M.K. Iqbal on the time when lack of technology was a blessing to cricket.
Every generation looks down upon the previous one. By the same token, old-timers think all the best things are hurtling towards an end. Susceptible to both of these fallacious notions, I stick my neck out and say the best of Madras cricket stretches from the Forties to the Seventies. Except for sophisticated gadgets, cricket of those days lacked none of the elements that defines it today.
Lack of technology was, in fact, more a blessing than a curse. People flocked to the grounds even for insignificant local matches. Taking sides, they invested much emotional energy in them. A match at Vivekananda College grounds in 1965 remains etched in my mind for the intensity of feeling it evoked among the spectators.
Chasing 196 runs — set by State Bank of India ‘A' in 50 overs — Parry & Co was tottering at 137 for 8 in the 35th over, when the match took an ugly turn. A.S. Kailasam took an unorthodox swipe at a V.V. Kumar delivery but succeeded only in lifting the ball to short point. The catch was dropped. Playing the role of a sheet anchor, I left the non-striker's crease and walked up to Kailasam to tell him not to lose his head. Meanwhile, the bowler ran and gathered the ball and took the bails off the wicket at the non-striker's end; the umpire declared me out.
As I walked back to the pavilion, supporters of our team invaded the field and removed the mat. The ones most grieved by the incident were the Parry & Co players. The SBI ‘A' players were aware of this, and the two teams continued to be on good terms.
Forgive me my prejudices, but I think players of those days were more forgiving when unfair decisions were handed out to them. In a Mylapore versus Triplicane match, the legendary M.J. Gopalan (who played for Triplicane) was given out caught behind. There was no nick and the decision was blatantly erroneous. Gopalan made no protest; he did not even shake his head in disappointment. Later, when S.K. Gurunathan — sports journalist of The Hindu —discussed the decision with Gopalan, the noble cricketer said, “Umpire's decision is final!”
Multiple cameras are now employed to record cricket matches and nothing eludes notice. In those days, human eyes alone had to spot anomalies. They often failed and these lapses sometimes resulted in hilarious situations.
In the mid-1960s, a match between Parry and Binny at Perambur created history. Mohan Rai was spewing venom and gall and Michael Dalvi — playing for Binny — got hit in the abdomen. Following the accident, the batsman rushed to the dressing room and put on an abdomen guard. Play resumed and after the next ball was bowled, I noticed the non-striker was missing. He had also gone to get himself a guard, but nobody was alert to that fact. This is probably the only time in cricket history when a ball was bowled with only one batsman in the middle. For want of a lawn mower, a funny incident happened during a First Division match at Loyola Cricket Grounds in 1965. Parry was batting against Bunts Cricket Club at the college grounds. Opening batsmen D. L. Chakravarthy and K. S. Viswanathan ran six runs off one ball. Viswanathan had hit the ball to the square leg area that was overrun with tall grasses. While the fielders frantically searched for the leather lost in the undergrowth, the batsmen took advantage of the situation. They stopped with six runs, because any more runs would not be allowed! After completing the marathon, Vishwanathan strolled to the square leg and retrieved the ball for the fielding side. That was adding insult to injury. Unlike today, the media did not hound cricketers. As a result, many gracious and great deeds by Madras cricketers went unnoticed. M. K. Murugesh related one of them. The Madras team played the Ranji Trophy final in 1955 with unmatched fervour. The Holkar team had a galaxy of stars but, in the end, it was sheer will-power that ruled the day. As Murugesh joined captain Balu Alaganan as the last batsman in the second innings, Madras was in a pathetic state. Murugesh told his captain, “Don't try to hit out at the bowlers and take unnecessary risks. I will not give away my wicket and you can patiently pile up a big score.” Madras lifted the Ranji Trophy that year.
Murugesh revealed that the team wanted to win the match at any cost and offer the victory as a tribute to Srinivasa Raghavan, the MCA secretary who was killed when the separate flight he flew by to join the team, crashed.
BIO: Born in 1935, he was a key member of the Parry & Co team for decades. Known for his sound technique and unflappable temperament as batsman, he was selected to the Madras Ranji team in 1958. His selection was the result of 21 centuries scored between 1954 and 1957. For 35 years, he has been coaching young cricketers for free. Murali Karthik is among his proteges that have reached the higher echelons of the game.
I REMEMBER When I came to Madras for an interview at Parry & Co, A.G. Ram Singh let me stay at his sports shop. After I had dressed up for the interview, Ram Singh looked at me with a frown of disapproval on his face. He went into a room and brought a tie and asked me to wear it. “Remember, you are going to be interviewed by a European.”