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The finest at Chepauk



It was just an 8-line para in one of those stories about Harold Pinter's love of cricket that appeared in the local press to great his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the normal course of events, it was a para that would have passed me by, but a superlativethat found its way into the narration caught my attention; superlatives always have a way of doing that, because there's often another "finest" around the corner. And in this instance, with the India-Sri Lanka one-day series on, that description of an innings as the "finest played at Chepauk" inevitably triggered contrary memories.

The passage I read recounted that "Wellard had told Pinter the story of how before a match at the Chepauk for Lord Tennyson's XI in 1938-39, Joe Hardstaff drank late into the night and could barely stay up. Next day, Hardstaff made 213, still considered by many oldtimers to be the finest innings played at the ground." Hardstaff scored that memorable double century against the Madras Presidency XI (in effect a South India XI). But in 1947, not only was that record score for Chepauk in an official `international' eclipsed, but as N. S. Ramaswami that felicitous wordsmith on cricket would have it, this display (Hardstaff's)was not so much bettered but proved "a strain of rhetoric replaced by lyric." The man whose batting appeared to many as poetry was M. Sathasivam of Ceylon.

`Satha', as he was known to all, was representing the first Ceylon Cricket Association team to play in South India after the War. The `test' during that tour was against South India and the South Indian attack comprised M. J. Gopalan, C. R. Rangachari, C. P. Johnstone, Ghulam Ahmed and N. J. Venkatesan, one of India's better bowling line-ups. Batting first, the CCA scored 119 for 1 by lunch, 263 for 3 by tea, and 369 for 4 by close. The CCA declared the next day at 521 for 7. The 100 had come up in 105 minutes, the 300 in 281 minutes, the 400 in 315 minutes and 500 in 387 minutes. To this, Sathasivam, coming in at the fall of the third wicket, contributed 215 in 248 minutes. N. S. Ramaswami and many other cricket writers and enthusiasts have repeatedly said that `Satha's' was the finest innings ever played at Chepauk. And anyone who knew the debonair Satha would also have known that he was not only the most elegant batsman around but his flamboyance, his outward happy-go-luckiness and the demons he had within him teamed every day to have him drinking all evening, as they would have the night before he went out to play that innings many still remember.

It should, however, be mentioned that a Captain E. L. Challenor, representing Madras against Ceylon in 1902, before cricket had been formally organised in the Presidency, scored 216, which could be considered a Chepauk record that Sathasivam did not break while helping the CCA to win by an innings.

`Satha's' first appearance in India was in 1944 when he was chosen to play for the `Rest' in the Bombay Pentangular. He scored 101 against the `Mohammeedans', an innings his skipper Vijay Hazare later commented on in his autobiography.

It was discovered during the match that Sathasivam was a Hindu and that "he was not eligible to play for `The Rest'. No one had bothered to check. Luckily, the Mohammedans won, or there might have been trouble." Trouble found `Satha' in later life when he was accused of murdering his wife in Colombo. He was acquitted, but not without a trial that left his reputation tattered.

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