R. Chandrasekaran on the recruitment drive for good cricketers and the fiercely competitive corporate and college tournaments
It was a crucial league match between SBI and Bunts Cricket Club at the Marina cricket ground. I skipped it, because the day had begun with a heavy downpour. But SBI managing director N. Ramananda Rao was not going to let me off the hook. At 11 a.m., he knocked on my door and yelled at me. When I arrived at the ground, chauffeured by my boss, Bunts CC was only two wickets down and cruising along. I took the other eight wickets without conceding too many runs and crafted a convincing victory. When interviewed by mediapersons, Rao said, ‘I should take the credit for this win. But for me, Chandrasekaran would have not played.'
This unforgettable match is from the 1960s, when corporate bigwigs began to closely follow the fortunes of their cricket teams. Not only that, they launched recruitment drives aimed solely at good cricketers. Encouraged by Ramananda Rao, P.V.H. Babu, secretary of SBI Recreation Club, got 60 cricketers on SBI's payrolls. Allerton of Parry and Co., R. Ratnam of TVS and V.R. Lakshmi Ratan of Philips India were among other corporate honchos that rolled out the red carpet to cricketers.
The growing demand for cricketers was partly fuelled by Sport & Pastime Trophy, a fiercely competitive corporate tournament that pulled in huge crowds. As the companies never failed to reward their top performers, the players were motivated to give it their best shot.
Another incentive to performance was the free copies of Sport & Pastime for a year to each member of the winning team. The tournament gave birth to a legendary rivalry, one between SBI and Parry's. When they clashed in the finals at the Marina grounds, emotions ran high.
To accommodate the swelling crowd, a gallery was erected on the canal side. As a resident of Triplicane, A.G. Kripal Singh (the kingpin of Parry's) had the advantage of playing on home ground. Every time he whacked the leather, thunderous cheer followed. When he lost his wicket, a deathly silence fell on the ground.
Another deep-running rivalry that I witnessed from a close range was between Vivekananda and Pachaiyappa's colleges. Students from both colleges would turn out in huge numbers to cheer their teams. Their enthusiasm would often get out of hand and they would be decrying the opponents more than cheering their players. In the 1950s, Pachaiyappa's had great players such as M.K. Murugesh and did very well, but Vivekananda College always seemed to have an edge.
For the major part of the 1950s, Vivekananda College dominated inter-collegiate cricket. Because the college encouraged the sport and students made use of this. M. Suryanarayanan and M.A.M. Ramaswamy joined Vivekananda College for this reason.
College cricket was highly competitive and entertaining, because the young players were not distracted by tournaments based on age. In those days, there were no under-19, under-21 or any other such categories. This meant there were no short-cuts to the higher echelons of the game. League cricket could not be bypassed.
As selection to the State team hinged on it, high-quality performances were common at this level. Among stirring league matches etched in my memory is a late 1960s tussle between SBI and Crom-Best. We bundled Crom-Best out for a sub-100 score. We failed with the bat too, but came back strongly to skittle them for an abysmally low score. I took 12 wickets, but the memory I took away from the match was that of R. Prabhakaran and S. Gopalakrishnan going hell for leather to meet a tall asking rate of eight runs an over. We played as if the World Cup were at stake.