His legend lives on

THE LEGEND of M. L. Jaisimha lives on, though he passed away on July 7, 1999. His 60 years were lived to the lees, prompting Vizzy's epithet of More Luck and Joy for the first three letters of the Hyderabadi's name.

The legendary former international had just finished lunch at the Fateh Maidan Club, Hyderabad. Stepping out to the balcony for a smoke, he was enraptured by the batting of a Karnataka youngster, who was playing in an under 19 match against Hyderabad.

Keen observer that he was, it took all of three balls to form an opinion. ``This kid will surely play for India,'' he predicted, not even knowing the lad's name. The player was G.R. Visvanath and the onlooker, the late M.L. Jaisimha.

Instances of the latter's cricketing wisdom are myriad. Only he foresaw a tie in the 1986 Test between Australia and India in Madras. So fine-tuned was he to the game, that on several occasions he stated openly that the batsman at the crease would not last the over. He could also foretell how the fall would come.

The grace `Jai' lent to the game endures to this day. Many ape his appearance especially the upturned collar and the silken scarf in particular. A cigarette dangled from his thin lips almost always, sometimes right till he snuffed it out by the boundary line before he went out to bat.

Venkatapathy Raju recounts one such tale from the lore surrounding the man. When playing for Hyderabad against Tamil Nadu at Madras, office-goers would hang around the ground, especially if the visitors were to field. The bystanders would watch the Hyderabad troika of Jaisimha, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and Abbas Ali Baig languidly enter the arena. The spectators would then disperse.

Back home in Hyderabad, there would be more crowd to watch the league matches Jai would play for Marredpally Cricket Club. On one occasion, his childhood chum Bobjee scored a century. Pleased with himself for a job well done and the game won, he was looking forward to a fair round of applause on his walk back.

Instead Bobjee was barracked by the crowd. Taken aback, he was trying to figure out why the spectators had reacted so. They were peeved that the game was over without their getting to see Jaisimha.

In another Hyderabad Cricket Association match, the tearaway Habeeb Khan was bowling to Jai, with the latter's fractured left hand in a sling. The right arm alone packed enough power for pulverising pulls and hooks and Jai went on to score a double century.

Jaisimha was to cricket, what Balraj Sahni was to the Hindi screen. Both had presence and would stand out almost anywhere. When Sir Garfield Sobers was received at Chennai airport on a visit after decades, his first question was, ``Where is my friend Jaisimha?''

Without a string of degrees to his name, some of his succinct sayings on the game seem oracular today. He would have made a great journalist too. Not a redundancy of thought or word was traceable in those pithy quotes when he held listeners spellbound.

A born leader, his men mattered most. Although Punjab's following on seemed imminent in a Ranji Trophy match at NFC, Hyderabad, Jai as coach insisted Hyderabad bat a second time. Pundits were perplexed. The bowlers needed rest, he explained. Sure enough, they returned the favour, polishing off the Punjab middle order and tail in the last session of play for a sensational Hyderabad win.

For a man idolised so much, Jai adored Australian Keith Miller. Frank Sinatra, Harry Belafonte and Ella Fitzgerald were his favourite musicians. For him, cricket was to be enjoyed with a passion and not as a means to make money.

Contrast this to present day players, whining of `pressure,' even from the media, although the same `pressure' fetches five and six- figure pay packets or so much written about them.

There was more to Jai than cricket. He reached the junior national tennis final against Davis Cupper S.P. Misra at Trivandrum. At the Railway club in Secunderabad, he gave national champion Nandu Natekar a run for his money in badminton. For years, Jaisimha's record for the longest drive stood at a city golf course. Not many will know that rarely was he `arm-twisted' in arm-wrestling.