Another good soul, nay, great soul moves on and leaves Madras cricket that much poorer. B. Alaganan, fondly known as ‘Balu’, was the first Madras captain to hold aloft the prestigious Ranji Trophy in 1954-55.
Balu belonged to an age of stalwarts like M.J. Gopalan, A.G. Ram Singh, C. Rangachari, G. Parthasarthy and C. Rangaswamy — giants all from Madras’s Chepauk. And how proudly they rubbed shoulders with some of the top English players of their time! Yes, cricket was truly a gentleman’s game then and the finest of them all was Balu Alaganan, without a shadow of doubt. I can say this with a fair amount of conviction and personal experience.
Balu was the second official on our trip to New Zealand and West Indies in 1975-76. His job was mainly to keep tab of the finances, distribute weekly allowances to the boys and follow the game most assiduously. Polly Umrigar was the Manager.
It was my privilege to work with two of the most popular cricket officials of any touring Indian team. As my personal friendship grew with both Balu and Polly Kaka, I discovered touring was great fun, on and off the field.
Socialising with Balu and Polly Kaka was an absolute delight. I could take the liberty of fooling around with both of them.
In my earlier tours, I’d often experience a clear gap of understanding between players and officials but I developed a very good friendship with Balu. We’d often exchange rice and cardamoms — rice from north and cardamoms from south — then suddenly there was a lapse in communication for a few years, which made me feel awfully guilty.
With the help of Woorkeri Raman, I was able to locate Balu but by now he had become fragile. Age had taken its toll. The urge to meet Balu was strong. I got the opportunity during the IPL final in Chennai. I told Balu I was coming to see him and not necessarily the IPL. Balu was much pleased.
His wife and son dressed him up nicely and put him up in a sofa, apparently after a long time. My wife too was with me. Balu looked cheerful, very happy to meet me. His husky voice had not deserted him. We had quite a few laughs and I was amazed with his memory.
He literally forced me to have a beer with him for good old times sake. We took a few photos. Before leaving I told him “Balu, I’m so thrilled to meet you....” and he replied “what about me Bish?!..”
I think my wife noticed the lump in my throat as we parted. His son and wife came down to see us off with the gift of two large packs of coffee and black pepper. The son mentioned, “Dad told me to inform you we’ve sold our cardamom farm in Ooty..”
I was so touched...Balu you will remain in my heart till my last breath.. Cheers great Fella !