Thursday, March 8, 2018

UR Radhakrishnan

A double century in his first match for Railways, almost a Century in the final match of the Ranji season, a Century on Debut in the Duleep Trophy and a Century in the Zonal Final made it an extraordinary year in 89-90 but even that wasn't enough for a national call and this elegant left hander from Udumalpet faded away soon after 
It had all the makings of a great fantasy story. A young talented cricketer from a remote village in Tamil Nadu was on the verge of national selection. He had just had a prolific season for the Indian Railways and the Central Zone. An unexpected injury to Indian Opener Navjot Sidhu forced him out of the New Zealand tour in January 1990. This should have paved the way for the 26 year old to take the flight to the kiwi land. But as was the case with many a (TN) cricketer in those decades, he too got a raw deal. Much against the run of play, (former) Bombay star Dilip Vengsarkar, at the tail end of his career, got the rather 'shocking' replacement call. A middle order bat replaced an opener!!!

Village boy Udamalaipettai Ramanathan Radhakrishnan had his hopes dashed once and for all. He was never again in contention and his career faded away far took quickly for one's liking. Almost 30 years later and now in his mid 50s, his passion for cricket  remains undiminished as can be seen from his long 25 km drive to SRMC ground in Porur on the outskirts of Madras to play an inter club Rotary match in January 2018!!! And the guard of honour that the two teams gave him was a recognition of his undying interest to be at a cricket ground every weekend.

His physique bears no resemblance to the slim figure that he once was but his love for the game is striking. Into his 50s, he was still playing league cricket in Madras.
A late start
It was a very low key beginning for him and he had not particularly entertained thoughts of playing top level cricket, unlike the teenaged cricketers from the city. His elder brother by many years was lot more of a striking force in Udumalpet those days with his power hitting. Radhakrishnan spent almost his entire schooling days playing tennis ball and cork ball at the huge open ground near the Udumalpet railway station. It was during one of those friendly matches that his natural talent to strike the ball was spotted by those at the nearby SVPB (Sri Venkateswara Paper Boards) nets.

It was a period when Shri. M Soundararajan, the founder of SVPB, a paper manufacturing firm in Udumalpet was promoting talented cricketers from that region fulfill their potential. He was singly instrumental in getting Udumalpet on the cricketing map of Tamil Nadu.

The roping of Brijesh Patel to the SVPB as its captain proved to be a turning point for Radhakrishnan. Brijesh was a legend in domestic cricket and he took a special liking for Radhakrishnan and mentored him in those prime years in the mid 1980s.

Coimbatore was a very strong districts side in those days and it wasn’t easy to break through into the squad as a batsman with established Ranji Stars such as NP Madhavan and Peter Fernandez. 

Kalli tests out Radhakrishnan
It was also the time that former Ranji great B Kalyanasundaram ( had moved to Coimbatore to join Lakshmi Machine Works (LMW). In the year that Radhakrishnan joined SVPB as a young teenager, Kalli was all fired up. He had not lost any of the old aggression even though he was only playing a league match. He wanted to test out the youngster as was his wont in those days. 

Kalli recalls bowling to Radhakrishnan in that debut season at the Forest College ground in Coimbatore 'I remember bowling to him that year. He was extremely talented and a free stroking cricketer. I wondered how he would grow (as a cricketer) coming from a place such as Udumalpet. I was happy for his rise -  to have played for Tamil Nadu and contributed in the Ranji Trophy winning team.'

TIGER Radhakrishnan
In his very first match for Coimbatore, he scored a century against Trichy at the Forest College ground setting the ground ablaze with attacking stroke play. It was then that he bagged the title of Tiger Radhakrishnan

Soon after in a match that shot two district cricketers into limelight, Combined Districts shocked the city in a big comeback win at Erode. Chasing over 300, the districts had lost more than half their side for just over 50 when Madurai boy M Venkatramana joined opener UR Radhakrishnan. The two of them scored centuries to help Combined Districts beat a strong City bowling Unit that included Sunil Subramanium, R Venkatesh, I Rajkumar and K Arun Kumar.

Venkatramana ( sees that match in Erode as the one that helped both of them make the upward charge towards top notch cricket in Madras. 'We were both 'noticed' in that match by the big stars from the city'.
Offspinner M Subramaniam ( Idly Subba) played a lot with UR Radhakrishnan in the 1980s. He cites a couple of knocks Radhakrishnan played in Madras to showcase the potential he held at that time. 

'Playing against K Arun Kumar and S Vasudevan at their peak, he scored a brilliant 136 on a matting wicket in Union to help SVPB beat SPIC. And then he scored a scorching 140 against MRF comprising of the best of fast bowlers at that time in the city. I particularly remember the gutsy cuts and pulls that Radhakrishnan played taking on the fastest bowlersBut may be he lacked that urge to look for higher accolades.'

He particularly remembers the gutsy cuts and pulls that Radhakrishnan played taking on the fastest bowlers of that time.  

His First League match in Madras
Udumalpet based star SVPB opener of the 1980s S Sukumar took Radhakrishnan to league cricket in Madras. It was he who introduced him to YMA’s captain the legendary S Venkataraghavan and got him registered for that club in the early 1980s. In his first league match in Madras, he had the privilege of opening with K Srikkanth. 
Sukumar vividly remembers Venkat’s remarks after seeing Radhakrishnan bat ‘Venkat was very impressed with Radhakrishnan and thought the young lad had a lot of potential.’

SVPB taking over Globe Trotters was a blessing for many of the cricketers from Udumalpet as they came to battle with the biggies of city cricket. In those early years, Radhakrishnan had very little pocket money and would often board a bus to the cricket ground. Sometimes he stayed with NP Madhavan.

But it was KRS Mani, who managed the Globe Trotters team, who really helped Radhakrishnan in that early phase of his cricketing life in the city. Radhakrishnan spent a lot of the time with Mani who provided him accommodation at his house in Mylapore and took him to the grounds for the matches. It was with Mani’s support on all fronts that Radhakrishnan survived that period financially.

It was also a period when he forged a strong and close friendship with VB Chandrasekar who had moved to CIT to pursue his higher education. The two of them posted many successful opening partnerships that decade. 

Big knocks and consistent performance for Globe Trotters earned him a place in the TN Ranji squad  in the 1987-88 season and he opened with VBC scoring very consistently in his very first season at the senior level. He scored 230 runs in his debut season in Ranji cricket including 64 on his debut in Dec 87 at the age of 24 posting a century stand with VBC. 
Radhakrishnan remembers one of his best knocks in Ranji Cricket that came that season on a rank square turner against Raghuram Bhat. Chasing 192, Radhakrishnan top scored with 36 and provided a strong start with VBC. But TN faltered after Radhakrishnan fell and collapsed. But that knocks remains at the top of the list for Radhakrishnan.

Despite top scoring in that 2nd innings against a strong Karnataka team in the last league match of that Ranji Season, he had to sit out the QF and SF as K Srikkanth returned from national duties to play for the state. But with Srikkanth unavailable for the final, UR figured in that historic team that won the Ranji Trophy in March 1988.

Misses the year after the Ranji win
Soon after that Ranji final, job offers poured in for Radhakrishnan. Every public sector bank offered him officer posting but he chose the Indian Railways, a decision that seemed the right one going by the state and zonal opportunities he was to get in the coming years. However, he had to sit out the entire year in 88-89 as the Ranji Finalist Railways did not pick this new entrant.

His Best Season - 1989-90
Thus he missed an important year in his cricket career after a successful debut season. But he showed his owners what they had missed the previous season with a terrific performance in 89-90. It turned out to be his best year in cricket. He scored close to 400 runs at an average of close to 100 that featured a double hundred against UP in the very first match for the Railways featuring in a double century partnership with Yusuf Ali Khan.

The two followed it up with another century stand in the very next match with the roles revised this time – Yusuf scoring a double hundred and Radhakrishnan contributing 70. He ended the league season with a knock of 93 against Rajasthan. Unfortunately for him, Railways narrowly missed out on the qualification to the knock outs.

However, his performances that Ranji Season earned him a place in the Strong Zonal squad for the Duleep Trophy. In December that year, he had his third century stand of the season with Yusuf this time for Central Zone in the Duleep Trophy at Chepauk with Radhakrishnan scoring a century on debut. He followed this up with a half century in the Semi Final.

A Century in the Duleep Trophy Final
But he counts his century in the final of the Duleep Trophy against South Zone as his most memorable innings in cricket. It was a match in which VBC too got a century for South. Chandrasekar just beat Radhakrishnan in the race for the opening spot on that trip to Australia / New Zealand. 

After the century in the final when Javagal Srinath was at the receiving end of blows from Radhakrishanan, the fast bowler came up to him and complimented him on his aggressive style taking on fearlessly the fast bowlers ‘You will go a long way in cricket’. 

In a matter of four months, Radhakrishnan had run up a double century in Ranji Trophy and two centuries in Duleep Trophy against strong oppositions. And he was on the verge of national duty. With the injury to Navjot Sidhu in the first test in New Zealand, the Indian team was looking for a replacement opener. And Radhakrishnan could have easily been the automatic choice for he had scored over 600 runs by the middle of that domestic season in India. However, the selectors overlooked Radhakrishnan and instead chose a middle order bat. Dilip Vengsarkar was past his best by then but he managed to get the nod.

VBC told his close friend much later in his life that Radhakrishnan may have performed better in New Zealand had he been picked. Soon after, when Radhakrishnan returned to Chepauk to play in a local match, Srikkanth called out for him in his typically loud style and told him 'You should have been on that New Zealand tour for the consistent string of scores you have run up in recent months. Its unfortunate.'

Those remain some of Radhakrishnan’s best moments in cricket and he cherishes those comments to this day.It was the closest he came to national selection. But he was never one of those who fought till the very end. He enjoyed his cricket, played it with passion and did not necessarily always cherish the dream of playing for the country. 

Without battling an eye lid, he moved on in life. A few months after this set back, he was alongside some of the top names in Indian cricket having been picked for the Wills XI in the Wills Trophy One Tournament in April 1990. In the semi final, UR shared a century stand with Ajay Jadeja as Wills XI beat TN.

Looking back at that tournament, 'UR' reveals an odd and interesting fact ‘I was the only cricketer not to have played for India from that Wills XI team. That was how close I came!!!’ 

Quitting the Railways
In the next couple of years, Radhakrishnan slowly faded into oblivion. In 1990-91, he added another century to his tally but did not have a great season in Ranji Cricket. It was the period that he got married and the work atmosphere in the Railways at that time was not something that he enjoyed. For a cricketer who played with a lot of passion and took life in a jolly way, the amount of politics and behind the back talking was too much to take. Also, working for the Railways meant being away for six months in the year to play many tournaments that they participated in. And hence he took the tough call of quitting the Railways, much against the advise of many of his well wishers of that time and got back to his old team of Globe Trotters, a club that had now been taken over by MRF.

His 2nd Cricketing Mistake
TA Sekar helped him play for Goa as a professional. However, here too, Radhakrishnan made a tactical mistake. Like Brijesh Patel, former India cricketer Yashpal Sharma too had a special liking for Radhakrishnan and he was keen that the left hander continue to play for Railways, this time as a professional even though he had quit them much against their call. 

That would given Radhakrishnan the opportunity to play Zonal cricket and he may have remained in national contention if he had run up big scores again. However, he chose Goa and the political cricketing climate there put an end to Radhakrishnan’s Ranji career though he ended it with another big hundred - 182 in his very last match.

S Vasudevan, who captained Tamil Nadu to that Ranji Trophy win and saw Radhakrishnan from close quarters in that debut season for the left handed, thought that he was supremely talented and that the Railways move was a step in the right direction for him. ‘He should have worked harder and continued to score more runs for the Railways and kept the pressure on the selectors. But he did not do that.’ 
A Jolly Cricketer
Former TN Ranji Cricketer NP Madhavan captained Radhakrishnan in that first season at SVPB in Coimbatore in early 1980s. He believes that Radhakrishnan had the potential to reach the top but may have lacked the dedication to fight harder ‘Everyone in that SVPB team including Brijesh Patel expected him to play at the highest level. He was probably the best cricketer to have come out of Udumalpet. In fact, Brijesh liked him so much that he personally mentored him but he may have lacked the mental toughness and single mindedness to succeed. He was a very jolly cricketer and everyone in the team liked him.” 
Subba, who is currently in Sydney, always saw the human aspect in UR. 'What touched me was that right from his teenage days he was always and has remained a good human being with a helping tendency.  ‘If only he had stuck on to the Railways, he may have scaled the heights both in cricket as well as in his corporate career for he had had some terrific performances for the Railways.’

Kalli is saddened that he did not play more at the highest level 'It is a pity that he could not play more matches at the first class level but even decades later, I found him to be a terrific human being with his feet firmly on the ground. He always had a lot of respect for the elders.' 

While Radhakrishnan does not regret anything in cricket, there is a tinge of sadness in him for having failed to meet the expectation of the founder Chairman of SVPB who had pinned hopes on him to play for India. A different call from the selectors in 1990 may have seen Radhakrishnan don the India cap. But it was not to be. Finally he ended up playing just 19 first class matches, too small a number for the potential he held.
To him, playing the game with passion and delighting the 'Kadalai' boy at Chepauk with a hooked six to Long Leg gave more happiness than any records and statistics.And it is that same passion that has driven him to continue to play cricket here in Madras almost every weekend unlike most others his age.


Anonymous said...

Super Story, well written. very nice.

Anonymous said...

Great, you should be regarded as best follower of cricket, appreciate your interest and effort, this kind of write up even UR would not have expected. ✌��

Anonymous said...

Good one about a nice guy and a terrific cricketer !

Anonymous said...

good article. Wonder when you have time to work though

Unknown said...

Being a long time friend and a well wisher from udamalpet town, I always wanted him to play for the country knowing his potential. It does not matter, but what matters is his ontribution to cricket and cricket teams/clubs in the country and the name he has brought to this little textile business town, udamalpet. It does not fade away so easily ( his passion and his popularity in the town). Great.

Anonymous said...

Very Nice. A wonderful wonderful human being, UR.

Anonymous said...

Well Written. Good Story.

Anonymous said...

Super Story

Dr K.Natarajan, PSG Tech. said...

The article is written without any exaggeration. I have played couple of matches against almost all of them. No doubt they took the competition in Coimbatore to a very healthy level in late 70's through early 90's.

Ganesan Satish said...

Happy and feeling proud to say, I played with this legendary passionate cricketer at his 50's and astonished by seeing his aggresive strokes. Still he clears ropes with ease.

Ganesan Satish

Ragotham said...

Radha Anna was a flamboyant and stylish batsman, but like you mentioned very humble and respectful at all times. Was glad to meet him about six months back in Coimbatore. Had the fortune of being in the same team for Coimbatore Districts with the other well known and great cricketers like Senthil Nathan, N P Madhavan, Peter Fernandes,M Subba, etc. Thank you for a well written article on one onw of the best cricketers from Coimbatore. Ragotham