If you happen to spot an autorickshaw whose side panel bears the names of cricketers who brought home the World Cup in 1983, then the driver has got to be P. Radhakrishnan. The man is yet to get over that memorable win against the West Indies. But he is not just another cricket-crazed Chennaiite.
After toiling in khaki all week, the autorickshaw driver morphs into a passionate cricket coach during weekends. Emerging from the Pattabiraman Gate of the M.A. Chidambaram stadium in Chepauk on Saturday, Radhakrishnan, now sporting a track suit, t-shirt and shoes, smiled brightly.
“One of my students is playing a division match tomorrow and I came here to watch him practice. I was at the nets,” says the 53-year-old. Though a resident of the western suburb Thiruverkadu, the autorickshaw driver plies largely within city limits, Monday through Friday, often driving around Ayanavaram. During weekends, he is busy coaching young cricket aspirants at Dolphin Cricket Academy, which he runs in Thiruverkadu with the help of D. Ramesh, a Lions Club member. Currently, about 40 boys are training at the Academy.
Suggesting that the interview be done in his autorickshaw parked nearby, Radhakrishnan culls out newspaper clippings and photographs from a pile neatly arranged in a jute bag. “See, these are my students,” he says, pointing to a name (Suryanarayanan) he had underlined in the sports pages. “He played a match recently and did very well. He has now got into Loyola College through the sports quota.”
Another student of his, Sudhir, now heads the Tamil Nadu cricket team for the speech and hearing impaired. “Nothing gives me more joy than seeing my students do well. I charge a nominal fee, but that is not enough to sustain the academy. And that is why I drive the auto from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. five days a week,” says Radhakrishnan, who makes about Rs. 500 a day.
Soon after completing his class X, Radhakrishnan took up cricket full-time and even played at the division level for a few years. He was a right hand batsman. “In 1983, I met with an accident while on a two-wheeler and due to an injury, I could not pursue cricket seriously.” Just when he was about to give up and look at other avenues, India’s World Cup victory rekindled his passion. “That is when I decided to coach boys who could not afford expensive training.”
Though he follows all forms of the game, he considers test cricket to be the real cricket. “You savour every ball. It is intense. IPL is purely commercial,” he says. Radhakrishnan is all praise for the current Indian team and finds Irfan Pathan’s return to the side assuring. “They are doing very well in Sri Lanka,” he says.