Tuesday, January 5, 2016

VB Chandrasekar

Decoding a Complex Cricketing Personality
Dashing opener, Aggressive captain, Dominating selector, Dictatorial coach and mentor
Outstanding Success at his best, Abusive Aggression at his worst
Took Extreme and Unpopular Decisions - Tried his very best to get results in every way possible to justify those decisions and to prove himself right
Many benefited from this radical approach to everything he did

VB Chandrasekar (VBC) has been and will remain one of my favourite cricketers from Tamil Nadu despite the many battles I have had with him in the last decade. He has lived life his own way laying down his own rules on and off the cricket field. Not always has he succeeded but that does not matter. He reflects a style of leadership that historically has not found easy acceptance. He has had several opportunities over the last decade to soften his approach to one that would find acceptance among others but he has refused to change his distinctive characteristic that is driven by a dictatorial approach of ‘I say You listen/follow and We will succeed together’. Even the worst of reversals did not deter him. He continues to epitomise that approach to life. Even the closest of his contemporaries have many unanswered questions and no one has dared ask him those!!!!

His batsman ship and his approach to cricket always fascinated me, right from those early days in the 80s. He was never short of words on and off the field. A completely inflexible person, he always seemed to hear only his own voice!!! And yet, it is a great tribute to him that he decided to stick to what he believed in and what came naturally to him unmindful of the likely consequences. Throughout his career, he took his own calls and tried his best to make that approach succeed. Many people benefitted from his extreme decisions but many fell by the way side too. The hopeless feeling of the cricket lovers after his abusive language in the YSCA match and the tears of a popular cricket scorer who he dumped remorselessly at the end of a cricketing match were hard to forgive.

Understanding the Persona?
His style and attitude to life and cricket has been difficult to understand for most in the cricketing circles, especially his dominating style of communication at all points of time with all types of cricketers. He has never listened even to the closest of his friends or for that matter to the biggest of the cricketers. Very few seemed to get along with him right from the 80s (To me he seemed a replica of a popular and dominant globally renowned CEO with whom I worked closely for almost 15years). He was always right and the other person was always wrong (if he did not accept his views).

Outstanding Success – as a batsman and captain
It was in the early 1980s that I first saw VBC as a collegiate cricketer in Coimbatore (he was at the CIT). He was also a googly bowler and a wicket keeper in addition to being the dynamic opener. A couple of years later he was in a strong Ranji team of the mid 80s that comprised a number of upcoming youngsters, most of them just of their teens.


In the 2nd half of that decade, he gave TN blistering starts on many occasions including partnering with K Srikkanth. Many a time, his strong technique and stroke play came to the fore and outshone his (international) partner none more so than in the Irani Cup match in 1988, a century that would rank as one of the best in Indian domestic history. It was also an innings that got him international recognition. His performance during that phase especially in club cricket was exceptional and he was one of the most feared players (and captain) in the club circuit.

However, he seemed to swerve from outstanding achievements with the bat and with his team to almost violent aggression on and off the pitch. And this constant swing between the good and the bad continued throughout his cricketing career from the 80s (when he also took over the captaincy of club sides), into the 90s and through the 1st decade and a half of this century as well.

Consensus opinion is that he was born with a Silver (or Golden??) spoon and his approach to life and cricket was a fall out of that. They rate his overly aggressive attitude as being much beyond his game. He tried to lay down his own rules even at College. If things did not go his way, he expressed displeasure even then. He would even boycott!!!

To his credit, he was never short of hard work. In the 80s, he would bat for hours at the nets at his house on D’ Silva Road. Tired bowlers jokingly remark that their shoulders still pain when reminded of their bowling stints at his house.

Neither was he short on the thinking front. His cricketing intellect in a sense gave him a superiority complex. There have been several examples during the last two decades when this came to the fore. Only those who played along with him or watched him and each of his moves would understand the shrewd cricketing brain in him. But it was always led by a dictatorial ‘I am the Boss’ kind of thinking. There were many who benefitted just implementing his thinking and his game plan.

He won the Palayampatti Shield 4 out of 5 years in the early 90s and consistently reaching the final that decade. His team won the annual and prestigious Hindu Trophy 10 years under his captaincy. He also won the Buchi Babu Trophy twice in addition to KSCA, YSCA and Arlem Trophies during that golden phase of his rule. His batting story needs no description. In that period from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, he ripped apart the best of bowlers in the city circuit passing 1000 runs in a league season multiple times. He converted many of his knocks into big hundreds.

But there were many including from the Ranji team of the 1990s who were clearly uncomfortable with his approach. They may not have expressly discussed it with him but the lack of acceptance of his leadership style may have hampered the performance of the state team in the middle of that decade ( both on the batting front and with his captaincy, he was lot more successful for Goa than for TN scoring consistently for the coastal team through his three year stint there).

Summer of 1989 – Only the Jobless watch cricket!!!
I first saw that instinctive aggressive side of VBC from close quarters in the summer of 1989 at a knock out YSCA match at the RKM ground in T. Nagar. In front of 1000s of cricket fans, VBC displayed his aggression in full public view.  Standing at deep mid wicket on the eastern side boundary, he shouted out to the onlookers that ‘Only Vetti Pasanga will come and watch such cricket matches.’

YSCA Trophy organised by Gurumurthy ranked as one of the most popular tournaments in the city circuit and has been an annual feature for almost 50 years now. In the 70s and 80s, almost all the top cricketers played in the tourney. The story of Brijesh Patel repeatedly breaking the glass panes of the houses is legendary. It was the spectator interest that made the tournament popular in the 1980s. And yet, in one of his typical aggressive moments he remarked that it was a tourney for jobless spectators.  He made them feel hopeless that evening with his comments!!!

It was also one of the most abusive comments I had heard in local cricket.  Decades later, he once told me that he may have been provoked to elicit such reaction from him!!! Despite his reasoning, it was a comment completely out of turn for a player of his stature (He was already an international cricketer at that time).  He was a star player in the TN cricketing circle at that point of time and his aggressive batting style generally created a fear in the opposition ranks. And crowds gathered in huge numbers to watch him bat.

Positive Aggression on the field
His positive aggression was best exemplified during his captaincy days when he used a Lloyd like approach to rattle opposition in the 1st division cricket mostly on green top wickets. He was a master strategist with a shrewd cricketing brain and knew the art of winning. During that phase in the 90s, he prepared a road map for every match in the league using J. Gokulakrishnan as his key strike bowler
(Very few know that he would spend hours at the end of the day’s play at different street corners of Madras reviewing the day and chalking out the destruction plan for the next).

And contrasted with this positive aggression on the field, his off field verbose continued. In the years that followed, when he became the captain of the State side, he went out of the way to communicate to his star club bowler, whom he used as a strike weapon in many of his victories for many years that his state captaincy does not automatically guarantee the bowler a place in the squad!!! And in that phase, rarely used his services in the State side (one of the many mysterious cricketing decisions of his life). And years later, when he moved on to another state, he brought back his strike weapon once again and put him to good use once again. When he found Suresh as a tool for back seat driving, he used him with great success for the state. And yet couple of years later, when his game plan changed, he dumped him and moved on.

Such extreme swerves were an inherent part of his decision making. Very few in the cricketing circles came to terms with it both during his playing days and after. Striking hard at others epitomised VB’s personality throughout his career. He always seemed to believe in sending out messages to people that till the time he is around, he was the sole boss of the show.

State Selector – Most Extreme Captaincy Choice in TN History
His dictatorial story continued well past his playing days, one that began with resounding success. As a State selector, much against the run of play and beating down all expectations, he roped in an un-fancied and a silent cricketer to lead the side ahead of many other deserving and established senior cricketers.  That was probably his biggest success on the cricket management front. He cherry picked (Sweety) Suresh out of the blue from nowhere, backed his decision and did everything possible in those two years to ensure that his decision ended up being right!!! (Of course, this was also largely possible because of some extra ordinary match winning performances from the stars in the team).

Two years in a row Tamil Nadu reached the Ranji Final against all odds with a junior member as a captain. And yet when the job was done and success achieved and he found the captain not meeting his requirement any more, he dumped him summarily and moved on in life.  

In his book, there is no room for emotions in cricket. Like with his batting, in all his cricketing roles, he struck as he saw and it was always hard hitting. Nothing other than the moment mattered to him. If he believed that something would work for TN cricket/ his club cricket and himself, he was vocal about it and stuck to it. He almost always got what he wanted. Else he protested and boycotted vehemently. There were no two ways about it.  When he took decisions (right or wrong), he tried his very best to ensure that results went his way to justify the decision. The captaincy handed to the silent cricketer was one such example (It was probably the most extreme captaincy call in many decades and he came up with the best of results in two successive years).  This was one of the many extreme decisions he took in his career.

All the stars in the team were on the verge of an international call at that time and there was a possibility that they may not have been available through the season. Suresh was the only one leading the club side at that time and he had achieved great success in the previous two years. And then he scored a century in each innings in a Buchi Babu match as a captain and that was enough for VBC to shoulder the state captaincy on him. It would give him room for back seat driving to infuse his thought process in all the decisions through the two years. For VBC, it was to be the first and the most successful of his dictatorial methods post his playing days. A lot of what followed over the next decade turned against him solely arising out of his ‘I am the boss of the entire process in every role I take up’. Very few were ready to accept that approach in the years that followed.

National Selector – Throwing his weight around
15 years after the YSCA episode, I umpired a V Division league match at PS High School ground, one that involved his team Varsity Occasionals. That period was yet another high phase in his life. He was at the peak of his powers as a national selector. As I signalled a six (his team was fielding), he revolted in his typical style from outside the boundary line, from where he was controlling his young team comprising of his academy boys!!!

He urged the young teenaged captain to get me to reverse my decision. In a matter of minutes his close friend and Hony Secy of TNCA Dr. Natarajan pulled up a chair and sat inside the ground in support of VBC and asked me as to what I could do (I stopped the match and asked him to stay out of the ground!!!!).

 It was the oddest thing I had encountered in my umpiring career - that of a person holding the post of a National Selector protesting in this explosive way. That evening at the end of the match (one that his team lost), he got on to a typically vehement argument with me on my decision.

He expected me to buckle and surrender to him and nod to his points. But I stood up that evening for the role of an umpire. I sent home the message that the designation of national selector did not give him an automatic right to question the decision of an umpire and to influence his young captain (as a captain, especially in local cricket, he himself was known for that approach) to boss over the umpire. Once he struck down the stumps at SPIC after being given out, protesting against the umpire’s decision (in a style similar to Michael Holding’s in a test match in New Zealand)

Even MSD did not matter to him
Unfortunately, the dictatorial attitude and ‘do as I say’ character that helped him as a player and captain at the club level and a State Selector did not always work in his favour.

As the mentor of the CSK team, he probably had the best job in town in the IPL working alongside MSD. NS ( N Srinivasan) trusted him and handed him the Mentor's job to pick the CSK side in the 1st year of IPL's launch. And to VBC's credit, he did an outstanding job in picking up some terrific players. He was instrumental and brain behind CSK coming together as a great team in the initial phase.

But in no time, he had to move away for his dictatorial ways (even if the thinking and strategy may have been correct during that phase) did not go well with the other powers that be. As one looks back, one has to compliment him for his gutsy decision to stick his neck out, even when he knew the likely consequences. Almost every other mentor in this cricketing world would have silently prodded on with one of the greatest Indian cricketers and enjoyed that company for as long as they could and climbed on to the next level of fame. But not VBC. If he had a view point (and most times he has one), you would expect him to implement that be it with the 1st division club or CSK, with the local cricketers or with MSD!!! The fact that he did not continue in his role at CSK does not make him any smaller!!! He showed that philosophically he would stick to his approach with every cricketer irrespective of name and fame. Where it did not gain acceptance, he stood to lose.

TN Ranji Team – Do you know who I am and My Achievements
Then he was handed the coaching assignment of the state team on a platter (he had not been associated with the state team at any level for a long time).  NS trusted him again and believed that VBC was the ideal man to lead TN's long term progress. And hence it should have been an ideal long term platform for him to be associated with the State working both with international players in his team and the upcoming stars. But he had no patience to understand the players. Instead he expected them to understand him. No sooner did he get the job, his dictatorial ways once again took over him and came to the fore. There were those in the early 90s who swore by him and played by his rules and achieved success.

But this was a new generation of youngsters who had played international cricket and were probably bigger stars than him. And they saw in themselves bigger cricketing personalities than their coach. He may have been right in many of the cricketing strategies that he tried to bring to the table in that phase. But ‘only my strategy works and all else will have to wait’ did not find acceptance in the dressing room leading him to stay out of one of the Ranji matches even though he was still the coach - something that had never happened with the TN Ranji team.

And within 9 months, yet another opportunity had gone by the way side.

For the first time in his life, after he quit the coaching role he turned philosophical with a lovely introspective message on his Google Chat Display. And recently he remarked even more philosophically that if 9 out of 14 players did not accept his thought process and the approach, then he probably did not deserve to be the coach. The truth in life though is not that. There are exceptions in life and VBC is clearly one such character. He lives and dies by his rules. In different phases in life, people with such unique characteristics will see extreme swings.

TV Commentator
His striking, direct and probing questions in post match captain’s interviews as a TV commentator were not in line with Indian sports anchors’ style and there was a need to soften the questions and tagging along the line of the producers. VBC refused to do that for he was not the one for pre-prepared straight forward simple questions. His superiority in terms of instantly understanding the nuances of play can be seen from his stint at the commentary box but even there he does not stop with his cricketing opinions. And is constantly seen needling his fellow commentators much to their displeasure. This needling was yet another facet of his persona. At the end of a match which his team won, he went up to the star MOM awardee and told him that it was he (VBC) who actually deserved the award but was kind enough to let it go for this youngster.

15 years ago, he spent 3 1/2hours with me at his house to share his future plans in cricket. By the same token, when he decided that he would not meet me for a story soon after I wrote an All time TN XI (where he did not find him a place), he stuck by that and has refused to meet me on that story for almost 10 years now despite my continued persistence. There again was a hint of his unchangeable character. In one of his angry moods, he once told me in response to my meeting request ‘I do not have time for people like you.’ If it suits him, he has all the time in the world. If it does not, he is always unavailable, like many cricketers have found over the decades. He also laid down bizarre non cricketing rules. Many a time, you would see him with stylish coolers but no other person was allowed to wear one while in a discussion with him!!!

The Leadership Style
Unfortunately in this world, very few are able to get away with dictatorial leadership. Venkataraghavan struggled in most of his non playing roles (except umpiring) for very few could handle his commanding style but in his case his exceptional achievements as a player silenced his detractors for a while though he too did find acceptance in most of his roles.

In the last decade or so, I have had many written battles with VB. And yet, he remains one of my favourite cricketers from Tamil Nadu. He is fearless. Consequences do not matter to him. He is probably the best cricketing brain that TN has seen after Venkat.

When those around (such characters) accept such leaders, there is likely to be an upswing (and probably success) – In VBC’s case, this was seen with his success at the club level and in the two years with the Ranji team. But in certain other phases in life and as generations pass by, it is very likely that such characters will see a huge revolt against their dominating leadership style (as was seen in IPL and with the TN Ranji team recently). VBC has lived through both in his cricketing lifetime. The most pleasing thing is that he has taken on the ups and downs really well. He was on a big high when people accepted him as a leader and went ahead aggressively in his quest for victory.

But when acceptance waned over a period of time - be it from the top Indian star or the local TN stars, he accepted the decision and moved on. Not once in the last decade, in many of the interactions he has had with me has he made a single remark against any of them.

He probably has understood himself better than most others (have understood him) in his life. And probably long ago resigned himself to the fact that his success or failure depended on the acceptance of his leadership style for it was not within him to go with a consensus approach by changing himself to meet the needs of others. He worked well with those who accepted his decisions and they are grateful for his contribution to the game (though even with them, his decision making was always driven with an agenda to achieve his goals – many fell by the way side during his rule) And with others, he parted ways very quickly as the marriage just did not work for mutual benefit.

He donned the role of dashing opener, aggressive captain, dominating selector, dictatorial coach and mentor in his career. One always wondered as to how it would have been, had he only softened his stance and carried people along. And yet that would have undermined his greatest strength – a Great Dictatorial Leader of our time with as an astute Cricketing Brain, who set high standards for himself and expected others to follow without a discussion or debate!!!

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is it a critique or a tribute? :-)

Superbly written and very insightful!

Anonymous said...

Super story Prabhu... A lovely one, great assessment... I am not sure how VBC will take this (I would be curious to know :))

Anonymous said...

Couldn't have been written any better. He had a great opportunity with CSK that he let go. He could have become the biggest name in the IPL had he held on, for he made some brilliant picks there.

He made people come and watch his batting in the 80s and 90s. Outstanding batsman and a great captain.

Adithya Balasubramanian said...

Yet another brilliant read. Thanks for sharing with me :)

Anonymous said...

Nice article prabhu,well written

Ram Tnr said...

Intresting bold write up...wonderful pick of words..awesome indeed. .I hope vb sir must have read it.
Nice strong memory in u in remembering abt important words.
All together a class of u r own
.master

Anonymous said...

Nice article prabhu,well written.

(former cricketer Madras)

Anonymous said...

Nice Read

(from Australia)

Anonymous said...

Thanks Ram.

By the way, congrats on your son getting into the state team.

Prabhu

Anonymous said...

Very nice article. Compliments to your effort of not mincing words or playing to the gallery.

Regards
TNV

Anonymous said...

A very interesting post.

Did you just call VB 'Dictatorial'!!!!

I think you like him because he is a bit like you!!!

(from Delhi)

PRabhu S said...

Yes, I think so - for all the good reasons I am like him!!!

Prabhu

Anonymous said...

Why have you done this to him? He was anyway not such a great cricketer.

Don't you remember how he struggled with swing against New Zealand.

He was sent down the order only because he could not middle a single ball as an opener.

( former 1st division cricketer from the 80s/90s now settled down in a hill station)

Anonymous said...

VB was selfless as a captain. He wanted the team to win.
He would try to get the best from his players to try
to get the team to win.

(Venkataraghavan never did that. He was Selfish and Self- Centered and failed to get the best out of his players)

(former Ranji team mate of VBC in the 80s)

Shruti said...

This article was a delightful read. It's the rare insight that Prabhu. S has that has led him to analyse the psychological shades as well as cricketing acumen that V.B.C had ( and continues to have) as a person.
The rich detailing and personal touches add to the reader's sustained interest through the piece. Keep it up!

PRabhu S said...

Madam

thank you for the kind words

prabhu

Anonymous said...

Nicely written story.

Is that other personality referred to in the story Phaneesh Murthy?

( former South Zone U 19 player who played along with VVS Laxman)

Anonymous said...

Great narration Prabhu. Interesting read indeed !

(Umpire)

Anonymous said...

Brilliant story and analysis.

(Umpire)