One of the finest batsmen Tamil Nadu has produced, Sridharan Sharath did not receive a Test cap. Now 40, and in his 25 year in the TNCA first-division league, he is in no mood yet to hang up his boots

“Come on, Sharath. Strike a better pose,” newly-appointed Tamil Nadu coach W.V. Raman flings a friendly taunt even as the subject of the photo session manages a shy smile. The ‘subject’ happens to be one of Tamil Nadu’s greatest ever batsmen, someone, who many think, was unlucky to have not received an India cap.

Sridharan Sharath. His name is usually preceded by ATG (all-time great), a moniker that stuck when the former Tamil Nadu cricketer, late N. Gautam, began referring to him thus. That he lived up to the name finds resonance in the following records: Sharath, besides being the most-capped cricketer for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy, is also the State’s highest run-getter and leading century-maker in the competition.

Now, at 40, Sharath has stepped into his 25th year in the TNCA first-division league. As player-cum-in-charge of UFCC (T. Nagar), the portly left-hander gets his competitive fix tussling it out in the championship and is in no mood to call it quits yet.

How the journey began

In a heartbeat, Sharath traces his journey back to its starting point. “I remember making my debut at the University Union ground against Globe Trotters where I scored 44 for Reserve Bank.”

Sharath had hitherto been playing for Sridhar CC, a second division side. It was T.S. Mohan, then in-charge of Reserve Bank Cricket, who drafted him into the team. “I did well in the first year. RBI is a team that promotes cricketers and, in the following year, I joined Jolly Rovers.”

He considers the nine years spent with Rovers — the period coincided with the “first half of my first-class career” — as very critical to his development. “I was the only youngster in a star-studded Rovers team that had eight or nine Ranji Trophy cricketers. Playing alongside them helped take my game to the next level.”

Having made his first-class debut in 1992-93, Sharath’s promising career was expectedly gaining traction. There was to be an unfortunate twist in the plot, though, as he met with a major road accident in 1993. “It was on December 7,” Sharath’s voice, acquiring a sombre tone, betrays a scarring memory. “The tibia and fibula of my left ankle broke into two pieces. I was unable to play cricket for six months and missed an entire first-class season. And only a few months ago, I had scored a hundred and two fifties against the New Zealand under-19 team that featured Stephen Fleming and Dion Nash.”

A comeback

Sharath underwent reconstructive surgery and began the ’94-95 season with a bang — a century in his comeback match, a first-division contest. “It was a very difficult phase but I became tougher and learnt to break the pain barrier. Some people thought I would never play again but after that knock there was no looking back,” smiles Sharath, who has to his credit “60 to 70 centuries in the league”.

Ask him about some of his more cherished memories, and the veteran picks winning the Raja of Palayampatti Shield in his first year with the Rovers. “We used to participate in a lot of tournaments in Delhi and Goa. Tournaments such as the Escorts Trophy and SAIL Trophy provided great exposure.”

Following a year-long stint in 1999 with IOB, where his prolific run helped it win the league title, he joined India Cements in the “second half” of his career. “Things were very professional at Rovers and India Cements. It’s almost like being part of a Ranji Trophy side. India Cements has been very supportive.”

According to Sharath, the rivalry between Rovers and Globe Trotters, back then, was the fiercest in the league. “To my mind, Raman was the best player then. There were many quality cricketers such as S. Vasudevan, S. Madhavan, K. Arun Kumar, D. Vasu, and Sunil Subramaniam.”

Benefit of matting wicket

Sharath attributes his well-rounded game to playing on matting wickets. “Those days the only turf wicket we played on was the one in Chepauk. The matting wickets enhanced my back-foot game and my reactions became sharper. My advice to any youngster who wants to become a better batsman is he should play a lot on matting surfaces. The first-division is a great platform to get into the State team.”

Verbal jousting was an intrinsic part of the league, too. “We were all good friends but on the field, there was plenty of banter. I never sledged anyone but if I was dragged into a duel, I never backed off, “he laughs. “Sunil, Vasu, B. Arun, and D.J. Gokulakrishnan were some of the characters in the league. Sunil had this funny habit of carrying his bed along with his kit.”

Any residual regrets, then, about not getting a chance to represent the country?

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel bad back then. But you have to move on. I am glad to see the Tamil Nadu boys do well,” smiles Sharath.