<--Added on 8/22/08 for migration to TPB -->
Rajan Bala, Raju Bharatan and Ramachandra Guha
Although brought up reading the cricket writers produced by Sportstar and Sportsworld in my childhood days, there is a splendid trio of raconteurs who have a very special place in my heart. They have deeply enriched my appreciation of the game and in particular its unsung heroes.
All 3 had Tamil roots(not that it matters) but spent their careers outside the state. What endears the triumvirate to me is a certain flair and style in their writing that goes beyond institutionalized streams of thought. They don't have the attitude of sucking up to their state players like most Indian journos. I guess it's hard to describe to which state the three had their loyalties, their domiciled state being different from the place of nativity. Probably not being attached to a newspaper gives them this freedom. And finally, nobody covered the Indian cricketers of the Fifties and Sixties like these three have done.
Bala was the first I stumbled upon, during the 1990 tour of New Zealand, when his book "All the Beautiful Boys" hit the stands. It was only in 1999 that I could grab that book. By then I was aware that he was the only hack who had covered both the Pakistan and Windies tours of 1982-83(R.Mohan returned after the Pakistan tour). There's no really doubt about the fact that Bala has a terrific understanding of the technical intricacies of the game, in fact the best you will
ever see. Razor sharp in grasping the nuances, he was often sought by the lesser players for technical feedback and corrections. There was also a subtle hint in his interviews that he resented the influence of R.Mohan in the BCCI and in the cricket-crazy south. I am really surprised that currently the duo work together for The Asian Age.
It was on Day 1 of the Nov 1994 Bombay Test that I came to know of Bharatan, as he debuted for the The Hindu's Saturday's Sports Special. I was naturally attracted to his vividly nostalgic bent of mind and his amazing aptitude for recalling dates of matches and balls faced by so-and-so in such-a-such game. And oh, his puns delighted me no end, "Sip by Pepsip the Sachinks in the armour were seen", "The Iyengarrulous Kris Srikkanth", "The act of the man did jar"(reference to Barry Jarman the match referee). Raju had a nose for exposing intriguing plots. His eyewitness accounts of the 1952 English tour were fascinating. I used to collecting all his newspaper pieces and ultimately made a web page for his writings. Somewhere I had made a Word Document containing 101 of his articles, a lengthy pun-fest interspersed with stats. Raju is also a fine repository of Hindi film music, being a big fan of Asha, RD Burman and Naushad. I think he spent a few years with Filmfare as well.
Guha's name was a misnomer and having read a bit of Raju Mukherji, I mistook him for a Bengali. It was well after I had finished 2 of his books that I had some clue about his antecedents. His vibrant and rich vocabulary and his fluent engaging style captivated me in no time. Guha had the thirst of the seeker and the diligence of the surgeon. No doubt about it, he is definitely the first Indian cricket scholar. Spin and Other Turns was a delightful read where there are some not-to-be forgotten incidents - His eager longing to see a Gavaskar hundred, partly fructifying when he got a ticket to Day 1 of the 1980 Pongal Test, Sunny finishing the day at 92 not out. The next day, he was on the Coromandel Express and while stopping at Vijayawada station, heard the announcement over the radio that Sunny had moved on to an unbeaten 166. Then there is his confession of how Vishy's masterly 222 against England brought his heart back to cricket after a 3 year hiatus in pursuit of communism.
Strange that although TN has produced excellent cricket writers by the dozen, we are yet to produce one decent cricketer of international class(Ramesh is probably the best of all, the rest were quite ordinary and even lucky).