Saturday, March 18, 2006

The States of Indian Cricket

One of the books I picked up from Premier [from its dwindling collection] was the latest edition of Ram Guha's books on cricket. I have read quite a bit of Ram's writings and have immensely liked his essays. His biography of Verrier Elwin is a brilliantly researched piece. Ram stands out not only as a writer of great calibre, but also belongs to the rare tribe that makes a living out of writing. What is amazing about Ram is that his writing defies classification - it cannot be termed journalistic, certainly not fiction, not the usual columns written by famous personalities moonlighting for a hobby. He is a serious researcher, writing on history, cricket and personalities, all blended out of both hard evidence and a great deal of anecdotes. Ram therefore stands out as somone very unique.

You would see him occasionally on the television channel talking about a host of things or writing a piece here or there. He is one of the unique writers who has any scholarly writer's dream publishers like Oxford, and Permanent Black, not the Penguins [but yes, Picador]. When it comes to his writing on Ecology, Environment and History - Ram towers in the list of scholars, and he is equally at ease being as scholarly about cricket.

This blend of his fascination for history and also his love for the game makes his writings on cricket very fascinating. When I was managing the seminars series at IIM, I had invited him to deliver the Tirath Gupta Memorial Lecture, and Ram had delivered a fascinating talk on "How much should a person consume". Using the opportunity of his presence I asked him if he would be willing to interact with some students as cricket, in any case is a religion not only in the country, but also on the campus. IIMA alumni are constantly talking about their cricket mascot Harsha Bhogle - a cricket commentator par excellence. But here was an opportunity to interact with a graduate from the other IIM - the one at Kolkata - that had produced its cricket "Scholar". Ram readily agreed. We thought it would be a good idea to send a special invitation to a handful of exchange students - mostly from the soccer crazy Europe to be present so that they could get a taste of Indian culture. However, I guess Ram knew better - he had interacted with numerous students and academics and am sure had figured out that the international students would not enjoy his talk. So he started his interaction with an offer that they could leave at any moment as cricket was very much a cultural thing with so much of local specificity that they may not actually enjoy the interaction. And of course he did start with something so specific - very much on the lines of the beginning of his book on the historic moment when Karnataka won the Ranji Trophy semi final against Bombay, recounting the incident where GR Vishwanath was not given out leg-before though he was plumb and the run out of Ajit Wadekar as he slipped trying to take a second run. Half the room left, and then Ram kept the audience on their seats for the next hour and a half with contemporary cricket to how he stumbled on Baloo Palwankar [a cricketer] who played for the Hindu Gymkhana in the Bombay pentangular, in a political setting while researching on Ambedkar and the freedom movement.

The book really starts with the same note and goes on to discuss the regional development of Cricket in various parts of India always ending Ram's all time favourite team. It was after the talk at IIM and reading the book that I really realised how specific cricket was to the regional culture. Like Ram, I have at various times had my loyalties to the Ranji team tested - between Karnataka where I grew up, Hyderabad which I made my home for a while and ended up liking the city and Gujarat which has been giving me most of my bread, [Amul] butter, cheese and jam! And how can I forget Railways [which possibly has no support outside of its own employees], which was where I spent most of my spare time trying to reach from Ahmedabad/Anand to Bangalore!! While like Ram, my first choice was Karnataka, how can I forget the moments when I visited All Saints School in Hyderabad to conduct admission tests and could not take my eyes off the photographs of the school team - consisting of Azharauddin, Venkatapathy Raju and Arshad Ayub.... was this Sharda Mandir of Hyderabad?

For persons from my [and Ram's] generation it has not only been a journey through various phases and modifications in the rules of the game, but also the access to technology to experience a match. I remember my first journey to watch a match at the [then] KSCA stadium which was newly constructed. A ticket for the gallery was Rs.25 for the season and I had cycled from home and requested some friend's friend near the stadium for a parking slot at their home to reach the queue at around 6.30 am - just to ensure that you were parked under the shade of the giant scoreboard and it was said to be the best view of the match. I actually got caught in a stampede, lost my slippers and reached the inner part of the stadium only after lunch. By this time, the tickets that were being sold in the black market had suddenly started commanding a discount and I guess I was able to get rid of my gallery ticket for a big discount after purchasing the ticket for stands which was marked at Rs.80 for another big discount. I really do not remember much of the match which was captained by Pataudi.

Unlike Ram, I have not been a Connoisseur but just a good follower. Therefore I do not remember dates events and matches so vividly. But reading the book really took me through a part of the journey I have had with Cricket and a big part which preceeded this. I can certainly identify myself with the journey of Karnataka into the finals, beating Bombay in the semi-finals. This prompted a semi-literary magazine Sudha to have a cover feature on Cricket after the win in the finals. The format used for Ranji during those days and the dearth of international cricket action meant that we followed domestic cricket more keenly. I remember that Kunderan's claim to fame was that he could hit a six at the request of the crowd and there was a phase where I believed that all wicket keepers for the country would come from Karnataka. Ram does not talk about the wicket keeper that followed Kirmani - Sadanand Vishwanath who showed so much promise and was very much a part of the victory of the Benson and Hedges cup in Australia. He was like a flash in the pan and disappeared as fast as he had arrived.

The book is as fascinating as any other writings by Ram - the first part dealing with the states and the second part dealing with the personalities. No book on cricket could give anybody full satisfaction because each one of us has his own theory and each one believes that we could captain India much better than the one out there in the middle, though most of us would not claim that we could play as well in the middle! The book took me through a journey of some of the great moments I had experienced and some great history of people about whom we had only heard. One of the most enduring hobbies in our childhood was to make a scrap book out of the photographs from the newspapers and reading Sportstar and Sportsweek was a luxury one indulged in, when somebody visited an employed unmarried uncle in whose room you would find these magazines.

I also had the good fortune of having an uncle who played for Karnataka - Sadasivan - cannot remember if he was a batsman or a bowler, but when he got married we as kids remember having thronged around his team mates - Prasanna, Chandrashekhar and Vishwanath for autographs. Ram talks about his own favourite all time eleven [plus a twelfth man or a manager thrown in] for all the teams that he discusses. People could have their own peeves, but there could be little argument in the merit of Ram's argument. Several people might like to debate Ram's continuing fascination for spin as the main weapon in the Indian attack, though I would tend to agree.

While I encourage cricket lovers to read this book, I would like to end this piece with my own enduring images of the game.

Some deep rooted beliefs [possibly not supported by facts] I had in my mind:
  • Wadekar always got out in 40s, particularly at the score of 44, and if he crossed this, he would score well! [though in reality he just got out at 44 twice in his career, and 8 times in 40s. He scored more than 50 on 14 occasions and had a lone century to his credit].
  • The modal value of Chandrashekhar's score is 1 not out [again not true, he was 1 not out 8 times, got out on 1 7 times and on 38 occasions stood at zero, with 16 of them unbeaten!]

Indian Cricketers who made it to the movies - apart from Durrani which Ram has referred to - Sunil Gavaskar, Sandip Patil, SMH Kirmani [as Kirmani in a villanous role], Ajay Jadeja and surprise - GR Vishwanath in a Kannada Movie - Panjarada Ginigalu.

Salil Ankola made a career in acting by moving to Television. Sidhu made a career in entertainment - not only with his commentary, but with his sheer presence on the telly screen.

Ten enduring moments of cricket [some positive, some not so, some domestic, some international, some one day, some test]

  • Gavaskar batting left handed in a match against Karnataka in a semi final match in 1982 when Bombay was losing. The crowd was hostile and Gavaskar had his own form of protest. However, he got to his natural right hand when an innings defeat seemed a reality, just to save the ignominy. His match-saving score came from an over bowled by Vishwanath! This was the most un-sportsmanlike behaviour I ever saw [live]
  • Ravi Shastri getting the Audi car for his performance in World Championship Series at Australia and the Indian team driving around the ground. Ravi Shastri's exit from competitive cricket - almost being booed out and his re-invention as a commentator.
  • In the world cup quarter-final in Bangalore, Aamir Sohail hitting Venkatesh Prasad for a Four and gesturing to him that every ball would go for a boundary. Next ball he gets clean bowled.
  • India's victory over Australia in the Titan cup match at Bangalore in 1996 where victroy was snatched from the jaws of defeat by a great 8th wicket stand by local players Kumble and Srinath. The telecast kept showing their mothers biting their nails and counting runs. Srinath's enhanced role as a pinch hitter came into greater focus from then. Six of the playing eleven were from Karnataka - Somasundar, Sunil Joshi, Dravid, Kumble, Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad.
  • Shiv Sena digging up the Kotla pitch protesting Pakistan's tour of India, followed by the tour itself. In the Chennai test Pakistan wins a closely contested test. The entire crowd stands on its feet to applaud the visiting team and the team lead by Wasim Akram takes a victory lap. The best reply ever given to the Shiv Sena vandals
  • As the crowds in Kolkata disrupt the game in the World Cup semi final, match referee Clive Lloyd grants the match to Sri Lanka. Vinod Kambli walks back to the pavillion in tears.
  • The breathtaking test in Chennai in 1986 against Australia. The match ended in a tie.
  • Javed Miandad's last ball six to give Pakistan the victory against India in 1986. The bowler was Chetan Sharma who bowled a full toss. In my mind the other cameos of Chetan, including his hat trick fade when I think of this day.
  • The tied match against Zimbabwe in Paarl, Robin Singh's heriocs notwithstanding his run out hit the last nail in the tied coffin!
  • India against England in the Natwest Trophy at Lords in 2002, with Kaif and Yuvraj pulling off an impossible victory. Ganguly showing aggression by taking his T Shirt off
The above list does not include the obvious - Kapil's lifting of the Prudential Cup!!

Most of all I remember a fascinating paper written by Srini titled "Cricket, Colonialism and the Capital Market: Winning Does Not Matter but Losing Hurts". While I still have not been able to figure out if he was joking or serious this was an interesting academic piece. Here is the abstract of the paper:

There is increasing evidence of the inadequacy of 'rational' explanations of asset-pricing. It has been established empirically that mood, induced by such natural phenomena as lunar phases or sunshine, affects asset prices. This paper provides evidence, from one-day cricket international (ODI) matches played by India, that there is a significant negative impact on the daily stock market returns when the national team loses. Empirically, losing in India matters somewhat more than losing outside. The mood induced by losing a match appears to conditioned by history, in that losing to nations that represent the 'colonizers' matters but not losing to nations that share India's experience of being 'colonized'.


Girish said...

I cannot believe the Indian Capital markets!
But given my immense love for cricket and being one of the mainstays of on campus midnight cricket, this now gives me incentive to take my finance courses a bit more seriously!

One of the longest blog entries ever, but it was also one that i managed to hang on to till the end.. and i totally loved your recollections and specifically the karnataka-centric ones :-)

My most enduring memory shall be harbhajan singh hitting 2 runs to point off glen mcgrath to win the Chennai test match. Having multiple tickets to that game, I got a chance to watch the 3 sessions of the day from 3 different stands.. and what a result!

Thoroughly enjoyed the post!
and i shall blog more often too!

Oka the irrepressible said...

Nice list of enduring moments !
I've seen 7 of those 10 events as they happened.

I'd probably add one more to that.
Sachin smashing the Australians to every corner of the Sharjah stadium in 1998 and snatching a slot in the final from Newzealand. Two things I cant forget in this match are
- Shane Warne being hit for a six on the first ball of his second spell. The commentator says "And he dances down the wicket and greets him with a six".
- Even after he'd got the required runs needed for a slot in the final, he hits a six, and the commentator goes "Oh, he's looking to win the match !"
Unforgettable series.

Anonymous said...

Eminently readable blog. One likes the passionste involvement whether one likes cricket or not. My most important cricketing memory did not happen on a Cricket Ground. West Indies team lead by none other than G.S.Sobers visited our college courtsy Chandrashekhar in 1968. Being face to face with luminaries such as Hunte, Hall, Griffith, Kanhai, Nurse, Butcher and Lloyd in his debut seris was exhilarating. I will defnitely add Kumble batting on with a fractured jaw and Lara getting 400 runs to my list as also a match between Rajasthan and Karnataka in which Prasanna got 8 wickets in a two sessions.

v.v. said...

Really enjoyed reading this post.

You write about the match you witnessed in then newly constructed KSCA stadium.

The first test match played in that stadium (and the first one in Bangalore) was the one against Clive Lloyd's West Indies team. Two great players had their debuts in that game: Vivian Richards and Gordon Greenidge. While Greenidge scored 93 and 107, Richards had scores of 3 and 4 both times getting out to the guiles of Chandrashekhar.

For the second test Chandra was dropped (in spite of taking 6 wickets in the Bangalore test) and Richards promptly scored 192 (n.o.)!

That series was the first time I got exposed to cricket. The memories of that series are still fresh in my mind even after 30+ years.

The other enduring memory of cricket I have is watching the net-practise sessions in KSCA.

During summer holidays I and my brother used to go to KSCA stadium in the afternoons. Karnataka Ranji players used to have net-practise sessions. I and my brothers used to help out by collecting stray-balls. G.R.Vishvanath, Brijesh Patel, Chandra and Kirmani used to be there. But the only time I remember Prasanna being present was when he shooed us away. Among them, the cricketer I liked most was the Karnataka allrounder B.Vijayakrishna. He was the friendliest of all and a great cricketer too.

Thanks for taking me down the memory -lane.

Anonymous said...

It brings back memories of days gone by when cricket was at its peak, the game it should be with stalwarts like Pras, Chandra, Vishy, Kiri, Jimmy and so on. They were all truly great players and entertainers’ par excellence.

Then u have great geniuses like GARY Sobers , Clive Lloyd, Rohan Kanhai, Halli, Roberts and the incomparable Vivian Richards who I feel still remains the greatest destroyer of bowlers, He mauled them like no one else could.

It brings in an interesting question – Was Sir Viv the best ever for his destruction and dominance of bowlers anywhere anytime and any conditions. I do feel so even though there are greats like Lloyd, Kalli, Sunil, Vishy, Greg Chappell, Majid Khan and other batters of bygone eras like Bradman, Hammond, Headley, Hendren, AND SO ON.
Or even present masters like Lara, Sachin, Ponting, etc

To me he is the best ever and he was pretty good against our bowling too. He is the best

It will be interesting how others rate him….

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Great blog on cricket sir!! Made me nostalgic about chepauk and the numerous close contests it has witnessed over the years..Been away from cricket for more than 3 weeks (TV in IIMA dorm nor working :( ) and am really missing it now.

Among the the ten memorable moments, I can never ever forget the India vs Pakistan at Chennai in 1999, when India lost by 12 runs. That is the one of the closest matches ever played between the two arch rivals. Sachin was at his peak then and played the innings of his life on a minefield of a pitch that was turning square and spitting on the batsmen. I had the privilege of watching the match from the stands and the atmosphere was electric but with lots of nervous energy ,when Sachin was battling it out against Akram, Saqlain and co.
Another unforgettable match is the India vs Australia test in 2001 at the Eden Gardens when Laxman royally snubbed Steve Waugh and Buchanan. The latter had infact commented at the end of the third day ," We have almost conquered the final frontier". Laxman and Dravid fittingly replied with their bat.
It is a pity though that the final frontier was actually conquered 3 years later.

Overall a great post

Anonymous said...

My childhood memories of the cricket world is of the prudential world cup and the Benson and Hedges series. Who can ever forget Sadanand Vishwanath: a wicket keeper par excellence. Its heartening to learn that he is been umpiring since 1996 and is the only test player who is umpiring am certain that the day is not far when he will become an international umpire.