Canvas of cricketing history

IT is not easy to identify a sport as fascinating as cricket for any consummate chronicler. And more so, if the narrator of its charm, character and content happens to be one as involved and introspective as V. Ramnarayan. As a percipient observer of the State's cricket scene and fortunate enough to have been soaked in an environment where the sport was dissected to shreds at family gatherings, he is endowed with a fund of knowledge, incidents and anecdotes to convey to us and does so convincingly. What has lent an aura of extra dimension to the observations is his stature as a player at all levels, sans donning the national colours; but he has rubbed shoulders with top players like the Nawab of Pataudi (Jr), Jaisimha and Abid Ali as a star performer in Ranji Trophy for Hyderabad.

Ramnarayan endeavours to etch the vistas of cricket in Madras in all its iridescence. Any sport-loving denizen of this metropolis is aware of its cricketing ethos, its alluring history at all levels, mainly club cricket, which forms the theme of Ramnarayan's work. But it is difficult to encase the work in a definitive framework. Clearly, it is not a biography, nor a total history, or even a mere compendium of facts and figures, an area, which is the soul and substance of cricket. Admittedly, however, the essays are an amalgam of everything, written with a veneer of eloquence that mirrors the mood of the times and evokes an unmistakable feeling of nostalgia.

Ramnarayan makes a valiant attempt to paint the canvas of history taking the reader along the route of what cricket was in the suburbs of Mylapore and Triplicane, the energy, synergy and efficacy of gully cricket, that boys played in every conceivable open space, now, sadly extinct. The late evening discussions in a family conclave obviously give the author that insight to creating the base to build up the narration. Almost every aspect of cricket in the city is touched upon in detail. Understandably, a good deal of space is assigned to record the ebb and flow of the league, probably the best organised in the country, its high and low points, the memorable contests, involving famous clubs, the Mylapore Recreation Club, Triplicane Recreation Club, and Minerva, aside from the European-dominated Madras Cricket Club. The entry of corporate sponsorship and its ramifications affecting club level contests is discussed with a touch of realism and rationale.

Inevitably, linking the sequence of development makes the author dwell deep on the history of various tournaments, the Presidency Matches, in particular, and with the vignettes of the era, which include the famous Buchi Babu Naidu family's contribution, the deeds of C. Ramaswami, M.J. Gopalan and C.P. Johnstone. Generous quotes from the observations of C. Ramaswami, Sir Robert Denniston and others only serve to enhance the authenticity of the history. Equally interesting are the induction of the articles by "Cardusian" N.S. Ramaswami and "Caviare" K.V. Ramanathan, and S.K. Gurunathan (former Sports Editor, The Hindu).

The chapter that rivets the reader comes under the heading "The Romance of T.N. Cricket", wherein Ramnarayan plays the symphony in perfect emotion, delineating the sentiments, values, and character of men, matters and memories. It touches everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. One cannot miss the cricketing lexicon of Chennai (arai kozhi, for a short pitched ball) catalogued by the author.

While a word of commendation is due to Mr. N. Sankar, Chemplast-Sanmar Ltd. for commissioning this project, the edition is well printed and illustrated. Ramnarayan's work is impressionistic, inspiring and invokes in the reader the mood and memories of an era that was truly multi-dimensional which helped shape the destiny, direction and dynamics of cricket in the State.

Mosquitos and Other Jolly Rovers — The Story of Tamil Nadu Cricket, V. Ramnarayan, Printed at the Ind-Com Press, 393, Velachery Main Road, Vijaynagar, Velachery, Chennai 600 042, Rs. 295.