‘Tiger came up to me and said, for God’s sake, stop bowling rubbish’

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Illustration: Samia Singh

I MADE MY Ranji Trophy debut at a time I had more or less given up playing cricket. The heavy cricket calendar of Hyderabad in the 1970s meant I spent all my holidays and many weekdays at the ground, with a wife and baby daughter at home. I was almost 28 and with my cricket confined to the local league, I saw no point in spending so much time away from home. It was also time spent away from work at the State Bank of India (SBI), where I was employed.

It was October 1975, months after Indira Gandhi had declared Emergency, and the small industries advances my colleagues and I were handling were often politicised to the extent of questions being asked in Parliament. A big hue and cry would be raised about loans not sanctioned, not disbursed or not enhanced to any entrepreneur who cared to approach the government with his grievances. The finance minister duly queried the chairman of State Bank of India. The chairman in turn called the chief general manager, the CGM the general manager, the GM the chief manager, and the CM the manager.

The buck stopped with the lowly Field Officer, the grand title by which I was known. My late colleague Ronald Satur —a dedicated, brilliant young officer — and I were the whipping boys of our department.

In the midst of all these troubles, I was allowed by some strange dispensation to play cricket for the SBI and for Hyderabad, when the call finally came, dispelling my worst fears of being denied permission.

On the cricket field, it seemed I could do no wrong. With 4 for 22 against VST Colts and 8 for 75 against the star-studded JK XI in the final, I played a major role in

I was dismayed to find that it was pouring cats and dogs outside. Here goes my debut, I thought to myself

Hyderabad reclaiming the Moin-ud-Dowla Gold Cup after 11 years. At the end of that performance, I got drafted into the Hyderabad squad going to Trivandrum.

I literally ran on to the railway platform the night we left for Trivandrum, as my boss had kept me back at the office for a last-minute discussion. As I nervous ly climbed into our firstclass compartment, I was stunned to see my captain Jaisimha, former India captain Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi and Abid Ali already there. I had assumed that as Test stars they would fly to Trivandrum, not travel with the rest of us by train.

At Trivandrum, we stayed at the stately Mascot Hotel, overlooking the university cricket ground where the match was to be played. Woken up by an insect bite at five in the morning, I was dismayed to find that it was pouring cats and dogs outside. When I went out to the balcony to take a closer look at the rain, I found almost the whole team there. Here goes my debut, I thought to myself, expecting the deluge to wash the match out.

I didn’t know the Trivandrum soil, which absorbed all the rainwater by the time we reached the ground. The match started on time!

The new ball bowlers Abid Ali and Jyoti Prasad had hardly bowled 10 overs, when the captain handed over the ball to me and Noshir Mehta, my rival in the off spin department, as if to say, “May the best man win.”

I was in a daze, the sudden realisation of my forgotten ambition almost paralysing me. On a bouncy new matting wicket, I was tossing the ball up gingerly, forgetting to bowl in my usual sharp style. I still managed to land the ball on the right spots and the even more nervous batsmen let me off with timid defence. In my third over or so, I got my first wicket: M Soman bowled V Ramnarayan 25.

‘Tiger’ Pataudi, fielding at mid-off was the first one to run up to me. “Well done, Ram, and wish you many more.” He slapped me on my back and said, “And for God’s sake, stop bowling rubbish.” It was the wake-up call I needed. I started bowling my normal stuff and ended the innings with 6 for 33. I had arrived.

V Ramnarayan is 62. He is a Chennai-based writer and former Ranji cricketer

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