<--Added on 8/22/08 for migration to TPB -->
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.