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Tuesday, January 03, 2006
  TN cricket - Part I : Early heroes

Although Tamil Nadu is easily one of the most cricket loving states, it has hardly produced cricketers in proportion to the following it generates. Tons of cricket literature come out of the state but very little about its own famous cricketing sons. In that backdrop, Ramachandra Guha's Wickets in the East makes for refreshing reading. Guha in his book picks an all-time best XI for those Indian states with a long and well-established cricketing tradition.

In a superb chapter called Tamils and Turbans in Triplicane, Guha's team is as follows: Srikkanth, Cota Ramaswami, Milkha Singh, Kripal Singh, Gopinath, Ram Singh, MJ Gopalan, Bharat Reddy(wk), Venkatraghavan(capt), Rangachari, VV Kumar, SK Gurunathan(Manager).

Now the book was written in 1992 so that explains why we don't see Badani, Robin Singh and Ramesh who otherwise would have walked into the line-up. Hats off to Guha for bringing to light some of the truly unsung and forgotton heroes of Tamil Nadu cricket.

At the turn of this century, the Madras Cricket Club closed its door to non-Europeans. Undaunted a few wealthy locals formed the Madras United Club. Among them was Buchi Babu, Cota Ramaswami's father. Till the early 90s, the Buchi Babu Trophy was a regular event in Chennai. Ramaswami went to Cambridge for his education and though not selected for the cricket, made it to tennis even winning a coveted Blue appearance against Oxford! He returned to India to take upon a job and had turned thirty by the time he took up serious cricket.

Meanwhile a gallant Sikh from Amritsar had galloped down to Madras and was setting the Adayar afire! The first ever Ranji game took place between Madras and Mysore on Nov 4, 1934 - it actually ended in a day! Nearing the age of forty, Cota Ramaswami top scored with 26 while Ram Singh took 11-35 piloting Madras to an innings win. While Ram missed out, Ramaswami made it to the infamous 1936 English tour, scoring 40 and 60 on his Test debut at Manchester. He is still the oldest Test debutant for India! Ram in the meantime, was at his best in the Presidency games, significantly starring in a win over the Europeans, top scoring with 70 at one-drop and then taking 8-14 and 5-34. He was unlucky to miss the 1946 tour of England as well but remained very much an undoubted Ranji giant, becoming the second cricketer to achieve the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets.

Unlucky Ram would surely have found comfort in the success of his son - Kripal Singh crowned his Test debut with a century, only the 3rd Indian to do so. More importantly for the state, Kripal was the hero of the first of their only 2 Ranji triumphs, scoring 75 and 91 and bowling 86 overs for seven wickets to clinch a thrilling final. Kripal's brother Milkha was a stylish left-hander who earned his Test spurs while barely nineteen. He was also the first to hit a ton in Duleep Trophy and was considered the best player of spin in his time. It seemed that other than Ajith Wadekar, none in the country could face up to the wiles of Chandra and Prasanna bowling in tandem.

Mention is also due of MJ Gopalan and CR Rangachari, the pace duo. Gopalan was a multitalented personality who had the chance of going to the 1936 Berlin Olympics with the hockey team. Unluckily, he spurned the sureshot gold medal only to be dropped from the cricket tour of England. The courageous Ranga shone in Australia in 1947-48 even giving a little trouble to Bradman. The West Indies visited India the next year and in the Delhi Test, Ranga had them in trouble at 27-3. The Caribbeans shrugged off the shocks and raced to a mammoth 631-5, Ranga ending with 5-107. In his latter years, I recollect Ranga joining AIR's tamil commentary box in the Eighties, wherever he would unfailing mention his efforts in that historic Australian tour.

Guha concludes the chapter thus:
A word in conclusion about the institution that stands behind Madras cricket. The Hindu, otherwise known as the Mount Road Mahavishnu. The city's first inter-company tournament was endowed by the newspaper, being initially called the Sport and Pastime Trophy, and after the untimely demise of that fine weekly, The Hindu Trophy. Since 1947, it has ably documented Indian Cricket through the annual of that name started by the selfless SK Gurunathan, while in retaining Arthur Mailey, Jack Fingleton and Robin Marlar it has brought us the best in cricket writing. Two members of the family have played for the state: the left-hand batsman K Balaji and N Ram, who briefly kept wickets for Madras and is now helping to keep the nation's conscience.

Much more on The Hindu later. Guha's selection is more or less okay, except that I would anyday select V.Sivaramakrishnan ahead of Srikkanth, considering the latter's indifferent domestic record.
S.K.Gurunathan, Jack Fingleton and N.W.D.Yardley adorned the pages of Hindu for a long time. But the all time great in Cricket writing is Neville Cardus.

C.R.Rangachari had the distinction of getting Don Bradman out, clean bowled, once.

Milka Singh is a more graceful batsman than elder brother Kripal Singh or younger one Satwender Singh.
What an amazing blog! I havent yet come across a blog which has such rich content for a cricket fan. This post is gr8 as well.
Btw, dont u think Woorkeri Raman would have been a better choice than Srikkanth?

Its an honor that you mentioned Grandpa ( SKG ) as the manager of your all-time best XI. This year (2008) is his centenenary year & he is still remembered.

It is said that C.R.Rangachari clean-bowled the great Don Bradman once. I am not too sure if this is correct because I remember reading an article by J.H.Fingleton ( or is it Hasset?) who said that Rangachari missed Bradman's stump by "the proverbial varnish"..This metaphor is still green in my memory..One would like to know in which match Ranga "clean bowled" Bradman.
Vengrai Parthasarathy, San Diego
We had other cricketers which Tamil nadu had produced. C.D. Gopinath, N.Kannayiram,B.C.Alva, Anantha Narayanan, to mention a few.
the first two have played for India.
Andt there was Ladu Ramachandran
the jaunty umpire who dared to give even C.P.Johnstone, the MCC Honcho: OUT-lbw!

Vengrai Parthasarathy
Great article now I realize my sister recommended me that because she always know what's the best thing to choose.
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Oh finally! another cricket fan! great post!
Really great post, Thank you for sharing This knowledge.Excellently written article, if only all bloggers offered the same level of content as you, the internet would be a much better place. Please keep it up!
I do think Woorkeri Raman would have been a better choice than Srikkanth. Great cricket post.
wow great i have read many articles about this topic and everytime i learn something new i dont think it will ever stop always new info , Thanks for all of your hard work!
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This blog is what I would call'nostalgic'.Great! Here is a little digression.
Tamil film star has made the expression "EnnammA KaNNU' a trade mark of his. Actually, I had heard this from the mouth of C.R.Rangachari, the speed merchant, for whom this was always an opening greeting.
Who is the most tenacious batsman of Tamil Nadu. I would give my hand to S.R. Jagannathan a past University cricketer and presently Editor of a Cricket monthly devoted to Cricket.He could stay at the
crease, over after over, hour after hour. He missed being included in the Tamil Nadu Eleven by a hair's breadth as there were many Cricketers jostling for a place in the team.
......Vengrai Parthasarathy
Very exclusive photo and article thanks for sharing.
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TN Cricket - I : Early heroes
Bala, Bharatan and Guha
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