Humility need not be an aspect of greatness, but in Karnataka the two have always gone together, writes Suresh Menon

In the early 1970s, you didn’t need the IPL to find a team to root for. Mysore hadn’t yet become Karnataka nor won the Ranji Trophy, the Chinnaswamy Stadium was not yet ready.

In Erapalli Prasanna, B.S. Chandrasekhar and G.R. Viswanath, the State had three of the greatest players to take the field anywhere in the world. There was Brijesh Patel too (he was, to use a modern phrase, a ‘youth icon’ with his drooping moustache, curly hair and an air of rich promise about him). And Syed Kirmani, of the long hair and the powerful off drive. How could a youngster resist?

But it wasn’t just the international stars. There were the openers, Vijay Kumar and Raghunath, the former once making 94 and 94 in a Ranji quarterfinal; there was Vijay Krishna, the talented but underrated left-arm spinner who might have played Test cricket had he been born in another country. There was Laxminarayan and Rajappa and Sudhakar Rao, A.V. Jayaprakash, and then Roger Binny, superb athlete and holder of many athletics records as a junior.

How many parents driving past the new stadium nursed a fond hope that their son might play for India there one day? Did the senior Kumbles and Dravids turn to Anil and Rahul respectively and whisper a desire into their young minds?

Heaven

For a boy growing up in Bangalore and obsessed with cricket it was heaven. My mother revealed a family secret recently: she and my father once sneaked off to watch Gary Sobers’s West Indies play at the Central College grounds, leaving my sister and me with a neighbour.

Sobers didn’t play that match, but Kanhai, Hunte, Butcher and Nurse did, as also Gibbs and Griffith. Prasanna took eight wickets in the first innings for South Zone.

It made my mother a lifelong fan of the game — when India toured Australia next season, she kept the running scores of the Test matches while following the radio commentary. It established Prasanna as the household hero; just as every boy needs a team to support and a player to cheer, every household needs a player too.

The Mysore captain V. Subramanyam returned from that Australian tour with a broken nose, the result of a collision with Rusi Surti while going for a catch. Subramanyam was admitted to a local hospital, and my father took me to his room to meet him. It was all so simple then. Subramanyam was tall and spoke with the twang that comes from having a bandage across your nose. He was the first Test cricketer I shook hands with.

The second was Viswanath, then, as now a picture of modesty and grace. This was at the KSCA after I ran on to the ground when he reached a fifty against Tamil Nadu.

“I was the first to run on to the field,” I boasted in school. “Maybe, but I was the one who whistled first,” said another. Such things were important; clearly there was a hierarchy of appreciation.

Then Mysore became Karnataka, the KSCA Stadium hosted its inaugural Ranji match (against Hyderabad), its first international, against Tony Lewis’s Englishmen and soon the first Test, against the West Indies of Clive Lloyd. I was a speck in the stands for all these matches.

Home

At a recent function, Anil Kumble called the KSCA his home, a sentiment echoed by Javagal Srinath. It was home to anyone who played the game. As a schoolboy, I was coached there by the late Keki Tarapore, an articulate man who never imposed himself on his wards, but allowed a player to develop his natural skills. Occasionally a player from the Ranji nets would walk over — all of us waited for that moment.

Off the field, Mr. Chinnaswamy, who reluctantly agreed to having the stadium named after him was intimidating but fair. Dr. Thimmappaiah, later president of the KSCA, loved to narrate two stories (among many) to every new generation of players. Rather like the students who asked each other,

“Have you heard Chips’ latest?” in Goodbye Mr Chips, youngsters, having heard the stories from their seniors, saw this as a coming-of-age ritual.

The first was how he was the first man to score a century for the State in the Ranji Trophy. The second involved Jack Hobbs and how Thimmappaiah walked miles to see him bat at the RSI grounds.

The league was fun. Except when you had two teams in the same division and the rule said that in the event of a tie both teams got an extra point. Then the match on the field had no connection with the figures being cooked up in the score book. In the game that led to the rule change, an opening batsman was credited with a century although he could not have made more than 20 runs.

A fine striker of the ball, he is a successful lawyer now. I was caught off the fifth delivery I faced, but had 25 in the score book — the ‘newspaper’ score, which ensured that my name would appear in print the next day. The manipulators were kind men, and looked out for youngsters.

Another turn of the wheel, and a whole new generation of heroes emerged — Kumble, Dravid, Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Sunil Joshi, Vijay Bharadwaj.

After leading Karnataka to its first Ranji title, Prasanna must have been a contender for the national captaincy. But the honour eluded him. Kirmani led in a One-Day International before both Dravid and Kumble led by right. And with the dignity one has come to associate with cricketers from Karnataka. Humility need not be an aspect of greatness, but in Karnataka the two have always gone together.

As the KSCA Platinum Jubilee culminates tonight, now is a good time to pick an all-time Karnataka team:

V.S. Vijay Kumar, Roger Binny, G.R. Viswanath, Rahul Dravid, Brijesh Patel, Syed Kirmani, Anil Kumble (capt.), Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Erapalli Prasanna, B.S. Chandrasekhar, Vijay Krishna.

Let the arguments begin!

(Suresh Menon is Editor, Wisden India Almanack)

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