Thursday, September 8, 2016


Gokulakrishnan beats his mentor VB at Natham
TNPL - A concept that cashes in on the flavour of the season - Everything quick and now
Brothers Gokulakrishnan and Madanagopal, coaches of Tuti Patriots

Tuticorin Patriots’ coach J Gokulakrishnan and Thiruvallur Franchise Owner (cum coach) VB Chandrasekar (VB) -
have been almost inseparable for well over two decades. In the early 90s, Gokulakrishnan was one of the first players VB sought for after he took over the captaincy from V Sivaramakrishnan at India Cements.  In one of those one off moments in his life, VB (and Dr. Natarajan) reached out to Gokulakrishnan  at the latter’s residence in Guindy to ‘seek’ his signature for India Cements and actually rolled out an offer letter as well (such was the regard VB had for Gokulakrishnan’s bowling).

Since then, the two forged a strong partnership and played together for several years for India Cements winning many tournaments and championships (with VB using Gokulakrishnan as his strike bowler) and for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy. When VB moved to Goa, he took Gokulakrishnan along (a phase where Gokulakrishnan came close to national selection).

A few years ago, VB worked together again with Gokulakrishnan as the coach of Tamil Nadu team.

For the first time since the early 90s, the two have come face to face against each other after Gokulakrishnan quite surprisingly rejected a coaching offer from VB (he had never rejected any offers from VB in the past two decades!!!) and went to the Patriots with his younger brother J Madanagopal -
(the coming together of the brothers was a first in their career for the two never played for the same league team at the peak of their career and have rarely done things together in the cricketing arena!!!).

Over the last many years, in addition to focusing on umpiring, Madanagopal has earned himself a lot of respect amongst cricketers in the state with his coaching and mentoring. While other franchisees boast some big international names, the Tuticoring Patriots have gone for the brothers who have done a lot of work with the local cricketers over the last decade.
A lot was at stake last evening in the beautiful setting at the NPR Ground in Natham. Tuticorin was under extreme pressure in a must win match for they had lost three in a row. Their star player and captain, Abhinav Mukund was struggling in the T20 format. Dinesh Karthik was missing again but Balaji was back after an injury.

Mentor vs Mentee
Gokulakrishnan was up against his mentor whose offer he had just rejected a couple of months ago. There was added pressure with TNCA President and Managing Director of India Cements N Srinivasan settling into his seat at 6.30pm to watch the match from just over their shoulders (NS was at the hospitality box above the players’ area).

As VB’s family entered the ground from the VIP entrance on the Western side a tad late to the loud beating of the drums, they were welcomed with Balaji’s double strike in two balls that left Veerans tottering at 30/3.

Ganesh Moorthy, an unknown left arm spinner from the districts, had the biggest moment of his life a couple of days back when he was surprisingly entrusted the task of bowling the super over for the Patriots with the TV cameras zooming on him from all angles, something that would have been previously unthinkable for a player from the districts. He failed that night and once again this evening his overs cost a lot for the Patriots. But it is the kind of opportunity that has sprung up for completely unknown cricketers from remote districts and towns in Tamil Nadu including Tirupur, Krishnagiri and Palani.

The quality of cricket and trying to bring in professionalism within the teams has caused frustration for some of the coaches in the TNPL. But they are hoping that as matches go by, these unknown players will learn from their mistakes. Many may fall by the way side unable to cope up with the pressure but there may be a few who could rise.

Performances here in the TNPL could also set up hot competition amongst first division clubs next season who could grab some of the performing players from here. Relatively unknown players like Vijaykumar, Rajkumar and Natarajan have become the cynosure of all eyes. There are many new players for whom this is a great platform to showcase themselves.

Hari Nishanth, an opener from Coimbatore, starred last evening and held the innings together and was instrumental in Veerans posting a challenge tally of 140. However, a majority of his shots were on the leg side, calling into question the quality of the stroke play. An experienced bowler like Aushik Srinivas played into his hands by bowling the middle and leg line that assisted in his leg side swipes.

It was heartening to find Abhinav finally giving up his opening spot to more attacking players in his team. Right from his school days, he had never given the opener’s slot to anyone so much so that when once his school team came up against a minnows in school cricket, he was asked to present an opportunity to lesser ranked players in his school. But when the coach was away for a few minutes from the dressing room, he padded up, went to bat and notched up a big score for himself, leaving the coach furious.

With the openers giving a rollicking start, Patriots reached 70 at the half way mark, exactly half the tally of the opposition. The entry of Abhinav Mukund slowed things dramatically and with the dismissal of Washington through a much expected run out, the asking rate had climbed to almost 10 with 3overs remaining. Abhinav played the perfect brand of cricket that he is so known for and in the way his father coach TS Mukund had taught him to play. In his entire innings, he did not play a single lofted stroke and played as straight as possible.

Abhinav slows things down
He is just not made for T20. He did not learn cricket that way. And his mindset just does not allow him to play shots that are suited for this brand of cricket. It is one more reason as to why he should focus on longer version of the game. At the end of 17 overs, VB seemed confident while there were different reactions at the opposition team’s’ enclosure – one coach was continuously throwing the ball from one hand to another while the other did not seem too happy at the way the game was heading. A third one was seen scratching his head.

3 overs and 29 runs to win was a needless situation that Patriots had got into.  His running between the wickets leaves a lot to be desired. 

It was SP Nathan ( yet another player from the districts who had made a big impact in lower division cricket a few years ago with his big six hitting) hit Rahil Shah out of the ground bringing a bit of smile back into the Patriot’s dressing room. As Abhinav walked down the pitch, he seemed to ask Nathan to go for the big one again. And as the junior partner, Nathan obliged only to find a slower well flighted ball beat his swing and rolled on to the stumps.

Abhinav made up for the slow batting in the previous overs with three cleanly struck fours – a square drive of a widish delivery, a straight drive along the ground and a flick to square leg sealed the win for the Patriots. The TV camera zoomed in on VB at the most inappropriate time in the last two overs as the two big screens showed his anger at letting go the boundaries when their team had pushed Patriots to the corner in the 2nd lot of 10 overs.

It was an important match for Gokulakrishnan in more ways than one and it was the first big battle between the mentor and the mentee, one that Gokulakrishnan won on the night as his team survived and kept their hopes alive in the TNPL.

The Coach Point of view
‘Sweety’ Suresh, former TN Captain under whom the State reached two successive Ranji Finals is now the head coach of the Kanchi team. He is disappointed with the amount of leg side play that has crept in and believes that this could have serious long term repercussions 'There is an immediate course correction required to develop overall stroke play lest they get found out in longer version of the game. Those who play well under pressure and succeed are likely to be noticed and will go up the growth ladder and could get picked in the U19/U22 sides.'
For all of us, it has been a new experience. Very few have been involved in T20 cricket in Tamil Nadu in the past. ‘Picking the right mix of players has been a challenge for the teams. Only over a period of time will this evolve. Performing in front big crowds and under the scrutiny of the TV cameras will boost the confidence for those who do well.’

Abhinav Mukund and T20 cricket
Despite his seemingly winning knock, Abhinav’s innings on Wednesday evening showcased yet again as to why he is not suited to this form of cricket. When as a Ranji captain and coming off from a century in the Duleep Trophy he should have helped his team coast to victory, he made heavy weather of the chase coming as he did at a time when his team were in a strong position.
This section had written many years ago about the need for him to focus solely on the longer version of the game and to stay away from T20 cricket.
He has started in rich vein this season in Duleep Trophy and it would be good if he focuses on making his way back into the Indian Test team instead of continuing to have an eye on the IPL. 

It takes great courage to accept one’s limitations and I hope Abhinav this season will finally accept that he is not made for T20 cricket. He has some fundamental shortcomings there including a mindset that focuses on not getting out. 

While he did not play any T20 shots last night, his style of play could have easily sent Patriots out of the tournament from a winning position.

He has age on his side and he has it in him to make a contribution to the test team but that may require undivided attention to focus on the challenges of longer version of game.

Will he listen?
The crowd at the ground
One of the favourite jokes I encountered as I sat with the transistor in the 70s and early 80s was the constant query from my uncles whom I visited during vacations ‘How many goals did Kapil Dev and Gavaskar score’? It was an indication as to how far away from cricket were people living in remote villages in India. Cricket meant little to them. 

By 730pm, all the stands at the NPR ground were full. In a first of its kind, there seemed to be even an exclusive stand for women or rather a bunch of over hundred young girls with their teachers made it to a particular stand. There were many senior citizens who came in with their grand children. It did however seem that most of them knew very little of cricket. They were probably roped in through one mode or other to make up the crowd. 

With TV cameras constantly zooming in on the crowd, there is a lot of noise and general entertainment. They dance to the cameras. Several selfies were taken with Bosskey after he completed the mid innings interview with Hari Nishanth. But there was very little of the so called ‘knowledgeable crowd’ that TN is so renowned for.

While the cricketers and coaches and team owners have been positioning this as a platform to groom talent and unearth ‘unknown’ cricketers, the officials and the TV programmers are playing to the gallery positioning this as ‘entertainment’ for the evening with semi clad women, mixing overseas cricket experts with the Tamil language and food.

In its urge to promote TNPL, it is important that NS and Co do not fall prey to the temptation of making this as a ‘masala mix’ with a bit of everything for everyone in the evenings.  Hope at least from a positioning point, they focus on the cricketing aspects and not the 'masala entertainment'.

Quality of Cricket

The coaches and teams themselves are getting to terms with the lack of quality. Within the first fortnight, there is already talk of sponsorship of players ( bats and kits and the like). A couple of good performances is converted to stardom and distractions start creeping into the lives of the young cricketers many of whom have not yet scored a century in league cricket or taken a five wicket haul!!! It is important to inculcate very early on in their cricketing career the need to not get swayed by one or two star performances and to focus on working towards the long term success.

The Good News - New Opportunities for many

Debut as Fourth Umpire
My league team mate from the 1990s and a very serious and committed cricketer Dharmaseelan made his debut as the fourth umpire yesterday. It was a big day for him – He is likely to umpire more matches during the TNPL and a just reward for him.From one who won many league matches for his side with his gritty batting and continues to play in the TNCA league, it is a great recognition of his long standing efforts to be given this opportunity at the TNPL

Long Standing service with the TNCA
Gururajan, who has been a TNCA umpire since 1984 has been performing the role of the Venue manager at Natham and Tirunelveli over the last fortnight  including managing the food arrangements for several hundreds of officials on the day of the match working from 7am to well past midnight each day of the match. He did not take a seat through a 12 hour period yesterday moving between one corner of the ground to the other to ensure that everything was in place and that every official at the ground including the drummers had their stomachs filled.

He also ensures that several ball pickers are placed outside the ground at Natham to fetch the balls hit out of the ground especially on the Eastern side. However, given the quality of cricket, none seemed to go even remotely out of the ground despite 60/65 yard boundary (depending on which wicket they are playing on). His work extents late into the night much after the completion of the match and he is the one ensuring the cleanliness of the ground/stands. 
BCCI umpire Rajesh Kannan has got on field posting as an umpire for several matches and that is a nice leap for him, especially the experience to be in front of the cameras and to be interacting with the third umpire which would then stand him in good stead for the upcoming domestic season. 

The Not so Good Part

Positioning this as a family outing ‘An evening entertainment’ – Loud Music is played between each ball making communication between players in the field difficult

Dance show at the end of each over is clearly avoidable. It is not a direction you want to take cricket to

Anchor / Announcer at the ground with very little cricketing background - he got many names wrong

Prescribe a dress code for the lady anchors in the TNPL. Clearly what we are seeing is undesirable

Former Aussie stars have been brought in for their expert views on Cricket. Getting them to speak in Tamil and unrelated subjects on the large screen is not a way to impress the cricketing audience

K Srikkanth's commentary:-)

Two Wheeler Parking in the College Garden (NPR) crushing the plants in the process

Cricketers as 'Entertainment models' on Ads - Badri, the serious cricketer, cannot be dancing on the streets to promote TNPL

Favourite dish and gadgets in personality intros can be replaced with favourite grounds and more cricketing related activities

It is also hoped that TNCA under NS will not create too much hype about this being a grooming platform, leveraging on T20 as the flavour of the season. It will be good if they bear in mind the oft made remarks from Cricketing greats 'Test Cricket is the ultimate'. It will also be useful to remember at the back of the mind the favourite remark from the past of one of the franchise owners 'Do you call this cricket'


Anonymous said...


cvb cvb said...

Good one

Anonymous said...

Good awesome article, well thoughtout with detailed description, this is probably called PRABHU Special.

Thanks and Regards
TN Ramachandran (alias) Ram

Sudarshan said...

As always an excellent and straight from the heart coverage of TNPL. Agree wit you on all the flip sides of the TNPL, I Just wish NS does not repeat the horrendous mistake committed by Karnataka State Cricket Association to rope in one of the Cine Celebrity team in the KPL. It was so heart wrenching to see the professional players playing with the amateur film artistes. I really hope TNCA does not stoop to such levels in order to reach the masses.

Felt u were a little harsh on Abhinav Mukund's T20 career, when players like Kane Williamson, Hashim Amla , Joe Root etc can be successful in T20 format, Abhinav can also be successful, just needs to change his mental approach.

Dog said...

Awesome platform for all the talented players, support staff and the indirect jobs this event creates.

Feel somewhat jealous when I read through the the article as we had missed this during our younger days.

Best Wishes to Mr NS and hope this gets popular and stays part of the TNCA calendar forever

Thanks Prabhu for bringing this to us by covering so many areas. This is the first article I reading about TNPL

Anonymous said...

Awesome article.. been following bits and pieces and while the talent is obviously there, skill levels lets the quality down.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic story as usual, Prabhu... The only comment, the last para is too practical for the organizers to take note of :)

Anonymous said...

great read, what is it with you and VB haha

it’s a great find though, TNPL, let’s hope it brings out talent