Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cricket in Madras, after 1792

It’s good to know that the Madras Day celebrations have caught on and that this year there’s been an even greater enthusiasm from residents in Chennai. I was at the Taj Coromandel on Madras Day to listen to a presentation on the history of cricket in the city by V Ramnarayan courtesy Madras Musings.

I was there much ahead of the scheduled time and chose to wait and watch in the lobby. Even the Taj has not been able to ward off the ubiquitous mosquito. Anyway, who should come and greet me but a journalist friend. She wanted historical information about Parrys and the Marina. We were chatting for a while when I spotted the city’s storyteller S Muthiah. She had questions to ask him and he kept her entertained with stories, old and new, of Parrys and the Marina.

There was Tim Murari with a friend, and I thought I spotted Minnie Menon as well. What was heartening was that there were several new faces in the audience, which clearly meant that people had followed reports about Madras Day, and were keen to know a thing or two about Chennai’s cricketing past.

Ram, although he hasn’t played cricket for Tamil Nadu, knows enough about the game in these parts to keep you enthralled for hours. He had some vintage slides to back his presentation. There were some lovely pictures – of Gavaskar flicking to fine leg, Gundappa Vishwanath essaying a straight drive (his 97 not out against the West Indies at Chepauk was one of the best innings ever seen), Garfield Sobers executing an off-drive… these were on top of my list.

Tamil Nadu has won the Ranji Trophy only twice in the past 50 years – in 1954-55 and 1987-88. The state has played host to many players from other Indian states. Corporate support to the game has been fairly good. Indeed, most of the better playing grounds are maintained by corporates. And the game is well administered here too. Ram spoke about the knowledgeable and sporting crowd and bemoaned the lack of crowds nowadays for local cricket matches. “Lesser level cricketers are not considered entertaining anymore,” he said.

Following were some of the things I learnt:

- The earliest cricket match in Madras was in 1792
- The Madras Cricket Club was formed in 1846 by Alexander Arbuthnot
- MCC shifted to Chepauk in 1865
- The Pennycuick Trophy League began in 1898
- The Madras Cricket Association was formed in 1930
- The first Ranji Trophy match was played in 1934, the year Jardine’s Englishmen played

Ram took the audience through the Vinoo Mankad-Pankaj Roy record first-wicket stand of 413, the visit of the West Indies team in 1959 followed by the Pakistanis led by Fazal Mehmood in 1960, the tied Test between India and Australia in 1986, the establishment of the MRF Pace Foundation 20 years ago, and the coming of Dennis Lillee.

There was, of course, more than a mention of AG Ram Singh, the best cricketer never to play for India, according to Ram, WV Raman whom he rated as the best ever TN batsman, and Krishnamachari Srikkanth. Talking about Srikkanth, Ram mentioned how once when the opener was in his elements against the Pakistani pace attack at the Chepauk in the 1980s, Imran Khan felt sheer frustration not being able to give him a piece of his mind as Srikkanth had a tendency of walking towards square leg after executing each blow.

Then there was TE Srinivasan, a colourful character as Ram called him, whose jokes kept the team in splits. Once he had caused such a commotion in the dressing room that it upset the concentration of even the original Little Master, Gavaskar, who was batting at the crease then. According to Ram, Srinivasan during his visit with the Indian cricket team to Australia had commented to the press: “Tell Dennis that TE has arrived.” Well, after that remark little was heard of TE.

MA Chidambaram, S Sriraman and AC Muthiah’s names were not missed out – all administrators of the game in Tamil Nadu. And N Shankar’s name too. The chairman of the Sanmar Group was seated in the front row listening to Ram.

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