Friday, October 12, 2007
Tamil Nadu’s Ranji Winning Captain of 1987-88- the unassuming S. Vasudevan
Exit VV Kumar, Enter S. Vasudevan.
The late 1970s saw the end of a long and illustrious career and the beginning of another - VV Kumar was shown the door in a rather unceremonious fashion ( as discussed in a story earlier in this section) to bring in a young left arm spinner who would go on to serve the state for the best part of the next decade with a great deal of success.
Just like VV, this one too had his moments of ‘faulty selection’ that put an end to hopes of a call higher up. But throughout his career, he remained an unassuming and silent cricketer going about his work in a quiet manner taking well over 200 wickets in Ranji Trophy and scoring over 1500 runs.
This section looks back at Tamil Nadu’s last Ranji Trophy winning captain S. Vasudevan(first one was Balu Alagannan in the mid 1950s) and more specifically on the ‘Golden Season’ for TN cricket.
Vasu (as he is called in the cricketing circles) started playing cricket at the age of 8, went through the ranks of solid performances at the school and college levels before making it to the Ranji team at the age of 21.
He did his schooling at Raja Muthiah high school (his classmate there now heads IBM India). While in school, he figured in the state team that won the Ghulam Ahmed Trophy. Vasu was instrumental in helping TN secure an outright win against the then very strong Mysore (state) schools, scoring 75 Not out and getting 9 wickets in the match (5 & 4).
Chit Chat at Mylapore Park and Shanti Vihar
He did his PU (Pre-University) at Vivekananda College (a senior of Vasu at PU now heads a leading financial services firm in Chennai). During the PU days, Vasu remembers long hours of cricket discussions with fellow cricketers at Nageswara Rao Park in Mylapore(now well known for the Sunday Kutcheri in Chennai) and Shanti Vihar (once a favourite meeting place for Vidya Mandir and Viveka students…Now the complex has been demolished).
He moved on to Pachaiyappas College to do B.Com playing there alongside Bharat Reddy and Bharat Kumar, among others. He figured in the University team that won the Rohinton Baria Tourney (very reputed tournament in those days- University cricket has lost its charm in recent years).
Hard Work at the Nets
It was not all easy for Vasu in those early days. In the late 1960s/early 70s, Vasu used to wait for hours before he got a chance to even bowl at the nets (reason…VV Kumar and Venkat would toil relentlessly at the nets for well over two hours). At the fag end of the net session, typically at 530 in the evening, Vasu would manage to get his hands on the ball. And he would bowl there till dark under the watchful eyes of VV and Venkat.
Vasu says, “Just watching VV and Venkat bowl taught me a lot of things in those early years. I learnt a lot about spin bowling watching them at the nets.”
It was something that Vasu never stopped till the end of his career. On most occasions, he would be the last one to bat at the nets ( Vasu was a very good bat as well and has played many a good knock for TN coming lower down the order) after spinning his arm over for 2 hours and more.
“ Bowling at the nets day in day out gives a bowler the rhythm” says Vasu.
This hard work and years of non stop effort earned him a Ranji call against Karnataka at the age of 21 in the 1976-77 season (he played that match as VV was not available). He did not play the remaining two matches that year (the knock out matches). He played his first full season a year later(VV Kumar was dropped to make way for Vasu).
It was in 1979 that Vasu played one of his most memorable league matches. Playing against Southern Railway, his team Alwarpet were looking for an outright win in the then 1 ½ day first division league. Vasu vividly remembers that match.
“Alwarpet needed 3 wickets with 3 minutes left for play on the 2nd evening and we could possibly get in only one last over. We took the new ball, I opened the bowling, took 2 wickets in the first 2 balls with balls that came back into the batsmen. And got the last wicket with the fourth ball of that over. It was a memorable win for us.”
Vasu seemed to have had a liking for Railways even then!!! Years later, he would captain TN to a Ranji Trophy win against Railways.
Vasu against Zaheer, Javed and Imran
His early years in Ranji Trophy were quite successful and that quickly earned him a South Zone selection in January 1980 against the touring Pakistan team that comprised of Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Asif Iqbal and Imran Khan, among others. After a not so bad first innings (where he conceded just at over 2 runs an over), Vasu took the wickets of Zaheer, Imran and Mudassar in the 2nd innings.
Zonal Politics knocks off yet another cricketing talent
In Indian cricket, the inter zonal politics has ‘done in’ many players. In Vasu’s case, it was the intra zonal politics. Quota system within South Zone meant that he would not play for the Zone again, something that put an end to any hopes he may have had of playing at higher levels.
Like VV Kumar(he took 5 wkts in his first bowl in test cricket and yet played just one more test) before, Vasu took 3 big wickets in his first match against a touring side and a strong Pakistan team at that. And yet he was to never find a place in South Zone team for the domestic Duleep Trophy. Quite a mystery.
But he took it in his stride and continued to play for Tamil Nadu through the 1980s and his hard work brought him the highest reward in domestic cricket – TN won the Ranji Trophy championship in 1987-88 under his captaincy with a team comprising young, inexperienced and thus far unproven talent.
And during this decade long stint for TN, he played alongside some of the most well known faces of Tamil Nadu cricket- Micheal Dalvi, B. Kalyanasundaram, P. Ramesh, P.Mukund, TE Srinivasan, AG Satwender Singh, V. Krishnaswamy and V. Sivaramakrishnan. And that Vasu considers as one of the most happy moments of his cricketing career.
He also formed a potent spinning combination with Venkat under whom he played the earlier years of his Ranji Cricket. Vasu believes that during Venkat's rule as captain, there was a lot of unity/bonding among the team members.
The 1987-88 Season
The 2nd half of 1980s were fruitful years for TN cricket. Several young cricketers came into limelight. The big boost for TN came in 1987-88 when the team lifted the Ranji Trophy (and unfortunately, remains to date, the last time).
It was almost a transition period for TN cricket. Several of the old guards had left the scene. Venkat, Bharat Reddy, Jabbar…
Past 30 and having played a decade of Ranji cricket, Vasudevan captained (for the first time) a youthful but inexperienced Tamil Nadu team that year. In the first half of the 1980s, TN had had a good solid side that however failed to make too much headway in the knock out stages of the Ranji. The big one had continued to elude.
In the back drop of this, Tamil Nadu entered the 87-88 season with very little hope, especially given that competitors, Karnataka and Hyderabad, boasted strong sides with GRV, Brijesh Patel, Kirmani, Roger Binny for Karnataka and Narasimha Rao, Khalid Abdul Qayyum and Abdul Azeem leading a strong batting line and spin twins Arshad Ayub and Shivlal Yadav forming the core of the Hyderabad team.
However, what TN seemed to have that season was a strong captain, in Vasu who brought the team together, and a bunch of energetic youngsters.
Robin, VB, Venkatramana, Senthilnathan, UR Radhakrishnan, PC Prakash were all in their early years of Ranji cricket trying to make a mark for themselves, LS was struggling with his bowling, WV Raman had not yet established himself. Srikkanth was in and out that season (serving India). Vasudevan was the only ‘star’ in the team.
Looking back to the start of that season, Vasudevan says, “ All I wanted the team to do was take it match by match and to give it their best shot in every match.”
Luck that deserted him in the early 80s in terms of Zonal appearances seemed to be on his side that season. Tamil Nadu’s first 3 matches that season were against the minnows of SZ cricket-Kerala, Andhra and the new entrants Goa. TN scored outright wins against all three to go in with confidence to face the two biggies, Hyderabad and Karnataka.
Despite giving away the first innings lead to a strong Hyderabad batting line up, TN held its head high having scored over 400 runs. TN lost on a turner to Karnataka in the last match, despite Vasu taking 6 for 30 to bundle out Karnataka for less than 100 in its 2nd innings.
TN qualified for the knock out as the SZ champions and that was a big achievement for Vasu.
Knock Out Matches
TN posted a 500 plus score in each of the 3 knock out matches that year. Facing UP in the quarters( those days UP was a strong batting side with Sashikant Khandkar and Chaturvedi being prolific run getters on the domestic scene). VB’s big hundred helped TN post 500 plus and Venkatramana, in his first season of Ranji cricket, bowled out UP for 190 with a 5 wicket haul. Surprisingly, Srikkanth captaining that match, decided to bat again and TN won on first innings.
Bowling against Sixer Sidhu
The Semi Final was against Punjab, a team that included the in-form Sidhu. 6 months earlier, he had the country on rage with rampage hitting in the World Cup of 1987. This time TN scored over 600. With Sidhu firing away, TN was under pressure with Punjab at 1/200.
On asked if he felt the match slipping away when during the Ashwini Kapoor-Sidhu partnership, Vasu said, “ We knew that Sidhu’s wicket was vital. And that his wicket would turn the match in our favour. I still remember that great catch by PC Prakash at Long Off to send back Sidhu. That was the turning point of the match.”
“ That year saw some fantastic fielding by us. Robin was outstanding. And so were some of the other youngsters in the team. The catch by PC in many ways showed what a young and energetic team could achieve.”
For the knock out matches that year, Tamil Nadu had brought back the experienced V. Sivaramakrishnan to bolster the middle order. His induction into the team greatly strengthened the catching.
Ranji Trophy Final
TN was put on the back foot early on day 1 with a big century partnership between the experienced Yusuf Khan and Churi. Once Vasu broke through that partnership, Railways faltered and was bowled out for 350. Venkatramana once again was in the thick of action with a 7 wicket haul.
All the batsmen contributed, with VB, in dominant form that year, and V. Shiv just missing hundreds. But the star with the bat once again, as he had been many times that season, was Robin Singh. He struck another century thus giving TN the vital first innings lead. TN ended up scoring over 700.
7 wickets in his final Ranji innings
Vasudevan, a decade after his first full season, ended the season in grand style picking up 7 wickets in what turned out to be his last Ranji bowl, giving TN an innings win and the Ranji Trophy. It was a fitting finale for a man who had rolled his arm over tirelessly for the state and had not got just rewards from the zone. It was a moment of glory for Vasu as he held the trophy aloft that day at Chepauk. It was just reward for someone who had turned his arm, over after over, through the 1980s without ever getting a fair deal.
Ranji Victory and Impact on TN Players
The triumphant TN team went to Australia in 1988 under the captaincy of Vasu. He enjoyed playing against a strong West Australia side that included Graham Wood, Terry Alderman, Mike Veletta, Geoff Marsh and Tom Moody. His Tamil Nadu team was also honoured by Sports Ministry of Western Australia.
Under him emerged into the limelight talented youngsters such as VB, Venkatramana and Robin Singh.
The 1987-88 season saw VB and Robin score over 500 runs each, while on the bowling M. Venkatramana had a spectacular first season picking up 35 wickets. Vasu himself picked up over 25 wickets.
The Ranji win had an immediate positive impact on TN players. Within the next year or two, Robin and Venkatramana had been picked for the West Indies tour, VB played one dayers in India and New Zealand and WV Raman too came into the reckoning.
It is another tale that the stints for all of them proved short and bitter Robin came back in the mid 90s as an all rounder in one day cricket but in those early years of Ranji and Duleep Trophy cricket he was a batsman best suited for the longer version of the game. Quite an irony that he finally became branded as a specialist one day cricketer. VB and Ramana faded quickly and never came back.
Irani Trophy Glory – 9 wickets and a win
Vasu had decided after the finals victory that he would retire. However, one other glory awaited him. He stayed on for a few more months to play the season opening Irani Trophy later that year(1988). He picked up 5 wickets in the first innings against a strong Rest of India attack( Sidhu, Arun Lal and co) in October 1988. But his effort was undone by a poor batting display by TN as they conceded a 1st innings lead of over 200 runs.
Vasu however had the last laugh taking 4 wickets in the 2nd innings helping dramatically bowl out Rest of India for 130, thus taking 9 wickets in the match. This along with Ranji Final remains as one of his favourite matches.
VB’s blistering 2nd innings century against Gopal Sharma and Hirwani and V. Shiv’s defiant innings helped TN chase 340 plus to win the Irani Trophy on the final afternoon.
Timing of Retirement
With this performance, Vasu bid adieu to state cricket and would never play again for TN. That may have been a defining moment for Tamil Nadu cricket. At 33 and with over 25 wickets that year (not including the Irani Trophy haul), Vasu was good enough for a few years.
Perhaps he was apprehensive of going the VV Kumar exit way!!!! Also, his SPIC club team mate Sunil Subramaniam ( whom he had watched grow under his watchful eyes at the SPIC nets) was waiting in the wings. Had Vasudevan continued for a couple of year more, he may well have bonded together the young team further and may have helped roll out a few more into the national team. That of course, is a matter of debate.
Vasu decided that he had had his time and unlike VV Kumar a decade earlier, had an exit on his own terms.
After winning the Ranji trophy and having left behind a confident team, Vasu had hoped that TN would win the Trophy again in the coming years. There was no shortage of talent in the team. And that was a big disappointment for Vasudevan. However, he believes that application was lacking overall.
The team had gained immediate recognition at the national level immediately after winning the Ranji Trophy. And yet, we let it slip by (he however says Robin Singh’s case was unfortunate).
Vasu is also disappointed at the fading away of spin bowling talent in the state. He says ‘These days cricketers in TN believe that only batsmen can move up, into the higher grade. And that is unfortunate. ”
“ I used to push them to bowl, but they would only want to bat. Ravi Shastri was a prime example of how one could do well in both. Ravi would bowl for 2 hours in the nets and then come back and bat for two hours. That’s the difference between TN and Bombay cricketers. Spin bowlers need to toil for hours. Hard work is lacking in TN cricket. And it is a lot less purposeful.”
Vasu continued to play league cricket after his Ranji retirement. One of the highlights of his league stint was winning the Palayampatti shield for 5 years under his captaincy (playing for SPIC). While at Alwarpet earlier, he won the first division trophy thrice. A century against Duleep Mendis’ Sri Lanka(Ceylon) team in the Gopalan Trophy in the late 1970s remains one of his best batting displays. He incidentally score 3 hundreds for TN.
In his last ever league game, a couple of years ago, Vasu, at the age of 50, picked up 7 wickets to help his team gain promotion. That says it all about Vasu and his commitment to cricket.
(Incidentally, this writer umpired that match of his at the IIT Stadium and had the honour of watching him bowl from close quarters).
S.Vasudevan currently runs a software company in Chennai and can be reached on 99400 48900