Run up and toss it in the air

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Perseverance pays Shivlal Yadav with his wife Revathi. — Photos: K. Ramesh Babu
Perseverance pays Shivlal Yadav with his wife Revathi. — Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

There was nothing around here. It was only shrubs and brambles and plots. I was the first to build a house here,” says former cricketer Shivlal Yadav surveying the scene from atop his Mahendra Hills villa. As he talks about the game, the administration, the stadium, his gutka and his children, the memories are jogged about the cricketer who for a brief fleeting moment mesmerised the cricketing stage with his flight, spin and aggressiveness on the field.

Shivlal had an action that was half-way between the dramatic hip-swinging, arm swaying delivery by Abdul Qadir and the workmanlike plodding on the spot by Maninder Singh.

The bowling action was born on the gymkhana grounds like many other Hyderabadi cricketers (and they develop a fondness for Australians).

“I started off as a footballer. One day, the school team was one member short of the 11 and I was drafted in to field. I liked the game. Then I asked my father to admit me to the Gymkhana Ground Camp organised by Eddie Aibara. It was Aibara who spotted me running up and bowling fast while trying to spin the ball. He made me modify the action to five steps and the spin and flight in the air,” says Shivlal adjusting his hair on the head, a far cry from the densely bearded cricketer whose hair would cover his face at the time of delivery.

Game for it

In a later avatar, Shivlal Yadav has reinvented himself as a sports administrator helming the construction of Uppal Stadium among other things.

So, which is better? “Playing is infinitely better. You give your best, enjoy and have no regrets. Administration is a different ball game with so many pulls and pressures. Right from smoothing and clearing the paperwork to ensuring proper restrooms and supply of drinking water everything is in the administrative domain,” says Shivlal Yadav, who like all Hyderabadis, relished playing against the Aussies.

“Out of my 102 Test wickets 51 have been Australian cricketers. Perhaps we Hyderabadis have something special for Australia right from the time of Ghulam Mahmood to M.L. Jaisimha who first created the record of batting on all five days against Australia at the Calcutta Test,” says Shivlal Yadav.

But it was not bowling only with which Shivlal Yadav helped India. “When I was watching Pragyan Ojha batting during the tense last moments in the Mohali Test, I remembered the time when I played through the 13 of the mandatory 20 overs of the Adelaide Test in the company of Karsan Ghavri. One newspaper called it the most valuable zero ever in the game of cricket,” says Shivlal Yadav with a laugh.

The second Test of the series, on the evening of January 27, 1981, was no cakewalk (in the first inning he was sent in as a night watchman and scored 16). The series saw the return of Packer prodigals to the Australian Test rank and Shivlal Yadav had to play with the likes of Dennis Lillee, Rodney Hogg and Len Pascoe steaming in and bowling and a semi-circle of Australian slip fielders sledging incessantly. It was more a battle of nerves than a game of bat and ball.

“People think cricket is about luck. It isn't. It requires a lot of hard work and the perseverance to play without expecting a reward,” says Shivlal. As he talks with avuncular perspective with his wife Revathy draped in an ink blue Kanjeevaram sari sitting by his side it is hard to imagine, both of them meeting furtively at the Shenoy Nursing Home bus bay before they got married.

“We used to live in adjacent lanes in Marredpally (Shivlal's parents moved here from Trimulgherry Lal Bazar area) and she used to go to St Francis College to study science while I used to catch a bus to S.P. College for my B. Com course. When her parents (the father was in the Army) got wind of the situation, they shifted her to Pune. Even when I had started playing cricket, I kept meeting her in Pune and it was in Pune we got married in the company of friends and a few relatives,” says Shivlal Yadav about eventful Eighties, sitting in the living room surrounded by photographs with his ex-cricketing pals.

If he didn't make it as a cricketer? “Well then I would have been a milk contractor like my father,” says Shivlal Yadav who says he cooks up a mean chicken curry he perfected while playing professionally for three years in Nairobi.

With all the glamour, recognition and the money in cricket, is this the best time to play cricket or his time was better? “Now the cricketers are under a microscope all the time. They have to perform all the time. While we played cricket we really enjoyed the game and nobody was interested in what we did after the game,” says Shivlal who still tweaks a few balls to his son Arjun.

One among the big time Indian spinners who troubled Aussies in an earlier era, Shivlal Yadav steps back and walks the run up with his reminiscences. Serish Nanisetti listens in