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An old cricketing family

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T. Murari (right) with Jack Hobbs when the latter teamed together with Sutcliffe to play for the Vizianagaram team in 1930-31
T. Murari (right) with Jack Hobbs when the latter teamed together with Sutcliffe to play for the Vizianagaram team in 1930-31

S. MUTHIAH

It was nearly ten years ago that Tim Murari's Steps from Paradise was published in Britain, with little of the marketing hype that today accompanies many a book. There was little attempt to publicise the book even in Madras, where the story is centred. I hope the launch this evening in Madras of the Indian re-issue, now titled Four Steps from Paradise, will bring this semi-autobiographical volume of fiction the attention it deserves. It certainly tells a family story better than many other, morehyped ones. Besides, the historical Madras angle is sure to kindle many a memory. The memories it kindled in me when I read it were those of the beginnings of Indian cricket in the Madras Presidency. Go behind the nom de guerre Timeri Murari uses in the book, and you'll soon identify those who contributed much to early Madras cricket. The narrator's grandfather, in whose mansion and vast grounds much of the action takes place, is surely T. Vasu Naidu, who followed in Buchi Babu's footsteps in nurturing both the game and the Madras United Club, that was Madras cricket in the early years. T. Vasu, at Presidency College at the time, represented the Indians in the rained- out 1909 match against the Europeans, the first Presidency match. The Presidency series was first suggested by Buchi Babu, but he died in 1908, just a few days before the inaugural game. The first match was, therefore, played a year later and B. S. Ramulu, who learnt his cricket in Clifton School in England, led the Indians. Ramulu's son B. S. Badradri was one of the first Indians to play for the Madras Cricket Club. Vasu, who learnt his cricket in his Kilpauk house and who continued to play well into his sixties, lived to see his nephew and son-in-law, T. Murari Naidu, become the first Indian to play for the MCC, when he turned out for the Club in 1947. For one reason or the other, the match that Buchi Babu had hoped would become an annual one did not do so till it was revived in 1916. In that match, Vasu, the hard-hitting batsman, made little impact, but the slow bowler with a well-disguised googly took two wickets. In 1920, he captained the Indian team. After that, he concentrated on godfathering the MUC, founding the Metropolitan Club in Kilpauk in the 1930s and, later, encouraging A. G. Ram Singh. The Madras Sardarji, one of the country's best all-rounders in the 1930s and 1940s, gained much by practising on the excellent wicket Vasu had laid in the garden of his house. Others who had prac practised there had included C. K. Nayudu and C. Ramaswami. Murari, benefiting from all this exposure, played cricket and hockey for his college in Wales, where he also played for Glamorgan in county cricket, then went on to win a Half Blue in cricket and a Blue in hockey at Oxford, where his hockey team-mate was Jaipal Singh who captained India in the 1936 Olympics. Murari just missed making it to that team. A contemporary of Bert Sutcliffe and Jack Hobbs in county cricket, he was also a contemporary at Oxford of S. Radhakrishnan, who was to become President of India. Joining the army in 1938 and becoming one of the first Indians to get a King's Commission, Murari played cricket, hockey and polo for the Army wherever he was stationed. At the end of the war, as the Madras Cricket Club began opening up to Indians, it was a good bet that Major Murari would be the first Indian cricketer to be made a playing member. When A. R. Srinivasan and A. V. Rajagopalan followed him into the playing XI, where they were joined by C. Ramaswami, V. R. Lakshmi Ratan and P. N. Krishnamma, the MCC, by then minus many of its leading European players, began to look a formidable team. And translating looks into action, it won for the first time the Madras 1st Division championship in 1949. Murari, opening the batting and vying with C. Ramaswami to be the highest scorer for the team, also contributed with bowling, the same leg-breaks and googlies his Uncle had bowled, only he flighted the ball more. He continued to play cricket till his 70s. Major Murari's two sons were also promising cricketers, but, heading for noncricketing countries for higher studies, they never took their game beyond promise. Their grandfather and father had, however, done more than their bit when they helped Indian cricket sink firm roots in Madras. It's a pity there's too little of this in Timeri Murari's book.

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