After a Reverse Sweep ended his Playing Career, he turned to coaching and played a role in India’s 1983 World Cup Victory
One hopes TNCA President will recognise his contribution to Indian cricket
Kapil Dev’s catch, running back to the mid wicket boundary, to dismiss Viv Richards in the 1983 World Cup Final is still talked about as one of the greatest catches of all time and also the turning point of that final. It is a little known fact that Kapil credits the man from the far corner of the Vedanta Desigan Street in Mylapore for that catch.
Describing that catch, Kapil said that the specific technique of running back to a high ball was taught to him by the diminutive PK Dharmalingam in a fielding session. So pleased was Kapil with the technical aspect of that catch and the fact that it helped clinch India’s biggest moment in cricket that he later told Dharmalingam during a test match in Madras that he would even give his life for this great coach and presented him with a personally autographed bat.
To-date it remains Dharmalingam’s most cherished moment and he lives in the nostalgic memory of having played a role in India’s victory in the 1983 World Cup.
Those days, during his coaching engagement with the Indian team, Dharmalingam would give 50catches to each player and would restart from scratch if a player dropped a catch. It was amusing to find Kapil Dev dropping the 48th catch each time so he could take 50more. Such was his commitment to fielding. No wonder, he took that catch in the World Cup.
In an earlier series, Madan Lal, fielding as a substitute, ran sideways to his right at Square leg to pluck a one handed catch of Graham Yallop. After picking the catch, he ran away from the fielders who were coming to congratulate him, with his right hand held high and pointing in some direction. He shouted ‘Dharmaji’ much to the bemusement of all his team mates.
Madan Lal says that that catch too similar to the one that Kapil took belonged to Dharmaji and he had held his right hand in the direction of Madras to thank Dharmaji for the catch. It was again a wonderful gesture from the Indian cricketer to have passed on the recognition to one of India’s greatest fielding coaches.
Madan Lal says that it was because of the finer technical aspect of ‘how to go for a high catch to the right and left’ that he was able to pounce on this improbable opportunity this at a time when Indians fielders were not necessarily known for great outfield catches.
Coaching Session with Bedi
With Bishen Singh Bedi, it was a different approach. Bedi had just dropped a return catch in the Delhi test and was very upset about it. Dharmalingam faced Bedi’s bowling at the nets for well over one hour and every now and then he would surprisingly hit a ball in the air to Bedi’s left and right and help Bedi practise the return catch.
Breathed Cricket all his life
As a teenager, Dharmalingam spent almost all his time on the cricket field prompting his mother to ask him one day if cricket was going to feed him. Well over 6decades later, the slim man, who still looks quite fit despite two operations, looks back and nods in happiness that indeed ‘cricket fed him’ through his life.
Worried that his lack of focus on studies (he did his schooling at RKM) and his constant ‘teenage’ craze for cricket could prove a stumbling block later in his career, his father, a customs official, put him on to Indian Air Force to instil discipline into his life. While he was still a teenager, he joined IAF.
Despite this effort from his father to try and get his son away from cricket, Dharmalingam was determined to make a mark as a cricketer.
Ranji Cricket for Services
Shortly after joining IAF, a string of strong scores in the inter Services tourney got him into a strong Services Ranji team that comprised of Hemu Adikari, Dhani, Sengupta and Gadkari, among others. He was the most outstanding fielder in the unit and would walk into the team just for his fielding.
Century in Ranji and Batting promotion
In chilly weather conditions in Delhi, Dharmalingam scored 162 batting at No.8 that prompted his captain Hemu Adikari to promise him a promotion in the batting order. In the next match, he was sent in at No. 7 leaving Dharmalingam completely stunned!!!!!! Good scores in Ranji Trophy also earned him a place in the North Zone Duleep Trophy team.
He was however transferred from Delhi to IAF Tambaram.
By the mid 60s and before he had turned 30, Dharmalingam had qualified as a cricket coach from NIS Patiala.
Joins India Cements
Once back in Madras, he met an old school friend who was employed in India Cements. It was about the time that India Cements had started promoting cricket in Tamil Nadu including a first division team in Madras. Just ahead of the completion of his contract period, Dharmalingam quit IAF (losing his pension status!!! He would have received pension had he stayed on for two more years) and joined India Cements.
Playing for Madras against Ceylon in the Gopalan Trophy in Colombo he scored a run a ball 73, one that he rates as his best. He moved to IC Tirunelveli and played in the SS Rajan Trophy where he scored 233 against Madurai, still a record for the highest individual score.
Reverse Sweep ends his Ranji Career
His playing career however ended on a sour note one that the modern day cricketers might consider bizarre. Playing for TN in a Ranji match, he got out to a reverse sweep – Yes he played the reverse sweep in 1971- only to be told that evening by the TN Selector that he would never play for TN again. And he never did. 45years later, the entire cricketing fraternity thrives on that shot!!! That shot also led him to move into serious coaching.
He became an official coach for the BCCI and was assigned a coaching engagement with Central Zone. At the end of an U15 coaching assignment one summer, a young boy who was not selected came next to Dharmalingam and started crying. The coach consoled him saying that he had the potential and would definitely make it big. The boy’s response left Dharmalingam in tears ‘I am not crying because I am not selected but because you are leaving us and going back to TN after the summer engagement.’
That boy – Yusuf Ali Khan - later went on to the captain the Railways Ranji team (he also played in the Ranji Final against TN).
In 1977, Dharmalingam was the coach of the TN Ranji team but there was no provision for the coach to travel for an away match and only an administrative manager travelled with the team. It was a QF match against Railways in Delhi and a friend in Madras personally sponsored his train ticket. Hence, the official coach of Tamil Nadu travelled on his personal account and watched the match from the stands as a spectator.
TN was in a spot after having been bowled out cheaply in the first innings and with Railways on the lookout for a big lead. TN captain Venkataraghavan was at wits end on how to achieve the breakthrough. During the tea break, Dharmalingam walked into the dressing room and suggested to Venkat to bowl (Abdul) Jabbar for a few overs. And Venkat obliged by bring the offie on after tea. In his 2nd over, Jabbar looked at Dharmalingam who was up in the stands. The ‘spectator’ coach asked Jabbar to go around the wicket and a ball later Jabbar took a wicket. And TN came back into the match (TN won that match outright after conceding the first innings lead)
It was another of those memorable moments for Dharmalingam in his coaching career. He was one of the very few players in TN cricket to have taken on the fiery Venkat on the field when he had a different point of view. But that’s the way Dharmalingam has always been – forthright, vocal and a strong say on a cricketing aspect even if it wasn’t always in synch with what others thought.
Coaches TVS Madurai
Later TVS Madurai roped him in to coach their team. He would spend 5days of the week in Madurai coaching the TVS team and then return to Madras for his academy coaching at Sishya. Dharmalingam is credited with bringing in Venkatramana and Ramdas into limelight.
When R Ashwin was a young boy, his mother would carry his kit to Dharmalingam’s academy. Recently she remembered an incident that led to freedom from carrying the kit!!!
‘One day, when the coach spotted this, he asked Ashwin’s mother to hand over the kit bag to Ashwin. And that was the last time anyone ever carried Ashwin’s kit bag.’
Into Women’s Coaching
He was at the University Union ground providing fielding practise to the TN U22 team when a young girl walked up to him and introduced herself. She wanted him to coach the Women’s team as well and that’s how Dharmalingam got into Women’s coaching. Sudha Shah went on to play 21 tests for India. Dharmalingam coached women cricketers for over 3decades.
Rejects Professional offer from England
Once when he was coaching the Indian Women’s team to prepare them for a series against England, the opposition camp watching the rigour with which he was engaging with the players, came up to him and offered a full three year coaching engagement with the England Women’s team that covered his entire travel, stay and food expenses and a fee that would have held him in good stead in later years.
Dharmalingam refused the luring offer for he was interested to only coach the Indian team. The English team were in tears and as a token of their appreciation of the style of his coaching, they presented him with an English Tie.
Kalli on Dharmalingam
Former TN Fast bowler B Kalyanasundaram, who is now a Director at CSK, played alongside Dharamalingam during the late 60s and early 70s including for Jolly Rovers.
Kalli has a lot of regard for the way Dharmalingam played his cricket. He says that being an Air Force man, he was an absolute disciplinarian. 'I cannot remember him being late even by a minute for any practice session or a match, this despite having to come all the way from Tambaram. Such was his commitment to the game.'
Kalli ranks him as one of the best fielders he has seen. 'Not just to Venkat, but even to my bowling he would take unbelievable catches at short leg.'
'His dress code was impeccable and was always seen in sparkling white leaving most others embarrassed.'
Kalli rates Dharmalingam alongside Prabhakar in some of the biggest hitting he has seen during his playing days.
Dharmalingam has breathed cricket all his life with several firsts to his credit. He was the first to set up a cricket academy in Madras in the late 1970s. He was probably the first specialist fielding coach in India. He was also the first specialist women’s cricket coach. The greatest of Indian cricketers of the decades gone by have publicly credited him for their superior fielding technique. And yet, he may not have got the recognition that he richly deserves for his contribution to Indian cricket.
Recently, N Srinivasan, largest stake holder at CSK and the CMD of India Cements announced the creation of a fund to support the players who had contributed to the growth of the India Cements team over the decades. Dharmalingam was one of the earliest players to have played for India Cements. It is hoped that the TNCA President would consider recognising this true servant of the game.