set us thinking and we requested good friend V Ramnarayan, no mean cricketer and a music buff, to pen his thoughts. - Editor,

As the train was entering the Western ghats, my heart was filled with happy recollections of how well my first season in first class cricket had gone for me and the exalted company in which I was now moving. My teammates were getting ready for dinner, putting away the card packs after a long session of rummy and ridiculous games invented on the spot by the man sitting next to me, the former Nawab of Pataudi, and by far India's most charismatic cricket captain. I was reading a much
reread old PG Wodehouse favourite and whistling a Lata Mangeshkar song from the film Mughal-e-Azam, hardly aware I was doing it. "Do you know what raag that is?" my neighbour asked in a schoolmasterly tone that obviously did not expect an answer.

I happened to know the answer to that one and promptly replied: "Kedar." Tiger, for that is how Mansur Ali Khan was known to everyone in cricket circles, was suitably impressed and he actually lifted one eyebrow to show he was, just as Beach the butler would have done in his salad days.

The conversation that followed went along predictably enthusiastic lines, as it often happens when two people have discovered a common interest. I learnt in the next half hour of the many wonderful concerts Pataudi had listened to in his ancestral home at Bhopal, of a particularly memorable recording of a great Hindustani vocalist performing for the royal family when he was very drunk. "You must come home and listen to it one day," he said, now in an expansive mood after a few drinks himself. Unfortunately, I never got round to listening to that gem by that celebrated Ustad who happened to be my favourite!

Pataudi's family was keen on music and reputed to be close to Begum Akhtar the great exponent of ghazals, dadra and thumri and Tiger was known to play the tabla well enough to accompany professional musicians in private concerts.

Ravi Kichlu was my teammate in Calcutta where I turned out for Rajasthan Club during the 1968-1969 season. He was an opening batsman who played Ranji and Duleep Trophy cricket but his greater claim to fame was as one half of the well known Kichlu brothers, vocalists of the Agra gharana if I remember right. Ravi passed away a few years ago but his brother Vijay is the director of ITC's Calcutta-based Sangeet
Research Academy. I don't know if he played cricket, but I spent delightful hours fielding in the slips listening to my neighbour Ravi giving me impromptu samples of alap and khyal.

Many, many cricketers of my time were fans of the Hindi film playback singer Mukesh, a trend started by the incomparable leg spinner B S Chandrasekhar. A couple of them were good singers in their own right. Bombay's left arm spinner Padmakar Shivalkar sang well enough to give light music concerts and so has Sanjay Manjrekar been in recent years, just as his father Vijay was in his time.

Closer home, I have had the pleasure of playing cricket with Radhakrishnan of Bunts Cricket Club fame, as well as his son Unnikrishnan, who might have gone on to play at least state level cricket had he not decided to concentrate on developing his
considerable musical talent instead. Sivakumar and Burma Shankar, were both my team mates in the TNCA cricket league in the sixties.

Sivakumar as we all know is D K Pattammal's son and a mridanga vidwan in his own right besides being the father of Carnatic music's new star Nityashree Mahadevan. Burma's son, the hugely talented Sanjay Subrahmanyan is crazy about cricket too. I believe he spends more time thinking about cricket than about Carnatic music!
When I first met Sanjay in the Music Academy foyer during a concert, I introduced myself as an admirer of his music. There were a number of friends surrounding him and he acknowledged my compliment modestly. But after I had walked away from him, he shouted: "I have been a fan of your cricket, too", to my utter surprise and delight.

I am sure the annual cricket match among leading Carnatic musicians is common knowledge by now. I happened to officiate as umpire in one of those some years ago. The intensity of the competition had to be seen to be believed. Ravi Kiran, T M Krishna, Sanjay and Unni would give nothing away; there were a few other equally fierce competitors but I don't remember their names. At least one of them gave me a withering look when I gave him out lbw, a decision that obviously did not satisfy him. That was when Vijay Siva whose idea it had been to invite me, must have had second thoughts about the wisdom of my appointment.

I may add that I have never again been asked to umpire in this gala affair, but I do hope I will get another chance in the future. Who knows, I may have the pleasure of giving a Sangita Kalanidhi out, provided the Music Academy relaxes the age criterion a bit in honouring its vidwans.

Music lovers and musicians are few and far between among cricketers, but the few I know are diehard rasikas. Kedarnath, an accomplished opening batsman of yesteryear, was a trained mridanga vidwan, who forsook music for cricket. He is a wonderful mimic who can imitate some of Carnatic music's greats. His takeoff on MD Ramanathan is pretty impressive, but he can do an equally creditable Pattammal. His ontemporary, the late Devendran, played the mridangam on the concert stage.

Fast bowler Kalyanasundaram - the man who once took a hat trick against Bombay -- is a dedicated concertgoer whose knowledge of music seems to be good enough for him to discuss its technical aspects with musicians and even advise them sometimes. I must ask Unni what he thinks of Kalli's expert observations, as I believe he has reserved
him for special attention, having known him as a cricketer.

M O Srinivasan is well known in music circles as the founder of Dasanjali, a one-man crusade to teach a large number of school kids music especially of the bhajan or light classical variety. I wonder how many people in music circles know that he played for India as a wicket keeper in what were known as unofficial Tests in the late forties-early fifties. He was highly respected as an efficient wicket keeper and stubborn batsman. His son M O Parthasarathi, naturally known as Mop to one and all, was a Ranji and Duleep Trophy player, who bowled fastish leg breaks with a Paul Adams like action, except he was a right arm bowler. He was also a hard hitting batsman, somewhat unorthodox, but extremely successful. He learned Hindustani music and does a very reasonable imitation of singing -- he almost sounds like the real thing. He is a familiar figure at Hindustani music concerts in Chennai and has stopped listening to Carnatic music, I believe, after the demise of Maharajapuram Santhanam.

S D Sridhar the violinist, we all know, is the proud father of S Sriram who now plays for India. Sriram too learned the violin for a few years before the pull of cricket proved too powerful. Former Ranji trophy cricketer S V S Mani, an elegant batsman who played for Tamil Nadu and South Zone with considerable success in the sixties, and once fielded as a reserve against England, is the son of Kottamangalam
Cheenu, that talented singer, who faded away after a stint in films.

S Radhakrishnan (Ambi), a consistent batsman who could also bowl off spin, played for several seasons for Parry's in the league and Hindu Trophy,. Once, a century by him in the league led to a newspaper report which said Radhakrishnan, the son of Semmangudi Srinivasier, had scored a century, thus revealing to the world at large his musical ancestry only friends had hitherto known about.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pataudi and Hyderabad cricket

First published in the Times of India on 24 September 2011

Hyderabad’s cricketers and cricket lovers had the redoubtable Ram Prakash Mehra and his fiefdom, the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association, to thank for MAK Pataudi’s transfer from Delhi to Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy.

He was already India captain when he fell out with the DDCA administration and his close friendship with ML Jaisimha, the Hyderabad skipper, brought him south, with his sister’s address in Begumpet giving him the necessary residential qualification.

Thus began Tiger’s over-a-decade long love-hate affair with Hyderabad cricket, with most of his new teammates and the local crowds welcoming him with open arms and a lunatic fringe of sons-of-the soil partisans opposing the transplant.

What Tiger’s arrival in the twin cities did to Hyderabad cricket was to double the glamour quotient of the team, which already had Jaisimha—with his matinee idol looks and inimitable swagger--and Abbas Ali Baig with his boyish charm that once induced a pretty young thing to run on to the middle at the Brabourne Stadium, Bombay and kiss him.

There were at times as many as six Test cricketers and almost the entire South Zone eleven in the squad—Tiger, Jai, Abbas, Abid Ali, Jayantilal, Krishnamurti, Govindraj, Mumtaz Hussain, Abdul Hai, Narasimha Rao, Noshir Mehta and so on—who formed as exciting a line-up as anywhere.

The seniors were naturally older and altogether more experienced and polished than the rest of the team, but for all the awe that their stature demanded, we were a remarkably relaxed lot in the dressing room if generally on our best behaviour.

Tiger, who never led Hyderabad, was ever mindful of who the boss was, not once hinting by action or word at his own exalted position in the cricket world.

In fact, some of us were once witness to what came close to a ticking off by the captain, when he pulled up Tiger for going off the field without sufficient cause, suggesting that he had taken a cigarette rather than a toilet break during a painfully long session.

On a personal level, I was his teammate for exactly one season during 1975-76, though we remained in touch afterwards.

My first season for Hyderabad was his last. He had just retired from Test cricket after a thrilling series as captain against Clive Lloyd’s West Indies, though a poor one as batsman.

The rapport between us was instant, and his approval of my cricket did wonders for my morale.

Imagine coming into a team with at least four stars you ahd watched and admired from a distance—in my case at the ripe old age of 28, when I had given up all hope of playing first class cricket!

It was nothing short of a dream, to drink in the special atmosphere of the Hyderabad dressing room, to enjoy the long train journeys to Ranji Trophy matches, the interesting, sometimes electrifying conversations about cricket and cricketers that taught you more about the game than any coaching manual, the card games from bridge and rummy to the most absurd games of pure chance that Tiger invented, the conviviality inspired by Mr. McDowell, in short, the sheer camaraderie of it all, with every member of the team included in all the fun.

Several mental images of that debut season have stayed with me. The first memory is of Jaisimha, Tiger and Abid joining me and my roommate Prahlad in the balcony outside our hotel room just as we were about to turn in, the night before my debut at Trivandrum.

“Nonsense,” Tiger’s and Jai’s voices boomed as I said good night. “Have a drink with us.”

I didn’t realise it then, but it was their way of ensuring that in trying to sleep early, the nervous debutant did not toss and turn all night in anticipation of the morrow.

Next morning, when I took my first wicket, it was Tiger who ran up to me and said, “Wish you many more wickets, but for God’s sake, stop bowling rubbish.” It was just the wake-up call I needed to overcome my nerves and start bowling my normal stuff.

Tiger’s sense of humour and his pranks were well known. During that match at Trivandrum, he quickly sized up as a cricket ignoramus a magazine journalist who sought an interview with him.

What followed was so hilarious it was extremely difficult to keep a straight face.

Poor Mr Pillai! What horror he must have undergone when he filed the story of
Pataudi’s great successes and failures as Test batsman and captain—such as a double century against Belgium, an innings victory over Argentina and defeat at the hands of Netherlands!

V Ramnarayan, former Hyderabad and South Zone off-spinner

Tribute to Tiger

“When I saw the English bowling,” was Mansur Ali Khan’s pat reply to a British journalist at a press conference immediately after his maiden Test hundred at Madras against Ted Dexter’s visiting England side in 1961. The question had been about when after the loss of one eye he had started believing he could play Test cricket again.

In his autobiographical Tiger’s Tale, Pataudi recounted how he decided to have some fun in the middle in that game. “The crowds here have rarely seen Indian batsmen take the aerial route,” he told his batting partner and skipper Nari Contractor, and proceeded to play some delightful lofted shots, including a couple of sixes, in an innings that broke away from the defensive mould of the time.

Pataudi was the first superstar of Indian cricket, arguably more charismatic than anyone before or after him to don India colours. The reasons were not far to seek: his brilliant wit and repartee as much as his striking good looks, superb athleticism and positive cricket.

He was inarguably the first Indian captain to demand consistently hard work in the fielding department, though there had been the occasional flash in the pan before his time. He set a marvellous personal example, patrolling the covers with lissome authority—those fortunate enough to watch the early Pataudi believed that he was not only a genius of a batsman but also a world class slip fielder, before he became blind in one eye. One of the first things he is said to have told his team after taking over as Sussex captain was: “Gentlemen, let’s see some scuffed trousers and bruised knees and elbows.”

Acknowledged as one of the world’s best fielders of his time, he was once invited by a television channel to compete in a fielding contest with Colin Bland, South Africa’s original Jonty Rhodes, to be telecast live, but Tiger declined because it involved getting up early on a non-match morning!

I write this hours after his death and almost every tribute I have watched has stressed his major influence on the self-belief of Indian Test cricketers hitherto known for their defeatist attitude (though Tiger himself was known to have acknowledged the role played by such predecessors as GS Ramchand).

Add all these ingredients and what you get is the magic of Tiger Pataudi, whose heroic exploits in a losing cause once earned him the newspaper headlines His Excellence The Nawab of Headingley. This was during the 1967 tour of England and he made 64 and 148 as India scored 510 after following on, forcing England to bat a second time. Next year, he was leading India in Australia, where after being forced to miss the first Test by a hamstring injury, he earned the sobriquet of Captain Courageous with his brave batting in the remaining three Tests—“with one good eye and on one good leg.”

It has been suggested that his 2793 runs at an average of 34.91 are ordinary figures, but these statistics have to be seen in the right perspective. For the major part of his career he averaged around 40, which was not far behind the performance of the leading Indian batsmen of his period. His failure against the West Indies at both the start and end of his career it was that brought down his average considerably. At the peak of his career, he modestly dismissed any excessive praise of his batting by claiming that most of his runs were scored against medium pace bowling! In rare moments, he however admitted that with two eyes, he might have equalled the great batsmen of the game.

I had the privilege of playing for Hyderabad when he was still a member of the team, with my first season his last. I walked on air the whole season, thanks to the sheer joy of sharing the dressing room with the likes of Tiger, my captain ML Jaisimha, Abbas Ali Baig and Abid Ali. I wonder if there has ever been a more glamorous outfit in domestic cricket than the Hyderabad side of the 1970s. I was very lucky to win the approval of these nawabs of Hyderabad cricket, even if the sojourn was all too brief, for Tiger and Abbas retired after that season and Jai and Abid soon afterwards.

Two memories linger from that season: one a totally unexpected cameo by him in a match against Andhra, when following an off-drive off my bowling, the batsman MN Ravikumar dived back to his crease after starting a second run as he saw Tiger pick up the ball in a feline swoop and fling it—feign a throw, in fact—only to see him walk up to where the ball had actually stopped on a damp outfield and retrieve it casually; another a masterly 198 against Tamil Nadu after demanding a promotion in the batting order and promising the captain a double hundred.

I remember suggesting to Pataudi that his decision to retire from Test cricket at the end of the 1974-75 series India lost 2-3 to Clive Lloyd’s West Indies. His reply was heartbreaking. “I don’t want to be killed on a cricket field, Ram,” he said, referring to his inability to see the express deliveries of Andy Roberts and Co.

In the midst of the swirling surge of emotions the news of his passing has caused, my thoughts keep going back to a moment at the end of my first Ranji Trophy season. We were sitting on the terrace at the Wankhede Stadium after losing to Bombay a match we should have won. I had had a good match personally, and Pataudi was quietly happy about it in the manner of a kindly senior. “Seven wickets against Bombay!” he repeatedly muttered, but adding a disclaimer. “Next year, wickets will be harder to come by, because every batsman will take you more seriously.” Prophetic, those words turned out to be, though I did not take them seriously then.

What he said next devastated me. “All the best, Ram. I won’t be playing next year. I am announcing my retirement from first class cricket.” It was Hyderabad cricket’s irreparable loss then. Today, cricket is poorer without him.

The author was MAK Pataudi’s Hyderabad teammate in the 1975-76 season. An off-spinner, he played in the Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Deodhar Trophy and Irani Cup.