His Fighting Spirit, the ability to bowl off-cutters with the old ball and a slower ball developed early in his career helped him create a niche for himself in a TN squad of the 1970s that had two great spinners
My earliest memories of watching Kalyanasundaram (Kalli to most in the cricketing circles) bowl goes back to the 1982-83 season, just a few years after he had played his final Ranji Trophy match.
The short and lean 35year old bespectacled fast bowler playing for LMW ran in just as fast as he had a decade earlier to bowl at two of the then upcoming Tamil Nadu batsmen, Peter Fernandez and NP Madhavan (of SVPB) on a wet pitch at the Forest College Ground in Coimbatore(It was also the season when Madhavan struck a Ranji Hundred). He showed that day that none of the fire in him had been lost even though he was only playing a league match.
Also that day when sitting in the pavilion of the Forest College ground, Kalli had a long chat with Madhavan giving him the confidence to perform at the Ranji level something that RBI off spinner NS Ramesh and a long time LMW teammate threw light on “Kalli has always been an unassuming person and ever willing to help anyone”, a sentiment echoed by S. Vasudevan, TN’s Ranji Trophy winning captain and who himself played under Kalyanasundaram’s captaincy in the Gopalan Trophy, who credits Kalli with guiding him on the ways to move with different sets of people and handling different situations early on in his career.
For almost the entire part of his Ranji stint with Tamil Nadu (he started his Ranji career with Kerala), Kalyanasundaram played alongside two of the state’s best ever spinners - S. Venkataraghavan and VV Kumar that placed additional pressure on him, for a couple of bad balls would have meant handing over the bowling operations to the spinners and watching from the deep for the rest of the day. And yet he played well over a decade of Ranji Trophy cricket becoming in the process the first TN fast bowler to play 50 Ranji Trophy matches and take 100 Ranji wickets.
Vasudevan, who first saw Kalli bowl in the late 1960s makes an interesting observation- ‘To get close to 150wickets in Ranji at a time when TN bowling was dominated by Venky and VV was a significant achievement for a fast bowler of that era when there were no physios and personal trainers. It was unfortunate that he did not play higher level of cricket despite some commendable performances in crucial Ranji matches.”
Tamil Nadu was not really known for fast bowlers till the arrival of Kalli in 1968. Many a time the role of the new ball bowler was to take the shine off. More than three decades after Kalli retired from the Ranji scene, Tamil Nadu have had just two fast bowlers of repute- TA Sekhar and L. Balaji - and both have had their fair share of injuries during their times.
How Cauvery strengthened his shoulders!!!
Born in the temple town of Kumbakonam, Kalyanasundaram did his schooling at Banadurai School spending most of his evenings swimming in the Cauvery (he did not know then that this exercise would stand him in good stead and play a crucial part in his cricketing career).
It was not until he moved to the National College in Tiruchirapalli for his PU that he actually saw the red cherry. Unfortunately, it was a period when Kalli lost his father. With a Centum in Maths and a high D+ grade (75%-89%) in Science, he got a B. Tech seat in REC Calicut along with a merit scholarship and moved away from his home state for the first time in his life.
It was in 1964 at the age of 17years, that Kalli first began playing some sort of serious cricket. And even that happened by chance.
“Being away from home and having lost both my parents, I would receive regular letters from my brother. Even before opening, I would know the contents which would read something on the lines of ‘study well, focus on your studies’. Listening to my brother, I would spend a large part of my time studying inside my room.”
One evening while he was thus studying, one of his close friends Raman came into his room and before Kalli could realise, threw away his book and pulled him out onto the cricket field. Little did he know then that this would turn out to be the career defining moment for him one that would turn his entire focus onto serious cricket for well over the next decade.
Kalli – The Fast Bowler
When asked what he could do in cricket, Kalli, who had previously never thought about serious cricket, said he wanted to bowl fast almost creating a huge laughter around for he was after all a tiny slim teenager. But within the next half hour, he shattered the stumps of two of the batsmen, a spell that earned him an instant call to the REC nets. And there was no looking back for Kalli since.
In his first inter collegiate match at Palakkad, Kalyanasundaram scored 38 but more importantly took four wickets for his college. Following this, in a tourney at the Palace Oval Ground in Tirupanathura, playing for Malabar Club, Kalyanasundaram took 7 wickets to bundle out FA Club, Ernakulam, a team that comprised of Kerala State players as his team defended a paltry total of 105. That really set the tone for Kalyanasundaram to play for Calicut. Within the next year, he was with the Junior State team and in no time his hard work at the nets helped him move into the Kerala State Reserves.
Ranji Debut for Kerala
Ironically though, Kalli made his Ranji debut at the tender age of 19 not for TN but against his home state (Madras then) playing for Kerala in November 1966. It wasn’t the greatest of starts for him as he dropped a caught and bowled of KS Rajagopal of the very first ball he bowled in Ranji Trophy. But his contribution over the next 12years (initially for Kerala and for the large part for Tamil Nadu) meant that he was one of the all time greats of Tamil Nadu cricket, one who was distinctly unlucky not to have scaled up for national honours despite some memorable performances in key encounters.
Kerala’s first ever win over Hyderabad- Kalli’s 10wicket haul
After claiming four wickets in his second match against Andhra Pradesh, Kalyanasundaram had his first big success in just his third Ranji match when he picked up a match haul of 10 for 107 including 6 for 58 in the second innings (his first and only 10wicket haul in Ranji Cricket). Interestingly, in that match, Kalli also contributed significantly with the bat. Batting at No. 11, Kalyanasundaram along with Madan Mohan took Kerala to a 1wicket victory, the state’s first ever win over Hyderabad.
Madan Mohan was given a couple of trousers for his Man of the Match knock of 70NO and taking Kerala to the win. However, in a terrific gesture that Kalli still remembers, Madan Mohan instantly handed over one of the trousers to Kalli crediting his 10 wicket haul for Kerala’s victory. It was one of the first big moments for Kalyanasundaram in Ranji cricket.
A Fiery Kalli prompts a Karnataka declaration
That same season, another interesting episode took place. It was his fourth Ranji match. Playing at Calicut against Karnataka (Mysore then) on a matting wicket, Kalyanasundaram blasted through the Karnataka middle order taking 4 for 26 in 10overs. So fiery was his bowling that after Kalyanasundaram picked up 3 late order batsmen in the space of 2-3overs, the Karnataka captain Subramanyam declared the innings at 8 wickets down not wanting to expose Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekar to the fire of Kalli. If the Hyderabad match was a great performance booster, this one was a great moral victory for Kalli.
In his debut season, Kalyanasundaram , still only in his teens, took 18wickets in 4 matches signifying his arrival on the scene as a fast bowler who the opponents would fear in the decade ahead.
In 1967-68, Kalyanasundaram once again came up against Madras in the first match of the season. This time, he had a much better performance to show (picking up 3wickets including that of Michael Dalvi) against the team for whom he was to play for almost a decade without a break. However, Kalli’s performance for the rest of the season was rather disappointing as he ended with a tally of just 5wickets for the entire season.
A Meeting with N Sankar- Lets go M.Tech plans, Focuses on cricket
By the summer of 1968, Kalyanasundaram had completed his 5year BTech course from REC Calicut. As the next step, he was keen to pursue his academics and was looking at doing M Tech. And for the 2nd time in 3years, a chance meeting, this time with K. Ganapathy (Off spinner from Coimbatore) at the Pachaiappas College Ground dramatically changed the God fearing Kalli’s career towards a full-fledged cricketing engagement.
Kalyanasundaram remembers that day vividly “I had gone to watch the match between Jolly Rovers and SBI. Ganapathy came up to me and confirmed that I was Kalyanasundaram ( the Kerala Ranji bowler) and asked as to what I was planning to do next and what I was doing at the ground. To my surprise, within a few minutes, he came back with Mr. N. Sankar who was the MD of Chemplast and who also ran the Indian Cements team.”
“Mr. Sankar wanted me to play for their 2nd division team Jai Hind saying I could not fit into the 1st division Jolly Rovers team that year as the team had already been finalised.”
In his first league match in Madras, Kalyanasundaram was amongst wickets with Sankar watching him from the sidelines. So impressed was Sankar that he called Kalli to the office the next day and offered him a job at India Cements at a salary of Rs.300/-(which was doubled in no time once Kalyanasundaram received his degree certificate). It was also a time when S. Venkataraghavan had just quit India Cements.
Kalyanasundaram initially joined the Foundries at India Cements but quickly moved into the Sales team after a few months to work alongside TE Srinivasan, MO Parthasarathy and Najam Hussain.
Later, while working at LMW, Kalyanasundaram completed his MBA.
Success with Jolly Rovers
The next year he was up into 1st Division playing for Jolly Rovers. Those days KS Narayanan (Chairman Chemplast), N Srinivasan ( Jt. MD), N Sankar, N Kumar and Ananthanarayanan ( finance head) would turn up at the ground for Buchi Babu matches much before start of play. To perform in front of them was a matter of great personal pride for Kalyanasundaram in those early years of his cricket in Madras. He remembers winning 5trophies ( 1st Division League, Hindu Trophy, Buchi Babu, Tirupanathura Pooja Trophy and Ramakrishna Memorial trophy in Coimbatore) in one year for Jolly Rovers and receiving a sweater as a memento, one that Kalli cherishes to this day.
In 1968-69, Kalyanasundaram made his debut for Tamil Nadu (Madras) and in his very first match for his home state picked up 5 for 30 to help his team bowl out, interestingly, Kerala (for whom he had played the previous two seasons) for just 94. The rest of the season however passed without much action for Kalli, as did the next Ranji season.
Kalli’s gets MLJ and MAK- His Best Ever spell in Ranji
In 1970-71, Kalyanasundaram picked up his second 6wicket haul though it went futile with Tamil Nadu suffering a humiliating innings defeat against a strong Hyderabad team comprising ML Jaisimha, MAK Pataudi, Abbas Ali Baig, Jayantilal, Govindaraj and Abid Ali. Nevertheless, Kalli’s dismissal of MLJ and MAK in front of the National Selectors gave him great delight and still lingers in his memory 40years on. He counts that spell as his best ever spell in Ranji Trophy. It was after this great spell that there were talks that this young lean fast bowler could be in contention for a national call. But that call was never to come. For someone who was the first fast bowler to reach the 100wickets milestone and who was the first ever to pick up a hat-trick in a Ranji Trophy Final as well as the first ever Hat Trick against Bombay, Kalyanasundaram should count himself unlucky not to have got a Test Call, especially at a time where there were not many fast bowlers of repute.
When asked about this, Kalli answers philosophically – “Tell me how many cricketers would have got an opportunity to bowl alongside Venkat and VV Kumar non-stop for a decade and to have been their room-mates. While I played 52 Ranji Matches, I personally consider almost 45 of them as Test Matches having played alongside these two greats.”
The rest of the 70-71season was quiet as was 71-72.
The following year, 1972-73, Kalli had his third 6wicket haul at Trivandrum against Kerala. His 6 for 47 (his best ever figures in Ranji Trophy) helped rout Kerala by an innings in under 2days.
Kalli’s Best Match Ever and his lunch time discussion with Maharashtra players
Later that season, in April 1973, Kalyanasundaram played his first knock out match - the semi finals against Maharashtra at Pune. Once again, he showed his fighting spirit with the bat by putting on 30 for the 9th wicket with Edmonds. However, his 2 for 23 in the first innings was not enough to prevent Maharashtra from a big first innings lead.
Kalli vividly remembers the lunch break discussion after he had rattled CPS Chauhan’s stumps in his very first over as Maharashtra chased just 120 to win.The TN players could hear chats in the nearby dressing during the luncheon of how to play the final and their preparation for the Ranji Finals and a possible clash with their arch West Zone rivals Bombay.
Pune was known for Kolhapuri Chappals and Kalli was keen to buy one. “P. Mukund and I went to the Maharashtra dressing room during the lunch break. I don’t know what went through my mind at that time but there was some intuition that we would fight back that afternoon - maybe it was my confidence of having just knocked back Chauhan’s stumps a few minutes earlier. I asked them to help me buy Kolhapuri chappal that evening but I also added that they may not be in mood to assist me as they would have lost the match by 4pm, a comment that shocked a few and created a laughter among a few others!!! I also asked Anwar Shaikh to change into his whites (he was wearing shorts during the lunch break) as he would have to come to bat shortly.”
It was quite cheeky of Kalli to have said that but in the next couple of hours, all that he said was to come true. Venkat and VV Kumar, in a brilliant spell of spin bowling, picked up 6wickets between them in that afternoon session to send Maharashtra reeling at tea with just one wicket in hand.
Kalli points out the brilliant captaincy of Venkat that afternoon. He rotated the bowlers in a way very few would have. ‘After VV Kumar took 3wickets for 0runs in a 2-3over spell, Venkat took him off the attack and brought me back and I delivered almost immediately.’
In that mid afternoon session, Kalyanasundaram got the important wickets of NF Saldhana and Bhalekar.’
Kalli remembers the strong motivational message from Balu Alaganan, the team manager during that tea break. “As we set to get back into the ground seeking to take that last wicket of Maharashtra, he told us that he was going to book our return ticket and warned us against giving away those 25-30runs that were required. He promised us a great treat if we took that last wicket which was threatening to take Maharashtra to the winning target after being down and out at 9 for 72.”
As we walked into the ground, Venkat came up to me and told me that VV was not bowling and threw the ball to me. His message was simple and clear: ‘Do not experiment at this stage. Just keep it tight and I will take care of the rest.’ After three tight overs from Kalli, Venkat brought TN Victory and a place in the finals by picking up the last wicket.
VV Kumar too remembers that match: “That afternoon turned out to be dramatic. Venkat got the key wicket of Chandu (Borde) for a duck. I got 3 wickets in about 10 balls and Kalli got two crucial middle order wickets. We were all very excited. The last wicket pair put up a fight. Venkat replaced me and gave the ball to Kalli, who kept it tight for 3 overs from one end. And Venkat finally had Salgaonkar LBW with Maharashtra still needing 20 odd runs. It was my most memorable match not just for me, but for several of my team mates this was one of the best matches we had ever played in.”
A memorable moment- Hat Trick in Ranji Finals
Later that month, it was a momentous moment for Kalli as it was for many others in the team to play in a Ranji Trophy Final at home and against Bombay. In the 2nd innings of the Ranji final, Kalyanasundaram rocked the late order of Bombay with the first ever hat trick in the finals of Ranji Trophy as Bombay collapsed from 6 for 113 to lose four wickets for o runs (all to Kalli). Despite this memorable spell, Tamil Nadu was crushed in that Ranji Final. But to this day, the hat trick against Bombay remains one of his most memorable moments in his cricketing career. So impressed was Sunil Gavaskar with his performance that day that 35years on he came up to Kalli and addressed him as the Hat-Trick man.
Having played few years of Ranji cricket and having kind of settled down at India Cements, Kalli had to make the choice on his future. Strong words came in from ML Jaisimha when he met the great bat in Hyderabad. MLJ told Kalyanasundaram that given the strong focus of India on spinners that decade, he was unlikely to play for the country especially given that the role of the new ball bowler was to just remove the shine and Abid Ali did that job just well. And he asked me to seriously think about my future.
It was around this time that Ganapathy suggested my name at LMW in Coimbatore. Between 1976 and 1987, Kalyanasundaram worked at LMW with regular weekend trips to Madras for league matches (he continued to play for Jolly Rovers till the mid 1980s). He retired from Ranji in 1978.
In 1987, he came back to Madras and joined Sankar again at Chemplast where he was to work for the next two decades till he retired in 2006 as the VP-Purchase. Kalyanasundaram has the highest regard for all his three employers- India Cements Sankar for sticking his neck out and handing him out a job even before he got his degree certificate, LMW where he learnt a lot and finally Chemplast where he grew to the role of Vice President.
Since his corporate retirement, Kalyanasundaram has been keeping in touch with the game as a selector having held the post of U17 and U19 Chairman of Selectors and recently at the beginning of this season as the Chairman of Selectors of Tamil Nadu. He is also a BCCI Match Referee.
While he was not known much for his batting, Kalyanasundaram remembers two matches distinctly for his batting!!
Kalli had a bet with his captain Venkataraghavan that he would score 25 in a Ranji match. Batting with grit and determination, he reached 24 when Venkat declared the innings closed bringing a huge laughter in the dressing room. Much later in September 1976 playing against Andhra Pradesh at the Agricultural College Ground in Coimbatore, Kalyanasundaram along with Bharat Reddy put on almost 80runs for the 9th wicket, with Kalli making his Ranji best score of 31NO.
Immediately after that innings, Venkat walked up to Kalli and handed him Rs.25, the amount he had promised earlier if Kalli was to score 25runs. That showed the character that Venkat was made of.
His relationship with Venkat
Kalyanasundaram has the highest regard for Venkataraghavan who was his captain for a major part of his Ranji stint. He is of the view that Venkat is a very misunderstood person. If there was a talented player and one who had the skill to perform, Venkat would play him never mind if he has not scored runs or taken wickets in the recent past. He would give you that confidence that he trusted in the potential of the player. Even youngsters who had just come into the TN team were made to feel at home and it was always a great atmosphere in the dressing room under his captaincy.
“Venkat never missed a single league match (the only ones he didn’t play were when he was on international assignments) such was his commitment to cricket. It was largely Venkat’s performance and the high standards he set for himself and the entire team that earned Tamil Nadu the respect at the National level.”
Playing under Kalli's captaincy, Vasudevan,scored a century in the above mentioned Gopalan Trophy match at Madras in April 77 against a strong Sri Lanka team comprising of Duleep Mendis, Sidath Wettimuny, Roy Dias and Lalith Kalluperma (incidentally Kalyanasundaram was his batting partner when he reached the century)and took 5wickets. Vasudevan remembers that match and found Kalli to be a great motivational character and one who genuinely cared for others.
Ramesh was fascinated by the other side of Kalli - one of a carnatic music buff who would not sleep till he listened to all his favourite songs which sometimes went on till 1130pm, a fact endorsed in this writer’s conversation with Kalyanasundaram as he reeled out ragas and its differentiation as if it was child’s play.
Both Ramesh and Vasudevan had a hearty laugh at the superstitious nature of Kalli with Vasudevan citing the example of Kalli always being the last player to enter the field.
Ramesh believes that Kalli’s intelligence and his capability of doing any work and his good command of the English language, could come in handy in his assignments as match referee, going forward.
For the boy from the temple town of Kumbakonam who used to jump into the Cauvery as a pastime after his schools hours and who had only played tennis ball cricket till he was 15years, it was a sudden and dramatic move to the top.
It was a great honour to play for Tamil Nadu alongside Venkat, VV Kumar, Rajagopal, Belliappa, Dalvi, something I had never dreamt of. I still have my TN cap wrapped in a polythene cover, says Kalli, showing how much he valued playing for the state.
Kalyanasundaram looks back at his cricketing achievements with a great sense of satisfaction and contentment and with humility that is so typical of players of the bygone era:
“Looking back at the roots I came from (middle class family in Kumbakonam where not much of cricket was played in those days), I could not have imagined that I would have one day bowled to the greats of Indian cricket such as Gavaskar, Viswanath, Jaisimha and Pataudi and actually got their wickets. What more could I have asked for than playing alongside Venkat and VV Kumar for a decade. The fact that I am still active in cricket through my engagement as a Tamil Nadu Selector and a Match Referee gives me great satisfaction.’
The confidence reposed on him by Venkataraghavan is something that remains etched in his memory. Every time, VV (Kumar) or he (Venkat) bowled a bad spell, Venkat would turn to me to provide the break through with the old ball and those are moments I treasure to this day is Kalli’s parting comment.
Once again, this is wishing Mr. Kalyanasundaram a very happy and enjoyable 64th Birthday and hope he will be able to continue to provide his valuable service to both the TNCA as well as the BCCI for many more years to come.
Best Spell in Ranji Trophy- 6 for 64 against Hyderabad in November 1970 when he took the wickets of both ML Jaisimha and MAK Pataudi
Most memorable moment - Hat-trick against Bombay in the 1973 Ranji Final
Best Batsmen to have bowled to: Sunil Gavaskar, ML Jaisimha and GR Viswanath
Best Ranji match: Semi Final against Maharashtra in April 1973
Little known facts - Several firsts to Kalli’s credit
First South Zone Player to take a hat-trick in Ranji
First bowler to take a hat-trick in a Ranji Final
First ever hat-trick by any bowler against Bombay
Best Average for a fast bowler in Ranji Trophy – 20.03
Best Strike rate for a fast bowler – 147wickets in 867overs in Ranji cricket
Kalli’s Favourite League Match
In the early 1970s, only the top four teams in the first division qualified automatically for the Buchi Babu tournament. It was the last league match of the season against a strong Alwarpet side. Jolly Rovers’ captain K Ramamurthy (who was also Kalli’s boss at office) shuffled the batting order that baffled all- he almost reversed the batting order!! Jolly Rovers was all out for 140.
In reply, Alwarpet had almost reached 100/1 and it was likely that JR were going to miss the Buchi Babu tourney. Ramamurthy threw the ball to Kalli and asked him to bowl out the opposition. It was the few occasions in his life that Kalli showed his anger, visibly. He could not understand what his captain was up to (his captain had earlier removed Kalli from the attack after just a few overs). He showed his anger on the Alwarpet team and in the next couple of hours Alwarpet was bowled out for 130 with Kalli taking 7wickets helping seal the Buchi Babu spot.