Wednesday, April 27, 2016

L Sivaramakrishnan

The story of how the Summer of 1985 drastically reversed the fortunes of Gavaskar’s ‘Little Darling Leggie’ who kind of never recovered from that dent to his confidence
It was a decade of rapid rise from playing tennis ball cricket at the White House on Luz Church Road to helping India win the WCC at the MCG. But just as things seemed rosy, the teenager fell just as fast as he rose and never recovered from the fall, leaving the cricket fan hugely disappointed for he was the wonder boy of TN cricket in the 1980s

This story looks at the rise and fall of L Sivaramakrishnan (LS/Siva), the magical Leg Spinner who captured the imagination of every fan here in Madras in the late 1970s and early 80s with his looping leg breaks and googlies.

MCTM School – The place where he started
A tiny little 10 year old boy had just moved into a house off Luz Church Road (opposite the Anjaneya temple in Alwarpet) in the mid 1970s from his childhood days in Gopalapuram.

Right opposite his street was the ‘WHITE HOUSE’ (now MCTM School), a huge open space where teenagers played tennis ball cricket. As it so happened with his Ranji and Test debut, LS was the youngest of the lot. As was the case in those days (and may be still is) in city cricket, the youngest had to slog with the ball while the elders took ‘Gaaji’ (batting all the time).

Having to don the bowler’s role through a major part of the session, as it was with local cricket in those days, he started bowling leg spin with the tennis ball so he could carry out the bowler’s duties for hours without becoming tired. And to everyone’s surprise, this kid of just about 10 years beat the much older boys time and again with his flight and turn leaving them amazed at this natural talent.

Soon enough, he was off to the ‘Grove’ nets at the CPR Arts Center on Eldams Road (walking distance from his home) where Mukund and Dharmalingam groomed him. In the very 2nd match of his life, he showcased what a special talent he was as he spun the strong Don Bosco (that included Akbar Ibrahim) team with figures of 7 wickets for 2 runs for Vidya Mandir.

Thus began Sivaramakrishnan’s destiny with cricket, one that went sky high in a very short period of time but unfortunately met with a drastic fall from which he never recovered.

TNCA League Debut
He was outstanding with both bat and ball for Vidya Mandir. And with Dharmalingam around at Grove, he was brilliant on the field as well. His first ever league match for Grove was a quirk of fate as was to be his debut match in Ranji Trophy a little later. The bowler who starred in the first match of the season came late for the 2nd match and as was the case in those good old days, that match winner was summarily sent to the bench!!! His replacement LS shone with the ball and there was no looking back. His team got promoted to 4th division where he was joined by WV Raman. And the two spun out many teams bowling in tandem through the season.

Impresses Venkat
LS jumped from 4th to 1st division and to Globe Trotters before he had turned 15. In a match against YMA, he impressed Venkataraghavan with his all round performance. Through this period, he would bowl for hours together at the BS Nets just next to the net that the spin greats Venkat and VV Kumar were bowling so as to impress them. He also created a lasting impression in Venkat when the legend visited the U 15 camp (in Bangalore) headed by the disciplinarian Colonel Hemu Adikari leaving Venkat favourably inclined towards this young boy. Venkataraghavan was fully supportive of the young kid and believed that he would go far if he worked on his skills and stayed DISCIPLINED. He went to the UK and Sri Lanka as a school boy cricketer and impressed everyone there.

Ranji Debut - How the 7 wicket haul was planned
On the morning of Feb 25, 1982, just minutes before the toss, TN Captain Venkataraghavan walked up to the diminutive 16 year old Vidya Mandir school boy in front of the pavilion at Chepauk and gave him the biggest news yet of his life. ‘YOU ARE PLAYING TODAY’. 

Soon after reaching the ground, Sunil Valson informed his captain that he may not be fully fit. Venkat had decided to go with just 4 bowlers for that knock out QF game and was keen that all the bowlers were 100% fit. He gave Valson 30 minutes to come back with a decision. When Valson indicated that he was not likely to be 100% fit through the four days, Venkat (after a quick discussion with Bharat Reddy) took the big call of playing the leggie in this big clash against a formidable Delhi side comprising of international players.

Delighted though he was, it left him completely unprepared as he was not hoping to play given that TN had two star spinners in Venkat and Vasudevan. He hoped that TN would bat first as that would give him time to mentally prepare himself but as luck would have it, TN bowled first and LS was brought on before lunch on the first day.  He took two wickets in the first innings as Delhi posted an imposing 400+ score. TN was then bowled out for less than 300.

What happened in the last session on day 3 remains one of Siva’s most memorable moments in cricket.  After Vasudevan’s three early wickets, Delhi had moved on to almost 100 with Mohinder Amarnath and Kirti Azad building on to the big lead.

As the players came back after tea, Venkat called on LS with a stern message. ‘Can you see those foot marks outside the leg stump. Do not think of the big opposition names. Just look at those spots and pitch the ball there.’ Quietly following his captain’s directions, LS spun a web around the Delhi batsmen as one after another came and departed. LS took 7 for 17 in that post tea spell as Delhi lost its last 7 wickets, all to LS, for just 27 runs.

HERO at Vidya Mandir
The Vidya Mandir lad had shot into limelight. All his classmates had come to see him bowl that evening and everyone was talking about his magic spell against the best in the country and what the future held for him. He had become a HERO in a matter of that one evening (TN lost in a close chase and thus LS played just the one match in his debut season).

Stars in Duleep and Irani Debut
In October that year, he picked up 5 wickets in a Duleep Trophy game against West Zone including trapping Sunil Gavaskar with a googly that left the Master glaring at the leggie with a sense of disbelief. From that moment, Gavaskar seemed to have taken a special liking for LS and used him better than most others in his career.

A fortnight later, in the Irani Trophy game against Delhi, Gavaskar captained LS for the first time. This time he got four wickets in the 2nd innings. At the end of that match, LS was selected for the long tour to Pakistan based on his three 2nd innings first class performances that year - 7 wickets on Ranji debut, 5 wickets on Duleep Trophy debut and 4 wickets in his first Irani Trophy match.

India debut at 17
For the next 5 months he was with Indian legends first on the trip to Pakistan and then to the West Indies. Though he did not play a single test in Pakistan, he played in the tour games and came up against some of the Pakistani greats of that decade. He also experienced as a 17 year old the unplayable reverse swing of Imran and Sarfraz that destroyed India on that tour ( it was also the tour where TA Sekar was called in mid tour - http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2013/08/ta-sekar-fastest-indian-bowler-of-1980s.html) as a replacement for Madan Lal.

After a wait of 10 tests, he made his Test debut on a batting belter at St. Johns Antigua at the end of April 1983.  Just like his Ranji debut, it was Venkataraghavan once again who informed LS that he was going to make his Test debut waking him up early in the morning and giving out in his typical stern style ‘WAKE UP AND GET READY. YOU ARE IN TODAY.’

He had to then wait another 18 months for his next test match during which time he played in a number of U 19 and U 25 matches.

It was once again his 2nd innings performance for Board President’s XI (under Shastri’s Captaincy) against England at Ahmedabad that won him a place for the home tests. Gavaskar called in Ravi to check as to how the leggie bowled and if he could be played at the Wankhade. Ravi was all praise for LS and it was his words that actually got the nod for LS in the 1st test of that series in 1984-85. For a brief while that season, the two formed a formidable bowling pair spinning out one opposition after another in the one day format.
                                                                                                                     
Golden Phase- On top of the World for 6 months
It was a memorable test series for LS – 12 wickets in the first test (he won the MOM award in his first test in India) and a third consecutive six wicket haul in the 1st innings of the 2nd test. He was the Man of the Series with 23 wickets even though India lost the series. Within a month, he was on an unexpected flight to Australia as part of the one day squad for the WCC.

It was Vasu Paranjpe who initiated the thought into Gavaskar that Sivaramakrishnan would be a good bet in Australia (he had never previously been thought of as a one day bowler). What a brilliant decision it turned out to be, for in the next 45days he made significant contributions in two tournament victories.

A day ahead of the WCC opener, Gavaskar came up to Shastri and LS and invited them for lunch. As they got talking, Gavaskar threw in a stunner to LS ‘Tell me your field.’ LS replied with a ‘What’
(Field for What). Gavaskar told him that he was going to play the next day against Pakistan and the likes of Javed and Imran.  Gavaskar wanted him to take wickets and did not mind him giving away runs. Throughout the tournament that was the ploy that helped India bowl out every opposition except in the final.

Newspaper into the bin
On the morning of the match against England (India’s 2nd), Ravi Shastri came up to LS and asked him to read a newspaper article that hit out at the Indian spinners. David Gower had suggested that his spinners (Marks and Edmonds) were far better than the two young Indian spinners. And that he was not unduly worried about the Sydney pitch being a turner. Shastri was fuming at these comments and was keen to prove Gower wrong. He parked the newspaper at the corner of the room with a message that they will come back that night.

Defending just over 220 and with England off to a solid start (a scoreboard shot that LS remembers very well – India 99/2 after 25, Eng 99/2 after 25), Gavaskar threw the ball to LS with the message: I WANT WICKETS FROM YOU. Answering his captain’s call, LS got Gower and Moxon immediately. Soon after Gatting joined Lamb, LS went up to his captain and told him that he wanted to bowl an over of googlies to Lamb from over the wicket (he had till then been bowling round the wicket and the two had been ticking away to leg). Reluctantly Gavaskar agreed. LS bowled successive googlies one of which shot through the defences of Lamb. From that moment, Gavaskar gave LS the freedom to set his own field such was the confidence in his leggie’s thought process.

After Shastri and LS ran through the Englishmen, the two came back to the room that night and tore the newspaper and Gower’s article to pieces.

His Best Wicket in cricket
It just seemed that he could do nothing wrong under Gavaskar. As soon as he came on to bowl, very late in the WCC final, Gavaskar’s direct hit (in LS’s 1st over) found Imran short of the crease. Imran and Javed had been re-building the innings and getting Pak back into the match.

LS then got the wicket of the Pakistani legend that the whole of India still remembers 30 years on. After having Malik caught at long off and with the batsmen having crossed over, LS bowled a perfect leg break that lured Javed Miandad out of his crease and left the ‘Pakistani Legend’ stranded yards down the pitch. It would have been a memorable moment for LS the next ball had Mohinder held on to the catch after Tahir Naqqash lofted the googly to long on. It would have given him a hat-trick and that may have won him the Player of the Final award but that went to his TN team mate Srikkanth.

There was big celebrations at Vidya Mandir with two of their boys returning as stars of the tournament (Srikkanth was the highest run getter and LS the highest wicket taker). He moved from one venue to another as one institution after another felicitated him. 
Hemant Srivatsa, a few years junior to LS at Vidya Mandir, remembers those days in the early / mid 80s. ‘During that phase, when ever LS entered the school premises, Vidya Mandir would literally come to a standstill. He was a big celebrity at school even while he was in his teens. Every one would rush to him.’

Hemant jokes that even a guy like him had a girl friend (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2015/04/hemant-srivatsa-cricketer-of-1980s.html). Would a school celebrity like LS not be surrounded by friends.

Beating PAK in Sharjah
A month later, he played the best match of his life. After India was bowled out for just 125 in a 50 over match against Pakistan at Sharjah, the dejected players slept through an extended Friday lunch break. It was only 15 minutes before the scheduled start that Ramakant Desai (the manager) woke the players up for a tea!!! Once again LS and Shastri bowled in tandem and grabbed the crucial wickets in the middle order including of Javed and Imran. In a fortnight’s time, LS had got two cricketing legends stumped by Viswanath. This time Imran jumped down the wicket and missed the turning leg break.

Bowling out Pak for 87 was the ‘the greatest feeling I have ever had’ says Sivaramakrishnan. Unfortunately, the highs for LS ended with that Sharjah tourney.

1985 – The big high and the low point of his LIFE
In 1984-85, LS was on top of the world and just seemed unstoppable. Big contributions in the Test Series and the two big one day tournament victories meant that he was now the cynosure of all eyes. Expectations soured sky high.  Maruti 800 was a prized possession. And he was just 19.

Just when he was on a high his Thiruvathirai star turned negative!!! He made a huge error in judgement in the summer of 1985 soon after his star performances between Dec 84 and March 85. Lured by the glamour of the county scene (and the money that went along with it) and hoping to gain experience, he went to the UK for a few months of minor county cricket ( it was the beginning of the phase in Madras cricket that marked the fascination for many local cricketers to make a trip to the UK to play in the local leagues there).

While Venkat had played County cricket for a long period from the 1960s and had had a successful stint there, England was not a place for leg spinners both with the chilly and wet weather and the (leg) spinner ‘unfriendly’ pitches. That quarter, his bowling changed drastically for the worse. From the attacking bowler that one had seen him just a few months ago, he turned a flattish bowler trying to contain on those pitches. His flighted deliveries were sent out of the park and he began to bowl faster and flatter in an effort to ‘keep it tight’. And with that, the bowling suddenly lost its sting. And he never quite recovered from that.

Is it as simple as that. YES. Sometimes, in life, things for the good or bad can turn from seemingly as simple and innocuous a decision as that. Could he never have recovered from that for did he not have great potential.

The fact is that one added to another and the misery just piled on for the next year or so (flattish /fastish arc- lack of confidence - a terrible SL tour - no Sunny Bhai for support). Just like his success that came from no where in 84-85 ( including being picked for the One dayers), his failure too happened all too dramatically. And before he realised, he had fallen back (a lot) in time.

Captaincy Change and its impact
Gavaskar giving up captaincy at the end of WCC had a big impact on LS and his confidence as a bowler. He was Gavaskar’s ‘little darling leggie’. A Leg Spinner needs the captain’s backing and Gavaskar seemed to be the perfect captain with whom he could have ‘intellectual’ discussions. Gavaskar had used ‘Siva’ as a wicket-taking bowler and this worked wonders for the leggie.

Under Kapil’s captaincy, the confidence of the captain shifted to Maninder and Chetan Sharma and LS fell off the radar in a matter of a year. If 1984-85 was the golden year for LS, the year that followed spelt doom. The fastish- flattish arc that he developed in the UK came to haunt him during the Sri Lanka tour in Sept’85 where he also picked up a thumb injury. He was off colour there in what was generally a bad tour for India. He also picked up a shoulder injury during the Australian tour (Dec 85) after long throws from the deep and was advised rest by Dr. Umapathy there.

But soon after coming back to Madras, he played in a knock out Ranji match here against Bombay bowling 38 overs that further worsened the condition of his shoulder. By the summer of 1986, there was already a big dent in LS’ confidence as a bowler and he experienced a new low in life. He never played test cricket again. He was selected for the World Cup in 1987 but played just one match.

His contribution to the 1987-88 TN Ranji winning team
When S. Vasudevan took over the captaincy for TN, he was keen for LS to continue with his leg spin. ‘I wanted him to make a comeback into the Indian team and was keen that he bowled. But with the shoulder injury, LS could only bowl in short spells and played mainly as a batsman in our Ranji trophy winning team (LS scored a lot of runs that year), though he did provide crucial breakthroughs in those short spells. I also saw in LS a future captaincy material ( not just for the state but for India as well) for he was a shrewd tactician and good thinker of the game. It is unfortunate that he did not go on to realise his true match winning potential.’

The decade after WCC
An international career that had begun when he was just 17 years ended by the time he was 20.  Extra-ordinary success brought in fame and a glamorous life but when the sting in his bowling went amiss all of a sudden in 1985-86, LS sorely missed a mentor and a coach to guide him through that high-low wave of life and to manage the fame and its aftermath and to correct his technical faults. There were no video analysts in those days. He fell as fast as he rose.

When he lost some of the sting in his bowling, his confidence dropped. In that phase, he would bowl for hours at the nets but made newer and newer mistakes. He would correct one but added a new one. Never did everything sync again - from the start of his run up to the release point. He had many legendary stars coming to him and providing their own solutions but nothing worked. Sivaramakrishnan never got back his confidence howsoever hard he tried ( credit should be given to him that even in that phase of dramatic slowdown, he never stopped trying though it was his batting  abilities that helped him keep his place even in the TN squad).

A former U15 South Zone player recalls an incident at Chepauk. The State Juniors were to have a nets session and LS, who was already an India bowler was to bowl to the boys ( he generally had been that kind of a boy, one who would bowl where ever there was an opportunity to sharpen his skills). As he was walking through the ground to the nets, one of the former India players and a prominent personality with contacts with the leading Indian players, called on LS to the MCC (the club on the other side of the BS nets) with the message - 'Don't waste your time with these state boys'. And LS never returned to the nets that evening. In fact, he was still sitting there when the boys passed through after their nets session. 

( It is the story of how bigger cricket stars in the city spoilt the youngster(s) with tempting offers. There are even similar examples in the current TN team) 

Also, old friends in the Mylapore area point to the change in attitude in that short little golden phase. While in the past, he would stop by and chat for a few minutes, he gave them a ‘go-by’ in that fame period.

Even the cycle rickshaw guys of Mylapore had a tale to tell. Their typical response was ‘Periya aalu aayitaam pa namma paiyan. Engala kandukaruthu illa, ippo’ (our little boy has become world famous now. He does not look at us now) - he was still in his teens then.

A recovery stint with Venkat
Venkataraghavan, one who LS looked up to with great respect in those years and who was one of the players that LS went to, to try and recover from his downturn, said he knew a ‘lot’ from those days but it was likely to leave ‘people’ embarrassed and refrained from any further insights into what happened in the decade following the WCC.

There were just a couple of symbolic episodes of how life went for LS in that phase.

A boy, who drove cars as a teenager, was on a Kinetic Honda in the mid 1990s riding his way (15kms every morning) at 630am to the India Pistons factory on the outskirts of the city to earn his living. He would then ride back to the nets in the evening. It was a strenuous life for someone who just a few years ago had earned highest words of praise from legendary Aussie greats such as Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell.

In the late 1990s, Sachin Tendulkar called on LS to bowl to him from round the wicket to prepare for his encounter against Shane Warne. He was so impressed that he suggested that LS play Ranji Trophy again. LS played for Baroda but that did not work out for him. And that’s the last one saw of him.

The magical talent who had become the glamour boy of Madras’s cricket even before he was out of his teens went through hell for over a decade. Stories were spread of his off field activities and such infamous stories ruined his private life.  He was completely traumatised with the way things turned out for him in the 2nd half of the 1980s. It was literally ‘hell of a life’. He was all alone at home with very few friends to turn to. Lord Ayyappan was his sole solace in life. 
VB Chandrasekar, who captained Jolly Rovers (for whom LS played for many years) in the late 80s is lot more sympathetic for LS and the negative reactions he had to face during that period “As human beings, we all feel the need for a person to walk into our lives at a phase when everything looks lost. For an extraordinary young achiever, the period that he went through after reaching the pinnacle of cricketing glory must have been a most difficult time. Much gets spoken unkindly when the expectations are not met. For many, it is a case of ‘I know the reason for his fall from grace.’ The question is whether the symptoms ever need treatment!! It indeed is remarkable as to how even airport security still fondly remember this teenage magician.”

In the period between the late 70s to the mid 80s, there were very few who could not have loved LS as a bowler. He had progressed from the ‘White House’ to the MCG in a rapid phase of success.

He had a smooth run up and a neat action and challenged the batsmen to hit him. Most times he would have them stumped. In the years of his success, he was an attacking option and that’s when he was at his best.

Last month, when he threw the ball from one hand to another while showcasing the basics of leg spin to a few young boys, one could hear the fizz and the amount of spin he imparted on the ball that showed what a genuine leggie he was, this 30 years after his big success on the international arena.

If only he had held back from the minor county stint and focused solely on the upcoming SL and Australia tours in 1985, things may have turned out different for LS. And this story may never have seen the light of the day.  However, once again for a cricket fan in Madras, it was a case of ‘what could have been’. And all one was left with were memories of that short but glorious magical phase and those famous dismissals of Javed and Imran. 

(Incidentally, LS married VBC’s cousin in the mid 1990s, an event that was instrumental in LS gaining a lot of confidence back in life and one that helped him become a successful commentator - more on that in a separate story)

21 comments:

Shruti said...

This article was a wonderful read, capturing the highs and lows not just of LS's cricketing glory but also his life.
Looking forward to the follow up article!

Anonymous said...

Romba azhaga ezhuthirukel

Some Learnings -
1. UK poga kudathu
2. VM boys are the best, most talented boys.
3. Thalaganam vara kudathu
4. Success / failure to be taken with a pinch of salt ( although I do believe that it is tougher to take success/ failure in arts and sports with a pinch of salt )

I really enjoyed the article.

Anonymous said...

Superb story, Prabhu !!

The minor county stint is something new, an angle I've never heard about LS's downfall. Brilliantly brought out by you.

VB said...

Brilliant structure to the content always makes a compelling read.

Anonymous said...

Good one mate I didn't know about the relationship with vb.

Anonymous said...

excellent work prabhu

Dog said...

Prabhu

Excellent as always. I remember we as kids were so mad at him because of his downslide. We were all disappointed with the way he let us down. I am sure his decisions were attributed to lack of support at the crucial time of his career. This happens world over when kids with exceptional talent loose sight of life when they get too much money.

I am sure we would have ended up this way as well if we were in his situation. Glad to note that he his well settled now and still active in cricketing events. Marina Hingis is one player that comes to my mind who lost her way but she has come back strongly too.

Good Luck to him and hope we get to see another leggie soon in our lifetime from chennai.

Thanks
Vijay

Rajanga Sivakumar said...

Brilliant article. I have seen all the WCC matches and to this day remember LS great bowling.It is touching to read the support he received from Venkatraghavan, Gavaskar, Sastri and others. I think Gavaskar played a major role in WCC for his success. I have never seen a leggie as confident as him during his pinnacle days. Later, as a commentator he has been very good. Life is a mystery. Great success, deep lows. One has to just manage. Wish him well in his life. Can never forget LS bowling.

PRabhu S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PRabhu S said...

Madam,

Good comment.

Now it seems to be quite a normal thing to go to the UK.

In the 70s and 80s, not many cricketers from Madras went to the UK.

England has been traditionally place for fast bowlers and Off spinners.
Athunaalaa, wish some one had guided LS to stay back in Madrasi and focus on developing his skills here. Perhaps a bit of a lure for the 'UK Pounds' did him in.

Thalaganam - Yes in all walks of life, konjam feet on the ground would be good.

Prabhu

PRabhu S said...

Vijay,

The other leggie you are talking about - I could have become one had I had a captain like you after my schooling. Unfortunately, 30 years later, you remain the best captain I played under.

If Gavaskar had continued for 1-2years, things may have been different for LS. He would have kept LS grounded.

Prabhu

PRabhu S said...

Rajesh,

Thanks for the Kind Words and the wishes.

Prabhu

PRabhu S said...

Dear Shri. Rajanga Sivakumar,

Many thanks for your words of appreciation.

Prabhu

Anonymous said...

Great and a wonderful article...keep up the good work
Rajesh

AR M said...

Very well written Prabhu.
We have very pleasant memories of the 84/85. Yes, LS could have been several times more successful, but no big deal. LS enjoyed, we all enjoyed. Life doesn't end there. As long as we put our efforts to the full, there is nothing to worry. We don't decide the results anyway. We are happy to see & hear him as commentator. He has the capacity to produce new talents like him for India, and we wish him grand success at that. He should also be bowling coach for India, especially to train the captains on how to use the spinners better - a much needed skill for the captains today. Good luck & Cheers! TR.Sarathi.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article about LS.

Thanks and regards
Dr.Krishnamoorthy
(presently on on assignment at University of Windsor,

PRabhu S said...

Sarathy,

Thank You

Prabhu

PRabhu S said...

Thank You, Doctor.

Prabhu

Anonymous said...

A very nice story. Interesting and sad, but a good way to start the day.

Vijay said...

Thanks Prabhu ...Oh yeah you are one of the few who could have made it big for a leggie..u were stuck at the wrong school unfortunately...for me you compliment exposes the shallowness in TN cricket

Rgds
Vijay

natalia said...

Very well written Mr. Prabhu. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. Having played against him in the City Vs Districts match in October 1981, I always used to follow his career very closely. One of the finest cricketer with a large heart to flight the ball.
How can anyone forget his Ranji debut against Delhi with such a strong batting line up which had Amarnath brothers, Kirti Azad, Raman Lamba and Bhaskar Pillai. Glad that he is doing exceptionally well as a commentator.

Lakshmi Narasimhan V