Captain who charmed everyone

Balu Alaganan would feature prominently among the who's who of sport. A profile of his career and achievements.

CRICKET IN Chennai has a definite ethos, cultivated assiduously by players, whose passion, perspective and positive approach gave the willow game an identity and an eventful history. From the halcyon days of H.P.Ward, Sir Robert Denniston, C.P.Johnstone and A.W.Stansfeld to the challenging combating days of G.Parthasarathy, M.J.Gopalan, C.Ramaswami, A.G.Ram Singh and C.R.Rangachari, to name a few of the stalwarts who exuded that aura of charm and charisma in the pre-Independence days, competitive cricket always projected that additional dimension to attract pointed attention.

This tradition was magnified in the aftermath of Independence, which, in 1954-55, witnessed the first ever triumph in Ranji Trophy, under the leadership of R.B.Alaganan, endearingly referred to as "Balu" Alaganan. Sportsmen of this generation will find it difficult to comprehend the atmosphere and ambience of city cricket, played before a large number of spectators on Sundays and holidays even at the club level. The exciting league contests between Mylapore Recreation Club and Triplicane Cricket Club, and the fan following to the Madras Cricket Club, are discussed even today with a feeling of nostalgia.

Suave, soft-spoken and stylish, Alaganan, who turns 77 on April 15, was an aristocrat, every inch at that, as a scion of a zamindari family owning plantations in and around Bodi. At every level, be it as a student of Madras Christian College (Selaiyur Hall), as captain of the T'Nagar Zone in the Buchi Babu Naidu tournament — in which C.D.Gopinath got a double hundred — or even when representing the Egmore Recreation Club in the city league, the Varsity Occasionals promoted by V.Pattabhiraman and the then Madras Cricket Club, Alaganan, an all-rounder, exuded that gift for leadership, the ability to get the best out of the team. It was this element that helped Alaganan gather around him a brilliant bunch that swept all opposition and created history, outclassing Holkar in the final in 1955.

Recalled Alaganan, "You know, they put us in after winning the toss on a jute-matting pitch, hoping that spinner Dhanawade, playing English league, would finish us off in three days. But everything turned the other way.''

Captain who charmed everyone

"He (Alaganan) was not authoritative but very understanding... never ticked off anybody...made you feel better than him'' euolgised former Test star, C.D.Gopinath, who blossomed into a Test cricketer under the guidance of Alaganan. "He made no demands on you, but everyone felt he should give the skipper the best," he added. Even today, that combination is the envy of many a skipper. All rounder, Kripal Singh, and C.D.Gopinath played a major part in the win as did the skipper, whose 77-run last wicket partnership in the second innings — Alaganan was 56 not out — with M.K.Murugesh in the second innings was one of the highlights of the contest.

True to the words of Patsy Hendren, who said "retire when people ask why, and why not" Alaganan quit competitive cricket, gravitated into the commentators' box, joining the ranks of then popular broadcasters, P.Ananda Rau of the Dasaprakash Group, and R.T.Parthasarathy of Salem, and then moved on to the national scene sharing the mike with Dev Raj Puri and others.

Alaganan's observations carried the weight of experience, expertise and underlined an academic, intellectual approach. Small wonder, he was sought after as the expert than a mere run-of-the-mill commentator, when the spoken word on the radio made many visualise the sequence in the mind's eye unlike what they see on the TV screens now.

Alaganan's poise, dignity and dispassionate approach to problems brought him into the vortex of administration. As vice-president of the State Association, and then as president (1988-93), he lent a quiet dignity to that office, enhancing the tradition established by his illustrious predecessors like Dr.P.Subbaroyan, C.R.Pattabhiraman and M.A.Chidambaram. He did not stay a minute longer in the chair when conditions were not exactly conducive to carrying on the administration within the ambit of understanding and co-operation from all sections.

Alaganan's views as a selector were respected and acknowledged as coming from one for whom bias is a word that never existed in his lexicon. He was among the few assistant managers whose work and care drew spontaneous praise from the players during the difficult tours of New Zealand and West Indies in 1975-76.

An avid golfer, a fairly good tennis player, and an excellent clubman, who headed the Madras Cricket Club, a splendid raconteur, Alaganan has a unique place in the history of sport in this city.

If there is a move to creating of a Hall of Fame for sportspersons in the state, the name of Alaganan should figure high on this scroll.


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