V. V. Sankapani's stylish strokes and long stint in the TNCA senior division league will always be remembered by cricket lovers

His was a name that evoked fear in the bowlers. Vembakkam Vengadam Sankapani impacted games with his frenetic hitting. When the fielders chased leather, he smiled.

Perhaps, Sankapani was born ahead of his time. His style of batsmanship — he would sashay down the track to the first ball of the match — would have been ideal for Twenty20 cricket.

And when Twenty20 cricket is the flavour of the month, it's only appropriate that Sankapani's deeds are remembered. Says former India cricketer W.V. Raman, “Had he been playing today, he could have been a brand by himself in competitions such as the Indian Premier League. He was an incredible striker of the ball.”

Sadly, Sankapani never played for the State in senior tournaments. With Tamil Nadu possessing openers such as Krishnamachari Srikkanth, V.B. Chandrasekhar and U.R. Radhakrishnan, Sankapani never got to display his talent, though he was in his prime.

Sankapani, now 46, has no regrets though. He enjoyed his days with Alwarpet under sunshine in the TNCA first division league from 1987 to 2000. “From the moment the umpire said ‘Play', I've hit sixes,” the opener says with unmistakable mischief in his eyes. It was often mayhem in the middle when Sankapani opened with Srikkanth for the popular club. For those bowling at them, it was nightmare under daylight!

Recalls Srikkanth. “He was a tremendous talent. There were times when he outscored me. He struck some telling blows over cover and point.”

On his part, Sankapani reveals, “Srikkanth always gave me a lot of freedom to play my natural game for Alwarpet. Whether it was a placid track, a spinning pitch, a wet wicket or a green surface, I always went for my shots.”

Says Sankapani, “The shots that demoralise the fast bowlers the most are the strokes over mid-off, covers and point. I could hit fluently through the line. The youngsters who want to improve in Twenty20 or one-day cricket will find that it pays to hit over mid-off, extra cover or point. If the delivery was on the fourth stump, I hit over extra-cover. If it was on the fifth, I cut.”

He has some delightful vignettes to recollect. Like when pace legend Dennis Lillee saw him batting in the TNCA league in the late 80s and called him to the MRF Pace Foundation. “He wanted to show aspiring pacemen how to bowl at an attacking batsman. He chose to bowl at me himself; mind you, he was still sharp at that time.”

Sankapani says Lillee set an imaginary attacking field at the nets and then charged in. “The first ball was outside off, I played and missed. The next ball I cut. Then, he came up to me and drew a cross on my forehead. He whispered, ‘I am going to get you.' He followed this with a slower delivery and a bouncer. It was an experience, I can never forget.”

Continuing to look back on the past, Sankapani talks about smashing paceman Harvinder Singh Sodhi, representing MCC, for 32 runs in an over. He recalls waltzing down the track at the Marina ground and thwacking SPIC paceman S. Niranjan into the Coovam River. The fierce hooked six, off the pacey K. Arun Kumar, too ranks high on his list. Not to forget his sixes over extra-cover and mid-wicket after a verbal exchange with State Bank paceman R. Prabhakar.

Raman says Sankapani had the ability to excel in more structured formats as well. “He did well in the three-day games. His reflexes and hand-eye coordination were on a par with Srikkanth and he could hit the ball clean and straight. And he has this wonderful amateurish streak in him. He really enjoyed his cricket.”

Srikkanth calls Sankapani, “a fine cricketer and a very helpful man who is always willing to reach out to others.”

Sankapani, busy in his role as a liaison man for visiting cricketing teams, is willing to help youngsters wanting to excel in the game's shorter formats.

This blithe spirit continues to contribute to the game.

Keywords: TNCASankapani