Sunday, September 4, 2016

Ananthapadmanabhan K.N

The small town boy from the agraharam in Thiruvananthapuram who went on to become Kerala’s best ever cricketer taking close to 350 wickets
He is now aiming to making it big in Umpiring

Through the entire 1970s, this young school boy, who resided in the agraharam in Thiruvananthapuram ( played marbles and gilli thanda as his favourite pastime. Like all boys his age, he played tennis ball cricket in the agraharam. Much later, in his early teens, he got to play with the red cork ball, one that would turn into brown after a few knocks at his school ground. There were no gloves and pads and he was a short kid but would bat doggedly for long in the innings game. There were occasions when he would bat 2 hours for just 10runs. Frustrated at this ‘boring’ bat, the opposition bowlers would often target his pad-less legs.

In the 1970s, there was no school cricket in Thiruvananthapuram and the focus was to be on studies. But this young boy spent all his time away from home playing one game or other, only to get fired by his mother, who later on in his career became his biggest fan.

It was much after his schooling days in the mid 1980s did he have a feel of real cricket. And only after he joined college, did he first hold a cricket ball in his hand. And his foray into cricket came under unique circumstances at the Under 19 selections in Thiruvananthapuram.

A wicket keeper to an off spinner
At the trials, he gave his name as a wicket keeper for he had kept wickets for his first club team Chasers. But there was already a regular wicket keeper and this young 16 year old wouldn’t stand a chance as a keeper. He changed it to fast bowling but there were four established fast bowlers already!!! And then he presented himself as an off spinner. But lo… there were off spinners as well.

And thus destiny got the young 16 year old KN Ananthapadmanabhan (Ananthan to the cricketing fraternity in Kerala) into leg spin. He wrote his name as a leg spinner and surprised everyone including himself with the performance in his debut match. After helping his team recover from 35 for 7 with a typically dogged knock of 35, he spun out the U19 team from Quilon with 7 wickets for 7 runs helping Thiruvananthapuram win that inter districts match. And a new cricketing star had risen in Kerala, one who was to serve the state with distinction for almost 15years and was at one point of time in the 1990s on the verge of national selection.

In the next match, he got 4 wickets for 0 runs and was immediately included in the zonal team in Kerala (there were three zones in Kerala and coming as he did from Thiruvananthapuram he  was chosen for the Southern Zone). He continued to be primarily a batsman and it was his knock of 45 that secured him a place in the State U 19 squad. It was amusing that when the wicket keeper batted for long and needed a break, Ananthapadmanabhan was asked to keep wickets and his keeping was appreciated to the extent that even the state team was confused if he was a batsman or a wicket keeper or a leg spinner.

In 1987, he scored a century against Goa and then against a strong TN team comprising of Senthilnathan and Shyam Sundar, he got 6 wickets that earned him a place in the South Zone U 19 team under Senthilnathan’s captaincy. 

Ranji Debut at 19
A year later, in 1988-89, he made his Ranji Debut when he was  just 19 years having picked up a cricket ball for the first time in his life only three years earlier, quite a dramatic progress. In his first full season in 89-90, he showed the early signs of his special talent bagging five wicket hauls against two of the bigger teams in the Zone - Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Top 5 in Ranji Trophy in 90-91
But it was when turf wickets were made compulsory for the first time in 1990 for Ranji Trophy matches and the teams moved to SG Test ball that Ananthapadamanabhan made the first big leap as a Ranji cricketer.

That season (90-91) he took 30 wickets in 5 games including a 10 wicket match haul against Srikkanth led TN that Kerala lost from a winning position on the final day. His 8 wicket haul helped his state post an outright win over Goa and another 8 wicket match haul against Karnataka made it an outstanding year for Ananthan and one that was a turning point in his career. In just his 2nd full season in Ranji, he had broken into the top five wicket takers in India, quite a memorable achievement.

His rich vein of form continued into the next season when he was once again in the top 10 wicket takers in the Ranji Trophy with 26 wickets.

Through the first half of the 1990s, a stand out factor in Ananthapadmanabhan’s performances was his ability to perform against TN, Karnataka and Hyderabad, the three star teams in the South Zone. This consistent wicket taking ability against star studded sides from the South earned him a place in the Duleep Trophy squad but unfortunately he could not break through into the playing XI through that important phase in his career.  And he continued, through that decade, to remain in the shadow of supposedly bigger stars (players from the bigger named states) from the South!!!!

His performances did not go totally unrecognized for he did manage to make it into the Irani Trophy and Wills Trophy teams in 1993 and made immediate impact.

Legend GR Vishwanath’s praise
In the 50 overs Wills trophy Semi Final against Bombay in January 1993, he bowled unchanged from one end in the last 20 overs of the innings and took 4 /24 helping Board Presidents XI reach the final. It was his first big performance at the national level.

He followed this with an 8 over spell against Delhi in the final conceding just 22 runs. Bowling the last over of the match, he got the final wicket that helped tie the game. National Selector and legend GR Vishwanath who watched the final came up to Ananthapadmanabhan and told him that he was a good prospect for India and that his name was being discussed as a contender. For the legend to personally chat with him was a big confidence booster for Ananthan and was one of the biggest moments of his career. It was probably the first time in its cricketing history that a player from Kerala had earned such kudos on the national stage.

Under Bowled in Irani Trophy
Later that year, he played for Rest of India in the Irani Trophy match but was grossly under bowled even though his team bowled closed to 100 overs in each innings, yet another classic example of poor treatment meted out to players from down South and more so to the then unheard of Kerala.

His best bowling Performance - Dec 1993
He did not let this Irani Trophy fiasco affect his performance, for in December 93, he was involved in two matches that brought out the best in him. He had three five wicket hauls in four innings including his match haul of 14 for 94 against Andhra, one that he rates as his most satisfying performance. That season, he once again topped the 30 wicket mark (for the 2nd time in his Ranji Career). This assumes even more significance as historically and through the early part of the 90s as well, Kerala were bowled out for such low scores that rarely did their top bowlers get an opportunity to bowl a 2nd time in the match.  For the 3rd time in four years, Ananthapadmanabhan was among the top 10 wicket takers in the domestic circuit, quite an achievement coming from someone playing for a state that for long had been considered as the minnows of South India.

Low Point in his career
In 1995, after years of strong performances, at the age of 25, he finally got the nod from the selectors and was selected to play for India A against the touring England A in the cold conditions in Chandigarh. He had been carrying a shoulder injury previously but it was a big match for him and a break that had come after years of consistent performances. Unfortunately for Ananthapadmanabhan the shoulder became stiff under the wintry conditions and he managed to bowled only 4 overs in the 2nd innings. It was to be one of the lowest points in his career, having missed out on a great opportunity to impress the selectors in such an important match.

APPA’s message to Ananthan
His father once asked him to focus on batting as well but Ananthapadmanabhan was keen on leg spin alone. When asked by his father as to how he would feel if he managed to face one ball from the best bowler in the world (Wasim Akram), Ananthan said he would feel elated.

The father then gave him the message that has stayed with him to this day: Play every ball as if that was the only ball he had to face in cricket. It was an eye opener for Ananthapadmanabhan and he credits his father’s message for his centuries in Ranji Trophy cricket including the double century he scored against Maharashtra.
He also had a successful outing in the Challenger trophy in 1997-98 with an impressive 5 wicket haul against India Seniors. In March 98, he had another opportunity against an international touring side. This time, playing for India A he prized out the scalps of Steve Waugh, Ponting and Lehmann. Within the next 12months, he bagged a 5 wicket haul against Pakistan in front of his home fans in Kochi.

It was a phase where he was performing really well and one when he came closest to being selected for India.  On the verge of national selection, Chief selector Ramakant Desai told him that it was a direct choice between Sairaj Bahutale and him and the scales tilted in favour of the former supposedly because of his better batting skills.

Frustration at Chemplast
Till he was past 20, he had not played league cricket in Madras. After a year with SBI, he joined Chemplast but it turned out to be a frustrating two years for Ananthapadmanabhan for he was vastly under bowled with the team favouring the local bowlers - Sunil Subramaniam, Venkatramana and D Vasu – who were all trying to make their mark in Ranji Trophy and beyond. Ananthapadmanabhan got minimal chances in the first division league. It was a crucial two years that he lost out with Chemplast. 

It was around that time that he got the call from V Krishnaswamy at IOB ( asking if he could join the bank. It was a big decision for him and trusting Krishnaswamy, he quit Chemplast in the summer of 1993 and was without a job for a few months that year before the officers posting came in Aadi of that year (later he even rejected a four-fold increase in salary at India Cements that came in from its captain at that time VB Chandrasekar, such was the joy with which he had begun to play for IOB).
Standing up for his State's Players
From a very young age, Ananthan has been known to speak his mind without fear or favour.In one such meeting with the state association in Kerala he expressed his displeasure at them considering PB Anand ( a first division player from Madras) for the Ranji Selection. It was just the period when players were Kerala were gaining confidence on the Ranji Stage and as the captain, Ananthan was forging great unity in the team similar to what was happening with IOB in Madras.

Despite the threat of a ban, he stood firm and finally the proposal was rejected and Anand did not play for Kerala. However, Ananthapadmanabhan was suspended for a year in 1996 (See story at the end, below).

To this day, he conveys his views in a forthright manner to the Kerala State Association when ever his opinion is sought by him on a particular issue.
Golden years at IOB
He thoroughly enjoyed playing with a young team at IOB and later that decade captained the bank to its first Palayampatti shield. His century, batting with the tail-enders against Alwarpet was an important knock for it gave him the confidence that he could bat at the highest level. He converted this confidence into batting form for Kerala scoring centuries against Maharashtra (200), Orissa and Tamil Nadu

In the latter half of the last decade, having served them for 15 years and on the verge of turning 40, IOB was still keen on him bowling 40 plus overs every innings in the first division league here in Madras. Instead he opted for a transfer and moved back to Kerala bringing his cricketing days to an end. 
His mother who literally knew nothing about cricket till he was into his 20s went on to watch most of his Ranji matches int he 1990s. And now, she does not miss a ball when he is umpiring. His father too knew very little of cricket and whenever Ananthan failed in those early days in cricket as a batsman, he would come back home and remark that he was run out (indicating to him that it was his partner's mistake). No sooner that his father understood a little more of cricket, he retorted to Ananthan asking him to first improve his running between the wickets bringing a sheepish smile in the young boy.

Giving his best till the very last ball of his Ranji Career
Batting had always been a problem for Kerala in the early 90s and Ananthapadmanabhan rarely got a chance to bowl long spells in both innings of a state game against bigger oppositions like Karnataka and Hyderabad for his team would always be bundled out for low scores in both innings. He took pride in playing for his home state and always wanted Kerala to perform well and never considered the option to playing for a stronger team in the Ranji Trophy that could probably have enhanced his bowling performances and consequently helped him stand a better chance to be in the reckoning for national honours.

But he had made up his mind early into his career that he would play only for his home state and took great delight in Kerala’s victories against top notch opposition in the 1990s. He rates Kerala’s outright wins against Karnataka and TN in the 1990s as one of the most proud moments for the state. In those 5-6years in the mid to late 90s, Kerala beat the big teams in the South Zone and that changed the outlook in Kerala from being minnows of cricket and gave them a lot of confidence.

When Kumble got his 10 wicket haul against Pakistan, Ananthapadmanabhan decided that it was curtains for him and his dream of playing for India was sealed as Kumble then became a permanent fixture in the team.

The man from the Agraharam in Thiruvananthapuram was the first Kerala player to top the milestone of 2000 runs and 200 wickets in Ranji Trophy. Through the 90s, he consistently topped the wickets tally for his state. In 96-97,  his best all- round year in Ranji Trophy he took 27 wickets and topped the batting charts with 597 runs. In 98-99, he topped both batting and bowling aggregate for Kerala, a rare occurrence indeed.

Towards the tail end of his career, after he had given up hopes of a national call, he got 38 wickets in the Ranji season from 7 games, his highest tally ever tally that included match figures of 10 for 54 against Tripura. He ended the season with yet another five wicket bag against Karnataka in the Plate final and was instrumental in Kerala moving into the Elite Group for the first time.

He played Ranji Trophy for 15 years and continued to perform creditably till the very end. Even after he had announced his retirement and in his very last innings, in December 2004, he signed off with a five wicket haul at his favourite town of Palakkad, where he had registered some of his memorable performances during his career. This final sign off from him was a testimony to his commitment to Kerala cricket. 

Recently he held the ball once again as a leg spinner for the first time in many years. Playing for his first league team Chasers in Thiruvananthapuram, Ananthapadmanabhan played with a lot of pride that symbolized him throughout his cricketing career, took 6 wickets for 3 runs to save his first club team from the 1980s from relegation. 

He was the first player from Kerala to play over a 100 matches. He took close to 350 wickets, a remarkable achievement indeed. With a little more luck, he could have easily played for India during the 1990s.

In the middle of the last decade, it was TNCA Umpire Gururajan who initiated him into the thought of taking up umpiring seriously when BCCI considered former Ranji players under the special category. Gururajan prepared a Mock Test Paper and got Ananthapadmabhan to write the test, one that gave him a lot of confidence. He come out in flying colours securing exactly the same marks as his close friend J Madanagopal, one he respects a lot as a cricketing professional.

In his first Ranji match as an umpire, he gave 13 decisions prompting his partner S Ravi to remark that he was bagging wickets like in his playing days. Last season, he umpired the Semi Final and the Ranji final (3rd Umpire) . He also umpired many matches in the IPL last year, his best year to date. With that, he also jumped into the top 15 on the BCCI’s panel..
He narrowly missed playing for the country. One hopes that the dream of umpiring on the international stage will soon become a reality for this quiet and down to earth man.

Ananthapadmanabhan will be celebrating his 47th birthday next week. Advance Birthday wishes to him.

 Wedding Ban on his Cricket – The controversy involving PB Anand
Ananthapadmanabhan landed himself in trouble in the mid 1990s when he objected to PB Anand (a first division league player in Madras) being considered and included in the Kerala state squad. Ananthan had taken 26 wickets in four games that season including three five wicket hauls and a 10 wicket haul and he was on a high. Perviously, Kerala had beaten TN in Palghat and qualified for the knock outs for the first time in their history. It had been one of his big moments in his career.

He thought that bringing in a player like Anand who had not been in the TN squad would shatter the confidence of the Kerala players and would be a step in the wrong direction for Kerala. It was one thing to bring in a big star from another state (to lift the performance of the state team) but it was quite another to bring in those who did not measure up to the standards of another state.

It was argued by his detractors at that time that Ananthapadmanabhan took advantage of the league system in Madras and gained vital exposure and experience in the 1990s but when it came to providing players from Madras an opportunity in the Kerala Ranji squad, he opposed it as he wanted to protect his own local players.

Ananthapadmanabhan’s view at that time was that if Kerala endorsed the view of roping in players like Anand, any number of first division cricketers from Madras could figure in the Kerala team for that was the standard of the top division league cricket in Madras.  

There also seemed to be pressure on the state association from employers of Anand, who had got a job transfer to the state and was thus eligible to be selected as a player from Kerala (not as a professional from another state).

Protesting against the decision of the selectors to include Anand in the squad, Ananthapadmanabhan took the extreme step of sitting out of an important state match. It was also the week of his marriage in Thiruvananthapuram. He was to get married on Feb 2, 1996 and was to drive back to Thiruvananthapuram after finishing the Ranji match on Jan 31. Similar to the controversy surrounding VB Chandrasekar ( just prior to his marriage, VBC had knocked out the three stumps after being given out caught and bowled – Ananthapadmabhan was the bowler for Chemplast!!!!), Ananthapadmanabhan too made headlines just around his marriage week.

Having walked out of the team, he had a relaxed wedding with no tension of having to return from Tirunelveli on the eve of his marriage.

However, much to his shock, the wedding gift from the State Association was a one year ban on him. On the morning of his marriage, the one year ban was announced and he could not play for the rest of the year. 

He had written a detailed letter citing the reasons for his opposition to the inclusion of PB Anand but the association felt that he did not apologise to them!!! The state secretary fought for him and helped revoke the decision later in the year though he missed out on Duleep Trophy selection during that period. 


Srikanth Srinivasan said...

Dear Prabhu,
Another great story on a great talented sportsperson and your story literally took us to that era. Thank you for the nice treat of sumptuous article! Very proud of cricketers like Mr Anandan!
Best wishes,

Dog said...

Heard a lot about him we had so much of talent. Not sure why leggies are always upto something which goes against them including the writer.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic Prabhu !! He used to be one of my favorite cricketers from the 90s. A little bit of luck could have helped him get into the Indian team.

BTW KN Balasubramanian was his elder brother right ? I guess he broke into the Ranji team later than his younger brother. And he was an opening bat, if I'm not wrong...

Anonymous said...

Dear Prabhu,
A very good article and I am very happy that you have written about a wonderful leg spinner who has taken a phenomenal number of wickets ie; 356 wickets that too playing for a state like Kerala.

It was very unfortunate that he could not represent the country as he had to compete with Anil Kumble.

Not withstanding that disappointment ,Anantha took up to umpiring pretty seriously and he has proved himself to be a very accomplished umpire( player turned umpire) and he is doing important matches like Ranji,Duleep and IPL matches.

Hopefully he will one day get into the ICC panel which will give him adequate satisfaction and possibly some compensation for what he missed out as a player in his hey days.

Wishing Anantha all the very best.

Kalyanasundaram B

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm happy to read the article on very good cricketer and a human being.

The article on Ananth has been very well written and brings out the person he is and his achievements quite well. He was a very earnest cricketer always doing his best for the team and helping in forging unity and teamwork. He has done yeoman service in building all this in IOB and his personal contribution has been immense. He has been very consistent performer with his leg spin as well as his batting

I think IOB is fortunate to have in their ranks such a good cricketer and a human being. It is sad that he could not go beyond India A.As mentioned by him he was unfortunately in the period as Kumble. Otherwise he may have stood a very good chance to represent a team India.

I'm happy that he has chosen to continue his association with the game by taking up umpiring. Also happy that he is doing well in his new role .I only wish he graduates to ICC panel of umpires.

I also would like to see Kerala Cricket Assn to use his services to improve the standard of spin bowling in the state.

My best wishes to him in all his endeavours.


Anonymous said...

Dear Prabhu,

How could you write about someone who took maximum advantage of the Chennai league, brought in several players from Kerala to play in the league here, got terrific exposure for himself and his Kerala players and then went back and rejected players from Chennai when it came to Ranji Selection for Kerala.