Competitive sport lost a gentleman aristocrat in the death of R.B. (Balu) Alaganan on Thursday. He was 87.
A charming personality, who exemplified the essence of sport and fairplay, he will be remembered for leading Madras to its first Ranji Trophy triumph in 1954-55.
He has left an indelible imprint on the sporting canvas of cricket and golf. Hailing from a family of planters in Bodinayakanur, Alaganan went to school in Ceylon and graduated from the Madras Christian College (Selaiyur Hall).
An all-rounder, he played for Egmore Recreation Club, owned by the late V. Pattabhiraman, in the city league and turned up for Varsity Occasionals, a collection of university cricketers, on its tours of Ceylon.
Later, he led MCC in the first division league. Alaganan also captained T’Nagar in the Buchi Babu inter-zone championship.
Making it to the Madras Ranji Trophy team in the late forties, Alaganan later proved an exceptional leader. After taking over the captaincy reins, he achieved the distinction of winning the Ranji Trophy for Madras at Indore beating Holkar by 45 runs.
“You know, they put us in after winning the toss on a jute-matting pitch, hoping that spinner Dhanawade, playing in the English league, would finish us off in three days. But, everything turned the other way,” he had said in an interview with this writer in 2002.
Baffling many by deciding to retire in his prime, Alaganan turned to broadcasting. As a commentator, he enjoyed a vast listener base.
He was a lucid, to-the-point narrator, imparting to his observations the weight of experience and expertise that underlined an academic, intellectual approach.
He shared the mike with leading commentators like P. Ananda Rau, R.T. Parthsarathi and Devraj Puri. He was also a brilliant raconteur.
As an administrator
Suave and soft-spoken, Alaganan endeared himself to all sections. These attributes propelled him into administration. He was Vice-President of the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) from 1961-86 and President from 1988-93.
His contributions to strengthening the structure of the TNCA are noteworthy. J. Devarajan, a former committee member, recalled how Alaganan was instrumental in opening up the league to sponsors.
Alaganan also showed a balanced and fair approach in the role of selector. At the national level, he was named Assistant Manager of the Indian team which toured New Zealand and the West Indies in 1975-76 under B.S. Bedi.
Alaganan’s passion for golf is legendary. This fraternity is never tired of recalling a particular sporting gesture.
A true gentleman
Mrs. Sumathi Raghunathan, a golfer in the sixties, narrated in an interview to The Hindu what a gentleman-sportsman he was.
She said, “Balu Alaganan combined talent, humility and fairplay. According to the rule book, a golfer can carry only 14 clubs in his bag. Due to oversight, he once carried 15 for a Cosmopolitan Club game; when he noticed it, he informed the authorities and insisted on being disqualified.” In a cricket league match, Alaganan once refused to score off a ball that slipped out of a bowler’s hand.
C.D. Gopinath, who shared a six-decade friendship with the family, said: “He was a perfect gentleman, never got into any controversy and always made you feel better than him.”
U. Prabhakar Rao, who admitted that Balu was a friend and guide, commended Alaganan’s role as President of the TNCA and his equanimity in dealing with issues. “He never used to get angry,” he said. Prabhakar Rao added that Alaganan was the best squash player in the club.
V.V. Kumar, former Test cricketer, rated Alaganan as an “imaginative captain who handled spinners well. I had the privilege of playing a few matches under him.”
Dilip Vengsarkar said: “Great man. We won’t get such people in today’s world.”
T.M. Srinivasan, former MCC President, hailed Alaganan’s leadership of the club, while T.M. Raghunathan recounted the support extended to him and Kannayiram to hold a first-class fixture in Madurai.
The life and times of Balu Alaganan mirror an era when practitioners of sport held the ethos of sportsmanship as something sacred.
Alaganan is surived by wife Sheela, son Nanda and daughters Meera Madan and Manjula Engineer.