T.M. Srinivasan remembers... Venkataraghavan grabbed a blinder at gully to dismiss Luckhust off B.S. Chandrasekhar at the famous Oval Test in 1971. With the fall of this wicket, India scored a historic win — its first against England on English soil. When an elated Venkataraghavan returned to the pavilion, an elderly English gentleman approached him with a smile and said, "With a name like that, you must be from Madras!" That old man was C.P. Johnstone!
Before the Madras Cricket Association (MCA) was formed, the Madras Cricket Club (MCC) was a monolith on the State's cricketing landscape. The one who pushed hard for a cricket association that could meet the aspirations of the locals was C.P. Johnstone, an Englishman and a distinguished member of the MCC.
Captain of the Madras cricket team for long, Johnstone's exploits include leading a squad to a thumping victory against Mysore in the inaugural Ranji Trophy match (1934). Played at the Marina grounds, it was over before call of stumps on day one!
Johnstone is also remembered for his superstitions. He believed his batsmen would ride their luck if he parked himself at the entrance of the dressing room, wearing a towel over his trousers, sarong style! When a Madras player neared a 50 or a century, Johnstone was busy rummaging his bag for a towel.
Besides producing men who helped the cause of cricket in Madras, the MCC also served as a springboard for various other sports. The annual hockey tournament it started in 1904 is still going strong. Except for the venue (Rajarathinam Stadium), nothing has changed. The South India hard-court tournament it launched in the 1920s was a big draw. The tournament was taken over by the Madras Tennis Association. About 50 years ago — apart from the squash court in Guindy that was owned by the Army — the two squash courts at MCC alone provided the people of Madras a taste of the game. The All-India Squash Open organised by MCC gave a fillip to the sport.
For its members, MCC provided something beyond sports. It gave them a lifestyle. It also gave them an identity that they were proud of. So, they flocked together on the flimsiest of excuses. In 1968, a note revealed that MCC had been founded in 1848. As they had suddenly woken up to the fact that MCC was 120 years old, members could not help clamouring for a celebration. P.G.V. Mercer, the chairman and managing director of Binny's and the last Englishman to head the MCC, did not view it as an unreasonable demand. And so, MCC celebrated its 120th year. A few years later, an article by historian S. Muthiah brought a startling fact to light —MCC was founded in 1846, and not 1848. At MCC, you never ran out of surprises. In a wooden-panelled hall at the old club house, a guest book was kept. While rifling through it, I chanced upon a name that made me jump out of my chair — Winston Churchill had penned a comment. Members had another pleasant surprise when a copy of a painting by Paulraj that captured a panoramic view of the Chepauk ground was put on display in the Long Room at Lord's.
In the mid-1960s, when the MCC's 99-year lease (taken in 1865) was drawing to an end, the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (the MCA in a new name) told MCC the lease of the grounds in Chepauk would not be extended unless it allowed the TNCA to build a stadium there. This demand set off a long drawn-out negotiation between the two cricketing bodies. My term as president of the MCC was brief, but it came when the TNCA-MCC negotiation was at its height. In 1976, the two cricket bodies reached an agreement. A new clubhouse with the old facade would be built; the terrace would be in MCC's custody. The memorabilia would be carried over from the old to the new clubhouse. In the event of a cricket match, 2,000 tickets would be reserved for the MCC. While this development signified a drastic transfer of power, MCC shed none of the charms that had defined its character for over a century. It still has not.
T.M. Srinivasan Born in 1933, he gained a degree in political science from Presidency College and went on to do his masters at the London School of Economics. Following a year in the courts, he set up his own business under the group, Falcon Wires Private Limited. He was president of both the Tamil Nadu Cable and Conductor Association and the Tamil Nadu Guindy Estate Manufacturers Association. He was also director at Indian Overseas Bank, Bharat Overseas Bank and Travancore Rayons. From 1962 to 1984, he was a tennis commentator — his assignments include Davis Cup matches and interviews with top Indian players.