'We were never the Glamour Side but one that worked very hard, packed a punch above our weight and took great pride in our performance' - V Krishnaswamy, Player, Mentor and Administrator (IOB)
After SBI and Indian Bank, IOB has finally succumbed to the hard challenges of running a league team in the city
The last remaining Bank in the top notch of the TNCA First Division has finally bitten the dust. After SBI (which has now gone down to the 6thDivision) and Indian Bank, IOB (Indian Overseas Bank) , a renowned cricketing outfit from the 1960s has now been relegated to the second division after failing to win their final plate match yesterday.
The IOB cricket team was formed in the 1960s with the then Chairman and Managing Director RM Chettur being instrumental in the promotion of cricket. It entered the TNCA league after winning the Ranga Rao Trophy and then moved up from the 5th division to the 1st division 5 years in a row and had ever since held its pride of place in the TNCA First league. Only recently, in February this year, IOB had felicitated KN Ananthapadmanabhan for his contribution to the bank’s cricket (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2017/02/iob-honours-ananthapadmanabhan.html).
First Division Cricket from 1968
In the very match in the first division league in the 1968-69 season, the new entrants, IOB, beat Jolly Rovers, the champions from the previous year and a side that boasted the who’s who of TN cricket in a match at the University Union ground.
Wicket Keeper Batsman S Ramji made his debut for IOB in that match after having been personally interviewed and recruited by the CMD. Ramji, who played five years of first class cricket, recalls the matches from those years of cricket at IOB ‘I had played for RBI for a couple of years and had been performing well but was kept away from recruitment on medical grounds that ‘I was too lean for a cricketer’. It was around the time IOB had made serious progress in league cricket in the city. The then captain Ram Ramesh who had an eye for spotting talent roped me in by pitching with the CMD. In those early years and for several decades that followed, IOB was not known for big names in TN cricket but it always remained a competitive side in the first division cricket finishing in the top four. We were always a hard working side wanting to compete with the best.’
How a Jolly Rovers' match cut out Kalli's officer posting at IOB
Former Ranji cricketer B Kalyanasundaram too was offered a probationary officer's post by Ramesh in 1970. Unfortunately on the day of the (written) examination, Kalli had a match for Jolly Rovers. On ethical grounds, he did not have the mind to skip the match and write the exam. And thus, Kalli lost out on an officer's posting at IOB.
He has the highest words of praise for both Ramesh and Krishnaswamy, who he believes contributed in no small measure to the growth of cricket at IOB. During that decade, he found IOB highly competitive and despite having a supremely strong side, Jolly Rovers never took them lightly as they Bankers had the capability to always spring a surprise.
Nothing Glamourous, Yet Very Competitive
TN opener from the 1970s, V Krishnaswamy(http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/08/krishnaswamy-v.html) has been involved with IOB as a player, mentor and administrator. He feels saddened in the way things have turned out in recent times and with the fall of the team from the first division.
In 70s/80s, players were mostly part timers and were equally committed to the job. But they took great pride in playing for the organisation and were very loyal. ‘We were never the glamour side in the TNCA First Division league but one that worked very hard, packed a punch above our weight and took great pride in our performance. So, we were always a threat to the top glamour sides.’
This culminated in IOB winning The Hindu trophy a few times and also the Buchi Babu tournament.
‘Eventually, with the team's persistent efforts, we won the league championship in mid 1980s under the captaincy of Vasan even though there were no big stars in the teams except a few who were knocking the doors of state team.’
Krishnaswamy also remembers missing the first division championship by a whisker in 1980/81 under S M Krishnakumar’s Captaincy.
The key during those early decades was that the bank focused on ensuring that the team remained in the 1st division. That was the only way for the public sector undertaking to attract players to the team.
Offspinner M Santosh Kumar and Opening bat 'Rocko' Sundar contributed significantly to the growth of IOB cricket in the 1980s.
During the early 1990s, Ananthapadmanabhan (http://prtraveller.blogspot.in/2016/09/ananthapadmanabhan-kn.html) was the only player to have played Ranji Trophy and most others in the side were ‘fringe’ players waiting in the wings for the next big break. And yet, players like Rajesh Kannan, ‘Ramar’ Satish, Devanand and P Rajesh helped the team stay in contention in the 1st division league. And the team went on to win the Palayampatti shield later that decade.
In those days, players valued the bank job and remained committed to playing cricket for the bank. Ranji Trophy players were paid a match fees only in the hundreds in those days. And a bank posting was considered secure and valuable. IOB used to participate in 3-4 tournaments every year and the players used to travel together on outstation trips and bonded well with each other.
In decades gone by, a bank job and playing cricket for IOB was seen as a great opportunity. Ananthapadmabhan remembers travelling by second class through the 1990s and sharing room with 3-4 players in all of these outstation tournaments. He also remembers the time when individuals / senior members of the staff used to spend for soft drinks and motivate the players, for the budget was quite limited in those days.
He also remembers an occasion in the late 1990s when during a four day Ranji Trophy break, he came and played a first division match for IOB in the city and went back only on the morning the Ranji Trophy match to play for Kerala. Such was his commitment to IOB and the importance of playing first division league in Madras.
Ramji says that a key aspect of that period was that all the cricketers worked their way up the Banking Tiers. Even as a clerk, he says he used to slog through the first half of the day before leaving for the nets session later in the day.
IOB promoted many promising cricketers starting from the 1970s. The Bank has been spending reasonably big amount of money every year on the cricket team in the TNCA first division league. However, the commitment of the youngsters has come under serious question. It is a reflection of the times one lives in that the players who have been given plump postings in the bank at a very young age do not even feel the regret of having let the team down, says a former player who had played for over two decades for the bank.
In recent years, despite the bank going through troubled times on the business front, the encouragement to cricket did not diminish and the bank has boasted of several Ranji players, who have been given solid posts in the bank including in the officer cadre. And yet when it comes to performing in the 1st division league, their commitment levels have often come under a cloud.
While Krishnaswamy was always confident that the team would remain in the 1st division, he had noticed a decline in the commitment and loyalty of the players ever since the culture of contracted players came into being just over a decade ago. With the kind of money offered by the corporates, it was becoming very difficult to attract good players but with the efforts of veterans like Shanmugam, Amit Pathak and Rajesh Kannan the team was managing to remain in 1st division for the last few years.
The arrival of the ‘contracted’ players spelt death knell for the bank. With corporates paying a premium for the players, the bank just could not compete with the pay packages offered by these corporates and thus lost out of the quality players. ‘These players were simply playing for the money and had no pride in the team winning or otherwise’ Krishnaswamy says with a tinge of sadness.
Last year, IOB was forced to pick only 'left overs', those that did not find favour with the bigger teams, as they did not have the money power to pay 'contracted players' given that the business was not doing well.
Disadvantages at IOB
There were also many other disadvantages in playing for the bank. For decades, they never were in the favoured and considered set when it came to state selection right from the early days and hence the top players were wary of joining the bank. A top cricketer (now a top 15 umpire with the BCCI) was given an officer posting well over a decade ago but he quit to join a leading corporate fearing being sidelined in the Ranji Trophy selection!!!
Another downside to playing at IOB was the lack of the home ground advantage. With the bank not having a home ground, the team was always up against the bigger corporate preparing tracks to suit their own team. And thus slowly the bank cricket saw a downturn over the last few years. With one off performances from the likes of Rajesh Kannan (who scored a century to save his side from relegation a couple of years ago) and M Shanmugam who has been bowling 40 odd overs every match, IOB had managed to stave off relegation in recent times.
It is a sad day for cricket in the city that a renowned public sector institution that had encouraged cricket for several decades and one that was held in high regard in the cricketing circles here has gone out of the first division. Krishnaswamy hopes of better times ahead but one really wonders if the bank will be able to make its way back again (they had done so once in the 2nd half of the last decade) given the far better bargaining power of the large corporates!!!
It will also be interesting to see in the next few months if the Ranji cricketers from other states, who had been taken care of well by the bank in recent years, would continue to remain with the bank in these tough times away from the lure of the other corporates to try and get the Bank back into first division cricket again.