Friday, March 16, 2018

Coimbatore Cricket Grounds

Forest College closes for cricket after four decades following a financial disagreement with CDCA

Kalli waves his bat at his Team Captain, while Kicha raises his bat to his new ‘House’ Captain in the late 1970s at the Agri and Forest College Grounds

A 12 wicket haul at the Agri ground in Jan 65 earns Venkat his Test Cap
VV Kumar flies from Calcutta to play on the Jute Matting to help Madras beat Mysore

‘Dey Chinna - Paiya, choose the New Ball’ Venkat tells an excited young K Bharath Kumar at the Forest College in 1978 
A historical cricket ground in Coimbatore with a beautiful Turf wicket, the only one in the city, has been finally laid to rest as a result of a financial disagreement between the Coimbatore District Cricket Association and the ground authorities.

The Picturesque State Reserve Forest College (formerly Madras Forest College) ground has played host to many a cricket battle both at the state level as well as in the local league.  Many State cricketers presented some of their most memorable performances here at this ground. It has also been a ground that has laid the foundation for many a promising cricketer from the districts.

The ground flanked by the British period Pavilion (renovated only a decade ago) at the Western End and the historic clock tower at the Far Eastern end dates back a 100 years. Some of the matches find a mention in the annual year book brought out by the erstwhile Madras Forest College.

It was here on the Matting wicket that the Tamil Nadu opener of the 1970s V Krishnaswamy  scored his first and only Ranji Trophy Century and presented it as a gift to his new married wife Radha way back in 1978.

1 km West of the Forest College ground and at the foot of the famous temple dedicated to Lord Subramanya in Maruthamalai is the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) ground that too has played host to some outstanding performances that were milestones in the careers of players.

It was in 1981 that a turf wicket was laid at the Forest College ground. It was on that newly laid turf wicket that a memorable Ranji Trophy match was played in January 1982 that saw legends such as Venkataraghavan and MV Narasimha Rao take on each other for supremacy in the South Zone Ranji Trophy league. It also saw upcoming stars such as Mohd Azharuddin and Arshad Ayub showcase their talent to the cricket fans of Coimbatore. A decade later, in 1992, Azhar was to return to the same ground, this time as a cricket legend of Indian cricket and with a huge fan following.

Historic Performances at the Agri Ground
60 years ago, in December 1958 in one of his first big performances in first class cricket, a then young leg spinner VV Kumar ( up 6 wickets against a strong Mysore team.

That match remains etched in his memory ‘I was playing a tournament for Philips at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta and flew down to play this Ranji match in the first week of December. It was on a Jute Matting wicket at the Agri Ground in Coimbatore. It was not easy to turn the ball on a Jute Matting unlike the later day Coir matting wickets. And Mysore was very strong side that comprised wonderful players like B Frank and Krishnaswamy. I was very pleased to have contributed to our side’s win on first innings lead.’ 
A year later, he came back to Coimbatore and to the very same jute matting wicket at the Agri ground and picked up 6wickets in each innings turning in a star performance against Kerala and securing victory for Madras. Very soon he made his debut for India.

‘Even though it was a very difficult wicket to bowl on for a leg spinner, I enjoyed the challenge and used flight in the air to prize out the wickets for our State. That gave me a lot of satisfaction to have picked up wickets two years in a row on very difficult track for a leg spinner.’

The Agri ground performance and Venkat’s Test Debut
In January 1965, Venkataraghavan still in his teens picked up 12 wickets at the Agricultural College matting wicket as he spun Madras to a 2 day victory against Andhra. This Agri haul helped him secure him a place in the Indian team for the first test just a month later against New Zealand.  
Cricket in Coimbatore in the 1970s
Two matches stood out in the 1970s one at the Forest College and the other at the Agricultural College ground. Both had one thing in common – ‘Gifting’ after a personal batting milestone and interestingly at the opposite end of the batting order!!!

For almost a decade from the late 1960s, legendary off spinner and TN Captain S Venkataraghavan had the greatest respect for the bowling abilities of TN Ranji Finals hatrick star B Kalyanasundaram ( Years ago in a telephonic conversation, Venkataraghavan told prtraveller as to how he would go to Kalli for a breakthrough whenever the spinners (Venkat himself and VV Kumar) were held at bay by the opposition and how Kalli would almost always deliver the important breakthrough.

However what did not go off well between Venkat and Kalli during the 1970s was the dressing room discussion on the batting ability of the latter. Kalli always believed that he was a good bat and wanted to prove that to his captain. Further embarrassing Kalli, Venkat enticed him with a bet if he managed to reach 25 in a Ranji match.

Eager to prove a point to his captain and batting with determination, Kalli reached 24 NO at lunch in a Ranji match at Tellicherry. And was all ready to be padded up once again after lunch when he heard a big roar of laughter in the dressing room. To his shock, he found that Venkat had announced the declaration to the opposition captain without his knowledge leaving him just one run short of winning the bet. Kalli was furious with his captain that day for denying him that extra run!!!

However, the determined player that he was, he chose the Agri college ground in Coimbatore, a place that was to be his place of residence for 11 years ( he moved to LMW only that year) to win over the batting laurels from his captain.

By September 1976, Kalyanasundaram had played almost a decade of Ranji cricket. He had been on the verge of India selection a few years earlier but the time had almost come for him to move on from cricket. There was also severe pressure on him to continue to perform to stay in the team. And Chairman of Selectors and Team Manager CR Rangachari was particularly gunning for him with a young Bharath Kumar staking his claim. 
                                      Kalli Seen with SVPB Opener S Sukumar
After TN had bowled out Andhra on the opening day, the team had managed a slender lead on the 2nd but had lost 8 wickets when Kalli joined wicket keeper Bharath Reddy. Venkat this time had indicated his intention to declare unlike the surprise call in Tellicherry. Kalli, though, was not to be undone this time and was all charged up to achieve the batting goal of his Ranji Career. With the blessings of Lord Subramanya (who was just a few kms away in Maruthamalai), Kalli raced through to his milestone and raised his bat towards his captain at the pavilion at the Western End in a gesture of ‘I have done it’.

The professional that he was, the moment Venkat declared the innings closed and as Kalli made his way back to the pavilion, he presented Rs. 25 to Kalli in the presence of all his teammates, something Kalli says was one of his happiest moments in cricket – to receive the prize from the cricketing legend.
Buoyed by this acknowledgement from his captain, Kalli burst into the attack and ran through the Andhra innings picking up 5wickets making it a delightful experience for him at the agri ground. For almost ten years, he went on to play at the Forest College and Agri College for his employer LMW in the first division of the Coimbatore league.

It was also at the Agri College ground that Ranji Cricketer NP Madhavan ( played one of the best knocks witnessed at the ground with a terrific match winning century against Salem for Coimbatore in an inter districts match in 1982, soon after he joined SVPB Udumalpet from IOB.

Brijesh Patel who was drafted in by Soundararajan of SVPB Udumalpet had played many a sparkling innings at the Forest College in the mid 1980s.
Kicha’s gift to his wife
Two years later, in November 1978, the forest college hosted the Ranji match once against Andhra. TN opener of the decade V Krishnaswamy (  had just got married earlier in the year and his wife Radha ( too was present at the ground. Historically this ground was called the Madras Forest College ground and then subsequently in the 2nd half of the 20th century had been renamed as State Reserve Forest College ground. 
Like Kalli a couple of years earlier, Kicha too was in his final days as a first class cricketer. And like Kalli, he too had a point to prove with the bat before his retirement. There was a milestone missing in his stats and he was keen to hand that as a gift to his wife.

A couple of years prior to this trip to Coimbatore, Kicha had played one of his best innings in Ranji cricket on a difficult wicket in Salem against Andhra but his knock went in vain as TN lost by a single run that he looks back as the State’s worst defeat of the decade.

This time Krishnaswamy with his long standing opening partner from the college days, V Sivaramakrishnan put on a century stand at this beautiful and picturesque ground with the Blue Mountains as the back drop.

Kicha reached his maiden hundred in Ranji cricket in front of his wife who was cheering him on all the way through as a spectator.  And like Kalli did to his team captain, Kicha too waved his bat high, not to his team captain but to his ‘house’ captain bringing big cheer from the entire team in the dressing room!!!!

‘Dey Kurangu New Ball Choose Pannu’
The match at the forest college is also famous for another milestone. It was the first match for K Bharath Kumar under Venkat’s captaincy. Bharath had made his debut the previous year after Kalli’s retirement.

Bharath remembers those moments after the declaration ‘Venkat shouted out in his typical way. ‘Dey, antha chinna paiyan kitta new balls kuduthu choose panna sollu’. Venkat always used to address Bharath as ‘Chinna Paiyan’ and took special care of him. When Bharath couldn’t believe what he had just heard, he asked if really he was to choose the ball which brought even more of Venkat’s love for him ‘Dey Kurangu choose the new ball quickly’. 
It was a great moment for the young Bharath to be given this honour in his very first match under the legendary captain. He had heard that Venkat and the spinners would come very early on into the attack and hence he considered it an honour to be asked to choose the new ball.

Andhra ended day 2 (1st day had been washed out) at 20/4 with the wickets being shared. The next morning, Bharath recalls, Venkat surprisingly threw the ball at him even though he and Vasudevan had ended the previous evening. In one of his best early spells in Ranji cricket, Bharath Kumar ran through the Andhra innings in a fiery spell on the third morning bringing the Andhra innings to an end before the first hour had been completed. After Kicha’s century, Bharath Kumar picked up 5 wickets conceding just 4 runs. Andhra was bowled out for its lowest ever score in Ranji cricket for just 29. Another great landmark for TN cricket at this historical ground in Coimbatore.

That spell at the Forest College gave Venkat a lot of confidence in Bharath and he gave him many long spells over the next few years including 40 overs each against strong Bombay and Delhi teams.

Vasudevan bundles out a strong Hyderabad
Just ahead of the biggest match seen by the city until then, a new turf wicket was laid at the Forest College ground, the first in the city. In January 1982, the forest college ground played host to a star studded Hyderabad Ranji team captained by India cricketer MV Narasimha Rao that locked horns with Venkat’s TN. 
All the fans were also eagerly looking forward to another star, the elegant TE Srinivasan who had made his test debut against Hadlee and New Zealand the previous year and whose supposed verbal dual with Gavaskar was the talk of the town that January.  Temporary tents had been put up all around the ground with the pavilion at the South end.

Two relatively unknown names were also part of the Hyderabad team - Mohd Azharuddin still a teenager was making waves in local cricket in Hyderabad and Arshad Ayub was seen as a successor to Shivlal Yadav.

But they all came a cropper against S Vasudevan who in a terrific spell on the first afternoon in which he claimed 5 wickets triggered a sensational collapsed as Hyderabad lost 8 wickets for 30 runs. Vasudevan looks back at that spell with a great deal of delight 'It was a very strong Hyderabad team and they had got off to a good start that morning. I knocked out Narasimha Rao, Azhar and Khalid Abdul Qayyum in that afternoon spell that helped us bowled them out on the first day itself.'

The crowd on that Friday evening just about had a glimpse of TE Srinivasan. The next morning he treated them to some delightful strokes that he had come to be known for. Unfortunately, the Sunday turned out to be drab for the packed house as Venkat and Vasudevan failed to bowl out the defiant Hyderabad batsmen and the match petered out into a boring draw.

Indian stars recognize the Groundsman
A decade later Azhar, by then a legend of Indian cricket returned to the Forest College this time to roaring cheer from the huge crowd. 

Chinnaraj, the head groundsman who retired recently after serving for well over three decades cherishes the memory of both Azhar and Kapil Dev handing the groundsmen Rs. 100 each for the services at the end of the match. 
The huge crowd that had come to see K Srikkanth, Azhar and Kapil were rather disappointed as South Zone were bowled out for just 78 and North came through in a tough chase on a fast paced wicket. But this match remains in the memory of all those who were present that day for it was the time they got to see all the leading Indian stars from close quarters. 
Unfortunately, a ground with such historical performances has now been shut for cricket due to financial bargaining issues. Over the last few decades, the ground was handed to the CDCA for 45 weekends each year and almost all the top matches were played on the turf wicket.

A Anthony Raj, the care taker at the Central Academy of the Forest College that administers the ground who has been at the Forest College since the 1980s too is saddened by the developments. 'The new principal was keen to raise the daily match fees by Rs. 1000 but that was not acceptable to the Coimbatore District Cricket Association and they pulled out. '

'I had seen the top stars in action in the 1980s and 90s. And there used to be big crowds coming to the ground to watch the matches. Now we use the ground only for our local college matches.'

Interestingly, the pavilion had been reconstructed only just over a decade ago keeping the heritage aspects unchanged.

S Sivagnanam, who has been a groundsman at the Forest College since 1981 and who retired only a few months ago, bemoans the lack of interest at the cricket association to maintain the turf wicket. 
We had put in a lot of effort to prepare that turf wicket at the Forest College and it was much appreciated by the big stars of Tamil Nadu cricket when they came here to play. Even Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar were very happy and surprised with the pace on the wicket when they played the Deodhar Trophy match. It was the impact of the 'Kali Mannu' we had used. But I am very saddened that all our efforts in having the only turf wicket in Coimbatore has gone waste and that no cricket will now be played at the Forest College ground.'

But now one finds the matting wicket full of stones and in a tattered condition and the turf wicket out of maintenance for a long time, the excess grass on the outfield has been burnt in the last few days  and finally all the cricket fan is left with is of the historical memories of matches played in the decades gone by!!!
Thankfully, for the moment, the agricultural college ground continues to host matches.


Anonymous said...

Well written with lots of interesting facts

Anonymous said...

Good one

Ram said...

wonderful article...beautiful historical facts.

Anonymous said...

Delightful episodes of the bygone days.compliments.

Anonymous said...

Super stuff as usual... I also have some memories of the TNAU grounds... I have a old autograph book that a cousin, student of TNAU in the late 80s & early 90s, gifted me... That has a bunch of big names from TN & Karnataka of those days 😀

Anonymous said...

Nice article.

As a student of GCT, the forest college ground was quite literally across the road - GCT was to the left side the forest college ground to the right side of Thadagam Road. Got to go there a few times but never played. Tried to play some first division matches (All three big engineering colleges of that time GCT, PSG & CIT fielded teams in the Coimbatore First Division) there through CDCA secretary but that never happened. Still remember the beautiful pavillion.
Hemant Srivatsa
Partner, MURRAY & CO.

Anonymous said...

Sir, you missed out one important match where V. Sivaramakrishnan made 98 and 86 - it was in 1983-84

This one: