V Sivaramakrishnan, the tall, left handed opening batsman, who played first class cricket between 1973 and 1988, had the highest Ranji Trophy aggregate for a Tamil Nadu batsman for a long time, before another lefthander, S Sharath, went past him. My youngest brother, he had a great appetite for runs even as a boy. Five years older, I did not watch him much in competitive cricket until we were pitted against each other in the Ranji Trophy. At that level, he was my senior, making his debut for Tamil Nadu three seasons before I made mine for Hyderabad. As he was playing for Bihar during my first season, I had to wait one more season before I bowled to him for the first time outside our home compound back in Madras all those years ago (Had we not surrendered to Bombay after gaining the lead in the quarterfinal, we might have faced Bihar in the final). Fittingly as his elder brother, I got him out in that game at Lal Bahadur Stadium, Hyderabad, but only after he had made a bright 61. Thereafter, we sort of shared the honours more or less equally, with him scoring consistently and I dismissing him more than once in Hyderabad-Tamil Nadu matches.
Sivaramakrishnan represented the beginning of a batting revival in Tamil Nadu cricket which gradually turned the state's fortunes around in the seventies to a position of dominance in the South Zone, until its batting reached its pinnacle towards the end of the eighties—when it won the Ranji Trophy—and the nineties. He was a product of university cricket, an important member of the Madras University team that won the Rohinton Baria trophy for the first time in its history. The year was 1971 and under the captaincy of R Ravichandran, Madras discovered a galaxy of young stars in Sivaramakrishnan, Krishnaswami, Mukund, Sushil Haridas, Bhargav Mehta, P R Ramakrishnan, and a whole host of others. The left hander's best contribution in the tournament was a fine hundred in the final against Bombay. I watched most of the games Madras University played that season at Waltair, Visakhapatnam, as I was working at nearby Anakapalle. A hundred and other good scores in the Vizzy Trophy followed, South Zone winning the title. Sivaramakrishnan's good form continued the next season in which he scored a double century, besides playing several innings of character.
Making his debut against Karnataka in 1972-1973, Sivaramakrishnan wasted no time in establishing his credentials. Run out for zero in the first innings, he gave evidence of his class in the second, when he punished Prasanna and Chandrasekhar in a display of quick footwork and daring strokeplay to make 53.
With stiff competition building up for batting places in the Tamil Nadu eleven with the arrival of P Ramesh, another left hander of great promise, and a line-up that had in it Krishnaswami, TE Srinivasan, Jabbar, Satvinder Singh and Mukund, Sivaramakrishnan, moved to greener pastures in the steel town of Jamshedpur in Bihar, where he played for the TISCO team and Bihar in the company of Ramesh Saxena and Daljit Singh. His consistent performances, with a highest of 99 versus Assam, won him a place in the East Zone team straightaway, and he scored runs in the Duleep and Deodhar Trophy matches against North Zone, dancing down the wicket to Bishan Bedi and the like.
Sivaramakrishnan returned to Madras in the very next season, with his reputation enhanced by his Bihar sojourn and an earlier stint in Calcutta where he had proved his competence against the moving ball, playing quality swing bowlers with consummate ease.
Back in Madras for the Ranji Trophy, the left hander batted in the middle order against Karnataka and scored a magnificent century against Prasanna, Chandrasekhar, Vijayakrishna and Co.
Sivaramakrishnan went from strength to strength from that point onwards to become Tamil Nadu's most reliable batsman and consistent rungetter. He was a strong driver of the ball and revelled in the cut. He was particularly good when the chips were down and when there was something in the wicket for the bowlers. His 5039 runs in 126 innings included 11 hundreds and an equal number of dismissals in the nineties. One of the most brilliant close-in fielders Tamil Nadu has produced, he held more than a hundred catches in the national championship, besides occasionally turning his arm over usefully with gentle in-swingers.
Sivaramakrishnan came close to being picked to tour Australia in 1977-1978, when he made 74 for South Zone against North at Bangalore. His rival to the second opener’s slot Chetan Chauhan failed in that game, but North piled up a large total after debutant Yashpal Sharma made an impressive 173. The only way South could have gained the first innings lead and by virtue of it, the match, after being down at 50 plus for 3 was for Siva and TE Srinivasan (who scored a hundred) to put on a massive partnership, but Siva virtually threw his wicket away just when the attack was tiring and South Zone yielded a lead of over 100. North went on to win that match and Chetan Chauhan made a hundred in the final at Bombay, to clinch a place in the squad. The rest is history as Gavaskar and Chauhan struck a durable partnership thereafter.
Opening the innings for South Zone against Tony Greig’s Englishmen at Hyderabad (I was warming the reserve benches), Siva negotiated the seam and swing of John Lever and Co., and was on the verge of launching an all-out attack on the spinners, when he was run out while he and GRV attempted an impossible single to Derek Randall. He had made 27. In those pre-helmet days, he was out fending off bouncers from Imran Khan and Malcolm Marshall in the tour matches against Pakistan and West Indies, and failed to convert a good start against Rodney Hogg and Co. of Australia. These failures kept him out of the Test berth he otherwise richly deserved. His last chance was against England again in 1983, following a hugely successful Ranji season, but again he was dismissed for 38 and 30, though he made batting look relatively easy facing Bob Willis at his quickest.
Some of Siva's best batting against fast bowling came in Colombo in 1982, and Perth, six years later. In Sri Lanka, he batted so well in the first innings of the Gopalan Trophy match, against genuinely quick bowling on a fiery wicket, that the coach Peter Philpott advised the captain not to enforce the follow on so that the Lankan bowlers gained more practice bowling to a quality left hander, ahead of the forthcoming tour of Australia, which had a few southpaws. In Australia, playing for the Ranji Trophy champion Tamil Nadu, he blunted a pace attack which had three Test fast bowlers on the Perth wicket notorious for its pace and bounce. It was a brave counterattack amidst a general batting collapse.
Winning the Ranji Trophy that season was a personal triumph for Sivaramakrishnan. He had come back successfully into the side for the knockout stage of the championship after announcing his retirement at the start of the season, scoring heavily in all three matches he played, including a hundred in the semifinal and 94 in the final. That had been the crowning moment of this extraordinary team man's first class career -- unrewarded at the highest level, but deeply satisfying at the State level. He continued to play league cricket in Chennai for many more seasons, playing selflessly for his team and amassing runs.