Wednesday, May 18, 2016

NP Madhavan

The TN Ranji cricketer of the 1980s who did the unthinkable reverse – moved from City to a Village - at the prime of his cricketing career 

'Madhavan was a terrific team man and I enjoyed having him in the team'- Venkataraghavan

'Madhavan was a thorough Gentleman and Supremely Talented Cricketer’ - Brijesh Patel 
It was just over 6 months after he had got his maiden Ranji Trophy Century. He was making his debut for his new employer, SVPB (Sri Venkateswara Paper Boards, Udumalpet), at the Forest College ground in Coimbatore and he was out there in what was to become his trademark Red Cap in the years to come. Gathering courage, I(as a young school boy) walked up to him during the drinks break to ask him a bold question.

He had at the peak of his prowess quit a secure job at IOB (he was to be made an officer shortly for he had played an entire year of Ranji Trophy the previous season that included a century as well) in Madras and moved (full time) to the then under developed village of Udumalpet (about 70 kms from Coimbatore) to take up an accounts (sports quota) job at SVPB. It had seemed a very odd decision to me and I asked him as to why he quit IOB to come to a place like Udumalpet. He just smiled it away, in his typical style.

During the first two years of his move to SVPB, I was blessed to be his pre ‘start of innings’ bowler (like a ball boy/ marker in tennis) bowling 10-15 balls to him before he went out to bat every single time.

Here’s the story of Nadathur Padmanabhan Madhavan (NP Madhavan), who hailed from Sankarampadi village in Kanchipuram District, the only Ranji cricketer in TN who went away from Madras to settle down in a village at the peak of his cricketing career, never to return, this after having been grown up in the heart of Madras, in T. Nagar.

Schooling days at Somasundaram Ground
With his parents away from Tamil Nadu, Madhavan spent his entire schooling days in Kodambakkam/T Nagar (RKM North) with his grandparents. That was the time his long and engaging association with Coach Adi Chetty began, one that extended to SVPB, Globe Trotters and Kunal Engineering in the coming decades. It was during his T Nagar days that he came into contact with two other promising cricketers, S Madhavan (later RBI Leg spinner) and TA Sekar. They used to practice regularly at the Somasundaram Ground.

His Mentor and Best Friend
It was also the time that he forged a strong bonding with Kumar ( P Ramaswamy – who recently retired as VP Personnel from Sundaram Clayton) who was to become his mentor and best friend in life. Kumar was not a cricketer of great repute but would nevertheless bowl to Madhavan for hours at the Somasundaram ground.

In those early days, it was Kumar who pooled money together to even get a proper cricket bat for Madhavan (it had been a bit of a financial struggle for Madhavan in those early days). When Madhavan went to play a University match, his thin pad was in such poor shape that it was Kumar who went to an auto parts shop on General Patters Road to get a cushion that was then fixed into the inside of the left pad to give that extra protection. Kumar then ran all the way to Central Station to give it just in time before the train departed for Hyderabad.

Talking over the phone from Rishikesh, Kumar says that he was happy to do these because Madhavan was one of a kind of a guy in cricket. ‘He would be ready to wake up at 5am for a cricket session. He would bat passionately for hours until the bowlers had no more energy left From a very young age, he was so straightforward as a human being that he believed that it was the runs that counted. Hence he never went behind the powers that be. And that continued right till the end of his career. He solely focused on being committed to the game and doing the role assigned to him by his team. He is a standing example of one who came up in life from a financial struggle to the Ranji level through sheer hard work and performance.'

From MCC to Guru Nanak – His First Big Honour - 1975
Madhavan was one of the very few students to get a first class in PU at Guru Nanak College. By then, he had already started playing and performing for the college but was surprisingly refused a B.Com seat, despite achieving good grades as well as performing creditably in cricket. It was one of the very few occasions in his life that Madhavan showed signs of anger and disappointment. He went and joined MCC (Madras Christian College) and paid the joining fee. He was to submit his certificate on Monday. But as luck would have it, he played a match that Sunday at Guru Nanak College ground, one that was watched by Professor Ramana, the great cricket supporter of the 70s and 80s.

Stunned by Madhavan’s thrilling exhibition of stroke play, Prof Ramana came up to Madhavan and enquired about him only to be told that his college had rejected him and that he was joining MCC the next day. Immediately Prof Ramana offered a three year scholarship to him for his B.Com, waiving off his entire fee- a rare privilege in those days. It was the first big honour for Madhavan in cricket, something that he cherishes to this day.

Best Moment in Cricket – Winning Vizzy Trophy
During his period at College, Madhavan played for Jolly Rovers as a professional alongside some star players of that era. Such was his performance that he was a paid a princely fee for a ‘professional’ player of a couple of hundred rupees (per month/match).

In the Universities match against Bangalore, Madhavan scored a brilliant century in the very first match of the tournament and was chosen for the South Zone Universities where he came up against Kapil Dev and North Zone in the final. Madhavan considers securing victory for SZ in a low run chase in that Vizzy Trophy final in 1977-78 with a personal contribution of 31 on a damp rain affected pitch against a rampant Kapil (he got 8 wickets) as his best moment in cricket.

He was also a capable leader for he understood the game well and was always a team man. Madhavan went on to lead the State and South Zone U22 and State U25 teams in the late 1970s and early 80s. During this period, he scored an unforgettable 170 for the districts against City. His consistent performances earned him the Districts Cricket of the Year (R Madhavan followed him with the award in the succeeding years). 

He amassed runs with such consistency that he had job offers from multiple banks (including SBI) and institutions even before he had finished his graduation. He was keen to do CA, but his passion for cricket took him to a clerical job at IOB where V Krishnaswamy and H Sundaram were inspirational in those early days with the bank in the late 1970s.
Going into bat with 'ROCKO' M Sundar  for IOB

Beating Jolly Rovers in a big run chase
Playing for IOB against a strong Jolly Rovers attack led by K Bharat Kumar and co, Madhavan helped chase down a big target of 320+ in the final innings with an unbeaten 120, a match that he considers one of his best.
A Young Madhavan in a strong IOB team that won the Hindu Trophy 

I have not seen anyone like NP Madhavan – PK Dharmalingam
His coach from his college days PK Dharmalingam had coached many players (a list that included Srikkanth, Venkatramana and LS) to greatness in the 1970s. Out of all of those starts, Dharmalingam says that Madhavan stood out like a shining star, especially as a human being. PKD took a special liking for Madhavan both for his stylish batting and his conduct on and off the field. 

'Madhavan’s on-drive was the best I had seen of anyone in the 1970s and 80s. Playing an on-drive on the ground is one of the most difficult strokes in cricket and Madhavan played it with great elegance and ease, time and again. Despite his early success, he was humble, simple, God fearing and soft spoken. He worked very hard on his game to make the best use of his talent. He was disciplined and always well behaved. He was simply a lovable character. When he played, it always seemed that he was playing purely for the love of the game and I enjoyed coaching him. There is no doubt that he should have played many more matches for TN. He was an outstanding human being. In the decades since, I have not seen a humble cricketer and a human being like him.’
NS Ramesh, who played for LMW in the late 1970s before joining RBI in Madras also remembers the softer side of Madhavan ‘He was non controversial and simply focused on his game. He was always calm and a fine gentleman. I used to particularly like his aggressive style of batting.’

Becomes a back foot Player
Till 1980, Madhavan had been an excellent player through the covers and pre-dominantly played off the front foot. That season, he went to Bombay for a camp under Col. Hemu Adhikari, who changed Madhavan’s game to a strong back foot player. Shastri, Pandit and Rajput were also part of that camp.

Hits out at Asantha De Mel
At his peak, Madhavan faced the fastest of bowlers without a helmet. Ranji Trophy winning captain S Vasudevan remembers the way Madhavan took on Asantha De Mel, the fastest bowler from Sri Lanka, and repeatedly hooked and pulled him out of the ground in a fearless batting display in Colombo. Vasudevan also remembers the way Madhavan jumped out to quality spinners and consistently hit them over the top.
An upset De Mel abused Madhavan in typical fast bowler’s language. And as was his style, Madhavan answered with the bat and hit him out of the ground once again soon after the abuse. That’s how he played his cricket. Very rarely did he speak. Most of the times he allowed his bat to do the talking and kept any emotional feelings to his own self.

NP Madhu was a MISFIT for TN Cricket 
After years of consistent performances in all forms of cricket – age group tournaments, league, inter districts and University, Madhavan finally broke through into the playing XI for Tamil Nadu in November 1980. His former teammate from Chengalpet Districts and Friends XI Tambaram V Ramesh (now Vice President with the TNCA) looks back with sympathy for Madhavan.
‘NP Madhu was such a nice fellow. Everyone loved him. And he scored so many runs for the districts and in the league that he should have walked into the Ranji team much earlier. But the seniors in those days would just not retire and Madhu was caught in an era of some very big names in the top order for Tamil Nadu. Hence despite being in prolific form, his entry into Ranji was delayed. He was probably a misfit in the cricketing circles as he did not talk much and would not go behind anyone. He would not question any unfairness to him and just focused on scoring runs. Hence he may have easily been taken for a ride.’

(Ramesh adds that the other Madhavan (R Madhavan) also from Chengalpet District was aided with a little more luck. A few years junior, R Madhavan entered the scene when some of the stars of the 70s had retired and thus enjoyed lot more opportunities than NP Madhavan)

In December 1980, a month after his debut, Madhavan scored the first of his three Ranji centuries, against Andhra at Chepauk.

1981 – Kalli’s rejection and a Life Changing Decision
Later that season, in the summer of 1981, Madhavan (along with a few other cricketers) took a train to Coimbatore to meet with former TN fast bowling great and the then captain of LMW B Kalyanasundaram (Kalli) following a recruitment ad in the newspaper that called for state cricketers.  Kalli thought highly of Madhavan and regarded him as a brilliant opening bat with a wide array of strokes. His excellent fielding especially in the Gully region would have been a big plus for LMW. While Kalli (and LMW) was keen to have his services, the financial part of the deal did not work out for Madhavan and he returned to Madras to continue at IOB. 
If Kalli had worked on a better deal, Madhavan’s life may have taken a different turn and he may have returned in a few years back to Madras. In a way it was Kalli’s rejection of a fair increase from what he was already getting at IOB and a bigger financial package that paved the way for Madhavan’s settling down in Udumalpet.

May be Madhavan had a tinge of disappointment that LMW did not give him a better deal for in the years that followed, after he joined SVPB, Madhavan was specially aggressive against LMW and many of his top knocks came against them in the Coimbatore Premier league that led Kalli to declare ‘he never spared me in Coimbatore!!’

Much to his surprise and in a life changing event, soon after the LMW deal failed to go through, Soundararajan, the MD of GVG group called on for Madhavan who went to Udumalpet along with his father for a discussion.

Soundararajan had great regard for Madhavan from what he had heard of him both as a player and as a personality and offered him an irresistible deal, much more than what Kalli and LMW had offered and well over double of what his current employers were paying him.  But he had one request of Madhavan – to not leave the company for the next three years (for he was keen to build a strong team that decade). In a gesture of loyalty, Madhavan never looked away from the group and resisted all the luring offers that came his way from Madras, especially following his centuries in Ranji Trophy in 1983 and 85. 
Exemplary Conduct
His conduct both on and off the field that first year at SVPB was a huge influence on me and my life. Three events stand out etched in my memory. At the matting wicket at GCT ground in a crucial match against LMW, on a day when he was once again batting beautifully, he was given out caught behind when the ball had missed by a long mile. Without the slightest hint of disapproval, he walked back to the pavilion and asked the next set of batsmen to make up. He always played the game that way. Never did he dispute an umpire’s decision. 

In another match, once again against arch rivals LMW, he showcased the ‘soft spoken’ side to his character. It was a rainy day in Coimbatore and there were shades of wetness in the pitch (turf wicket). The aggressive Kalyanasundaram was itching to have a go at the SVPB batsmen and was keen that the umpires resume play. Madhavan did not even enter the field of play and had no words to say that evening. He simply hung back and waited for the umpires’ decision almost following the philosophy ‘Silence is always better unless additional words can add value to the scenario.’ Also throughout his career, he never stayed back for gossip at the end of the match, irrespective of the result. He would change into ‘colours’ and leave to the Gandhipuram bus stand to catch the bus back to Udumalpet.
With Sukumar his opener for many years at SVPB 

The next year, when he returned to the Forest College ground for another match against LMW soon after a match winning century in Ranji following a recall to the state team for the knock out match against UP, Kalli, who had played for a decade under Venkat, asked him if there were any particular message that his captain gave him. Madhavan’s reply was remarkably simple “He asked me where I wanted to bat and I said ‘Captain’s orders’”. 

Though an opener all his life, he batted at No. 5 (his first innings for TN that season) and scored 125 after having coming  when the team was struggling at 115/3 to help chase down 350+. He rates helping TN win that knock out as one of his best innings in cricket.

Father Figure in the team
Former TN Ranji player AP Suresh Kumar who joined SVPB in the 1980s played a lot of cricket with Madhavan both in the Coimbatore and Madras leagues. He refers to Madhavan as the ‘Steve Waugh of SVPB’. When he went in, there was certain composure in the team. Everyone knew that he would give his life for the team under the most difficult of situations. He was a brilliant batsman with classical stroke play. His hooking and cover driving was a treat to watch. He showed a lot of grit when he batted. In the 80s, he played so many brilliant innings and the entire team used to just sit and enjoy him bat for hours together. He faced the fastest of bowlers without a helmet and sometimes reminded us of the way Viv Richards played with just a cap on and taking on the fast bowlers with unflinching aggression.

‘It is still a mystery to most of the players of that era as to why he did not play much more for the state.’ ‘He spoke very little but when he did, he made a lot of sense. He was a father figure and made me understand my responsibilities in cricket.’

Months after scoring his 2nd century in Ranji, he was operated upon below the eye after a severe blow while batting in the nets against Prakash (Bangalore) at Udumalpet. The injury put him out of action for a while in 1983.

First SVPB, then Life Mate at Udumalpet
It was also around this time that another significant event happened in his life. All the players from SVPB would stay at a lodge in Udumalpet. Out of the huge squad of two teams (Venkateswara Paper Boards and Venkatesa Paper Mills) Madhavan was an odd man out – a teetotaler who would most of the times be sitting in a corner away from the rest who were indulging themselves in fun. He was also handsome!!! The owner of the lodge took to a special liking for Madhavan and he and his family pursued him relentlessly to fix an alliance for his sister in law. Not only did he take the unlikely call of moving away from the city to work in a village environment, he had also now got knotted on to a young lady from Udumalpet (in Feb 1984) when he had not yet turned 26.

Unbeaten Century against Bombay
 Madhavan gained his third recall to the Ranji team in the 1984-85 Season. And he scored another century in a knock out game, this time against Bombay at the Wankhade in the last week of March 1985 (unfortunately this century turned out to be his last for TN). A fortnight earlier, at the same ground and against the same opposition, Madhavan had starred in his only one day match in the Wills Trophy tournament both as a batsman and a bowler (he bowled deceptive off spin).

In the mid 1980s, SVPB took over the sponsorship of Globe Trotters in Madras in addition to having two teams in Coimbatore (Venkateswara Paper Boards and Venkatesa Paper Mills) and roped in stars from Karnataka including the well respected Brijesh Patel. 

His Best Knock in League Cricket
In 1987, in an early season clash on a matting wicket at the Union ground, playing for Globe Trotters under Brijesh Patel, he took on Venkat and co (India Pistons) and slammed 185 in thunderous style with the ball lodging repeatedly in the Basketball court.

It is one of the best innings I have watched in league cricket as he hooked and drove the fast bowlers with ease and played Venkataraghavan as well as anyone would have in local cricket when every one else was struggling. Venkat tried everything that day (including his typical abusive approach at the opposition batsman) but just could not dislodge Madhavan. Frustrated and unable to even irritate Madhavan, let alone his wicket, Venkat quietly walked away with his curd rice box to the Northern corner of the ground for his lunch that day, far away from Madhavan!!!

In the first 4 matches of that season, Madhavan had two fifties (including an unbeaten 55 when his team had been bowled out for 120) in addition to this knock of 185. And he had had one of the best starts to a league season. He had also bagged the best batman award at the annual YSCA Trophy with rousing display at the RKM ground in every single match.

And yet, the selectors left him out of the Buchi Babu squad citing ‘old age’. At 29, this decision of the selectors literally ended Madhavan’s hopes of extending his Ranji career. But typical of Madhavan, he took it in his stride and continued on with life leaving no signs of any bitterness.
Venkataraghavan says that Madhavan was a highly talented cricketer with wonderful stroke making ability. He was also a big asset to the team as a fielder. He was an attractive batsman to watch and should have definitely played many more matches for Tamil Nadu, given his talent and the potential that he held. In the limited opportunities he got, he did score a couple of quality centuries under my captaincy. In cricket, the number of matches one plays really depends on circumstances, team composition and such factors and those may have come into in Madahvan's case. But he was a terrific team man and I enjoyed having him in my team in the 1980s, even though he may have played only a few matches, much below what his talent warranted.'

Impeccable Conduct
Brijesh Patel, who captained SVPB and also had a special liking for Madhavan feels that it was very unfortunate that he did not play many more matches for Tamil Nadu at a time when he was plundering runs. ‘How could you not even consider someone who had scored 185 in that aggressive and confident style on that matting wicket against Venkat’. 
In a telephonic conversation from Bangalore, Brijesh Patel said that Madhavan was a supremely talented batsman and an excellent fielder. He was strong both against fast and spin bowling and played many brilliant match winning knocks for SVPB and Globe Trotters. He seemed always composed and gave the team a sense of confidence when he went into bat. Something even more special about him was that he was a thorough gentleman. His conduct was impeccable both on and off the field. The only thing I would hold against him was that he did not display a killer instinct.’ 

Madhavan got a raw deal- VB
VB Chandrasekar, himself an upcoming opener at that time, had moved to Coimbatore for his Engineering and played cricket there in the mid 80s. In a rare moment of praise, VB reserves his best ever compliment in my decade of interaction with him for Madhavan. ‘He was a talented and skillful opener. Scoring a century against Bombay was rated ultimate in those days but he got a raw deal from the State. He never looked back bitterly at his career which clearly should have been handled better. He was a gentleman and many youngsters benefitted from his mentorship.’
Excellent Human Being -Sekar
TA Sekar knew NP Madhavan from the RKM school days as the two played lots of cricket together at Somasundaram ground in T Nagar in the 1970s and a few Ranji matches later in the 80s. Sekar too echoes VB’s sentiment and says that despite scoring tons of runs in the first division for Globe Trotters (a team that Sekar too played for many years in the 80s and 90s), it was unfortunate that for no fault of his he was dropped from the Ranji team. Yet, he remained an excellent human being, always soft spoken and ever a good student (of the game).

Ranji record
He finished his Ranji career with a special record. His last Ranji innings was an unbeaten century against Bombay. His first and last one day innings for TN was a 49 against Bombay at the Wankhade Stadium in a match where he also bowled his full quota of overs and took a wicket with his deceptive off spin. He scored 3 centuries in 9 matches, thus averaging 1 one century every 3 matches. Two of his three centuries came in knock out matches.
Ranji cricketer from the 1980s PC Prakash who also runs and manages Mambalam Mosquitos ( I umpired one of Madhavan's last matches in league cricket here) for whom Madhavan played in the 90s credits Madhavan with a quality that is so essential for cricketers and human being 'He was so straight forward and honest about himself.'

Almost 30 years later, the wound remains of not being given a fair treatment but nothing has changed in him. He continues to be soft spoken, gentle to the core, displaying no signs of emotions and absolutely no gossip.  And the big red Kumkum that was a striking feature of him every morning when he entered the ground remains to this day. He can also take satisfaction of mentoring two players from Udumalpet - UR Radhakrishnan and M Senthilnathan - who went on to play higher levels of the game.

It reveals his passion and love for the game that for over 15 years, between 1981 and the mid – late 90s, Madhavan took the strenuous option of travelling multiple weekends in a month to Madras to play for first division teams, a number of times in unreserved compartment (even as a Ranji cricketer) in the Blue Mountain Express. He would return on Monday morning to Udumalpet and head straight to work. This continued even long after his Ranji career had ended and after he had settled down in Udumalpet on a corporate role.

Madhavan who counts S Balaji, Jillu Ramesh and R Madhavan among his best friends and K Bharat Kumar and S Vasudevan among the most difficult bowlers faced, has turned even more philosophical now and is a staunch Baba devotee. He allocates an hour every evening for devotional chanting and has recently started singing devotional songs and even become a lead singer in the Bhajans in Udumalpet. 

His loyalty remains one of his strongest qualities in life and he sacrificed the possibility of a more lucrative career in the city to settle down with the GVG Group. 

Last week, his firm presented him with the ultimate birthday gift endorsing his enormous contribution both as a cricketer and as an executive over the last 35 years. In a personal letter to him, the JMD wrote asking him to accept an extension of his service by another 5 years as a reward for his three decades long contribution. And that Madhavan sees as the ultimate recognition in life.

(NP Madhavan is currently a Vice President at the Rs. 400+ crore GVG group)


Anonymous said...

Good article. Wonder how you know Venkat ate curd rice for lunch....

PRabhu S said...

Watched the match. Went behind the great during lunch break. I was a bold boy!!!

Anonymous said...

Prabhu nobody could have written it better. Keep doing it. God bless you

Anonymous said...

Good one prabhu. Cricketers like him deserve more than some so called celebrities you have tried.

Anonymous said...

Excellent article on NP Madhavan.

I still remember the matches played by SVPMB, Udumalapet in the YSCA trophy matches held at SRKM ground
at G N Chetty Road, T Nagar Chennai. I had even bunked my classes in SRKMHSS (main)to watch some of the
> matches.[Please don't tell my Mom. She does not know that even now. I am 47 years old] Mainly to watch
> the stars of Indian cricket.

Those days are gone. Now you don't see the crowd to watch the Ranji finals also.

Anonymous said...

Superone try script writing or a story too...u have flair

Unknown said...

Nicely put and good luck on 5 years extension.

Anonymous said...

Lovely article Prabhu. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Nice article Prabhu.
(former Ranji Cricketer who played along with Madhavan)

Anonymous said...

As usual nice article.

I remember his game. He was a stylish player based on a few matches I think I have seen.

(from the US)

Anonymous said...

Very nice article.

Madhu was a brilliant batsman apart from being a good fielder. He should have played for TN much longer.

With  a bit more  luck and good opportunities coming his way, I am sure Madhu would have played higher level of cricket ."

Anonymous said...


Nice one. I too remember that I thought it as strange at that time that he chose to move to Udumalpet. Nice to see update pics of AP Suresh who is a good family friend. One of my unfortunate memories however is that of NP getting a King pair against a Sri Lankan XI at Forest College, in the same match that UR Radha first played for TNCA Board Presidents XI.

Best Wishes

Anonymous said...

Gem of a human being. And he didn't get his due as a cricketer.

WV Raman

Anonymous said...

Very nice story on Madhu.played against him but did not know about him in those days.


PRabhu S said...

Yes I remember the match @ SPIC when at your peak you got him caught in the gully of a short ball.

you were just 17 then.


M said...

Dear Mr.Prabhu,

I am an occasional commentor in this blog. Thanks for sharing this lovely article about NP Madhavan. The first thing that came to my mind on seeing his name was that 125 against UP in the '83 pre-quarters(where Khandkar scored 191 & 76 and Hans took 10w). Very sorry he could not play more games.


Unknown said...

Very well written. I have seen Madhavan playing for Chingelput against Madurai in the SS Rajan trophy in early eighties. He played some wonderful shots against one of the best fast bowler of Madurai, Rajamannar. I remember he played that match alongwith 3 of his best friends mentioned in your article. If my memory is right his younger brother NP Parthasarathy who was playing for Port Trust also played that match.

NP Madhavan is one of those cricketers who added credence to the cricketers from districts.

srikanth said...

I have not seen NP Madhavan bat ( Had seen R Madhavan in a Ranji match though) but distinctly recall ppl talk about his strokepay and excellent fielding.

May be if he had chosen to stay in Chennai, he would have had a longer shot in Ranji but those days, cricket was not something which provided a great living. He obviously had to make a choice for a better job too .

Unknown said...

My childhood cricketer...Used to keep paper cuttings of his off side front foot strokes...