Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sobers Part II

One of my friends has pointed out rightly that Wes Hall did not get to bat in the second innings of the Madras Test in 1967, while in the first innings he was out to Prasanna. I did my homework too and found out that Sobers was telling us a tall story. (I even checked the scorecards of the other two Tests of the series, but the facts did not match). I decided to keep the story anyway because it was such a delightful one, especially when Garry told it in his inimitable Barbadian singsong. I did not keep any notes so I lost out on some choice lines ten years down the line.

The ten or so of us who gathered at the MCC for cocktails that evening were there, thanks to SP Sathappan, Saucy to everyone (sitting next to Sobers in the photograph I have posted on FB), the club’s president who drew up the guest list. There were bigger names in Madras cricket, but we were the ones who got invited—my brother Sivaramakrishnan, TE Srinivasan, my tennis mate Bandhu Chandhok, and, among others, the unforgettable Mahidhar Reddy, the diehard Sobers fan who fell at his feet that night and wouldn’t let go of them for quite a while. I naturally did not mention that in my story, partly because it might draw attention to the quantum of Mahidhar’s lubrication, thinking he would be embarrassed by the story. Mahidhar was extremely offended that I ignored his part in the story and here goes: I have put the record straight once and for all.

Besides his infinite capacity for tall stories, we found another aspect of Sobers’s personality striking. He treated all of us as his equals, sharing his views on men and matters with utmost candour. He was, for instance, annoyed by the selective amnesia of a former Indian cricketer who not only was vague about his golf handicap (Why can’t he make up his mind, is it 18 or 12? It can’t be both), but also conveniently remembered an almost forgotten prior appointment and failed to return Sir Garry’s famous hospitality in the West Indies.

Sometime during the evening, Sobers waxed eloquent over the great bowling ability of Subhash Gupte whom he rated higher than Shane Warne as the best leg spinner of all time (I wonder if Sir Garry still holds the same view now that Warne has gone on to achieve greater heights in cricket). He then turned to me and asked me who I thought was the best orthodox leg spinner in India after Subhash Gupte. Was it Baloo Gupte, Subhash’s younger brother, he asked. I told him that many Indians agreed that Tamil Nadu’s VV Kumar was India's best leg spinner after Subhash Gupte. When he asked me why I thought so, I said that VV had this ability to make the ball hang in the air, had two different types of googly, and was the most economical wrist spinner I knew. Sobers nodded his head. He was in Chennai to assist Kumar at the MAC Spin Academy. “Yes, I can see what you mean. He still shows glimpses of those qualities when he has a bowl in the nets,” Sobers said, thoughtfully.

Besides being a great spin bowler, Kumar is quite a character, known for his unorthodox views. Rumour had it that far from endorsing the world’s most gifted all rounder’s views on spin bowling, he quietly advised his wards not to listen to the great man! And, according to my friend Vasudevan, who assisted him earlier, VV was the most improved bowler in the camp.

Reluctant to talk about his own cricket, Sobers revealed when pressed that no bowler troubled him, certainly no Indian bowler, not even Chandrasekhar. That is when he told us the story of how Sir Donald Bradman said, “Don’t worry Garry, you will sort him out,” pointing to Richie Benaud, when he thought Sobers was in a pensive mood. Sobers was puzzled and wondered what gave the Don the impression that he worried about Benaud’s bowling. His reply was the brilliant 132 in the Brisbane Test, which ended in a tie. Sobers also had a good laugh when reminded of his statement on the last morning of the Bombay Test in 1967 that he would finish the game in time to go to the Mahalaxmi races that afternoon. And he did, despite a rampaging Chandrasekhar who took all four West Indies wickets to fall.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sir Garfield St. Aubrun Sobers

First published in The Bengal Post

The greatest all rounder in the game never played in the World Cup. Sir Garfield Sobers had quit the international scene by the time the Prudential World Cup came round in 1975, and Clive Lloyd led his men to a grand win, with Sobers’s old friend and teammate Rohan Kanhai playing a key role in the final.
Garry Sobers was perhaps the one cricketer guaranteed to lend excitement and enchantment to a tournament such as the World Cup. The quintessential all rounder, he could bowl in three different styles, and once hit six sixes in an over, besides possessing in his arsenal three shots to every delivery. Add his brilliant fielding anywhere and his infectiously positive attitude and you have the perfect ambassador for instant cricket.

We in Chennai first caught a glimpse of him when he toured India with Gerry Alexander’s men in 1958-59. At the Corporation Stadium, he created quite a flutter as he walked out jauntily with his collar upturned. Though he scored only 29 and 4 in the Test, he impressed one and all with his every action. His bosom pal Collie Smith proved to be the crowd’s favourite, with his ‘donkey drops’ and antics near the boundary line.

Not long afterwards, Collie Smith was to be killed in a car accident, with Sobers at the wheel—something that scarred Sobers for life and made sleep impossible for him during match nights. The more he tried to get his eight hours on the eve of a match, the more he tossed and turned, haunted by the memory of his friend and what might have been.

“I never went to bed before the small hours of the morning during Test matches, but it did not affect my cricket,” Sir Garry told a small gathering of cricket lovers and former cricketers around him at the Madras Cricket Club, Chepauk, late one evening some ten years ago. ‘Don’t you dare follow my example!’ he told a young player in the audience.

I was one of those privileged to be present that evening, as the great all rounder spun a web of cricket tales, real and apocryphal in about equal measure. One particularly diverting tale had it that the West Indies manager Berkeley Gaskin caught him returning to his Karachi hotel room at 5 a.m. and nodded approvingly believing that like him, Sobers was going for a morning constitutional.

Talk turned to his superb 95 and 74 not out in the 1967 Pongal match that brought Test cricket back to Chepauk, and Sobers agreed with us that, fooled by the length and additional bounce of a BS Chandrasekhar special, he had changed his shot in the last nanosecond to send the ball sailing over the sight screen in that game. This was reminiscent of a similar straight six in the Brisbane Test in 1961, when the bowler to suffer had been Richie Benaud, in the course of Sobers’s 132 in 125 minutes.

As the stories flowed thick and fast, Sobers remembered how one of his teammates was constantly barracked by the Brisbane crowd as he was patrolling the ropes. “You are the ugliest cricketer I ever saw, mate,” one spectator cried out. The fielder’s instant response was: “Wait till you see my brother back in Jamaica.”

The Chepauk Test match was the first time in a long while that India had come close to defeating West Indies, with a new Prasanna-Chandrasekhar-Bedi spin combination in place. Sobers famously drew the game with a fighting unbeaten 74 in the company of tailenders Hall and Griffith, after his team had been perilously close to defeat on the last day. Sobers’s fertile imagination was evidently at work as he related the behind-the-scenes happenings of that evening. Here’s his version of a conversation as soon as Wes Hall came in to bat.

Hall: ‘Skip, I promise I’ll stay with you till the end. I have one problem, though. This Chandrasekhar, I can’t read him.”

Sobers: “What's new, Wes? Seymour Nurse, he couldn’t read Chandrasekhar. Rohan Kanhai, he couldn’t read him. Basil Butcher, he couldn’t read no Chandrasekhar, either.”

Hall: “Come now skip, be serious. Show me when he bowl tha googly, and when tha leg break.”

The two batsmen quickly agreed Sobers would stand a foot behind the umpire at the non-striker’s end, and put his right hand out every time Chandra bowled a googly, and Hall would faithfully follow the signal. A healthy partnership developed and Hall was the toast of the team at teatime. Seymour Nurse was particularly impressed. “How did you do it maan, when all of us batsmen struggled?” he asked Hall. “Oh, that’s simple Seymour old maan,” Hall replied in his best conspiratorial manner. “You know I watch the ball in the air, maan. Poor Garry, he can’t tell tha googly from tha leg break sometimes. Coz poor chap, he tries to read Chandrasekhar’s hand.”

Unfortunately for Hall, Sobers was standing just behind him overhearing the conversation. The first ball after tea, Chandrasekhar bowls a googly, and Sobers has his right hand firmly in his pocket. Exit Wesley Hall.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011



One of the teams that D Ranganathan—Don Rangan to all in the Madras cricket circles of the 1960s—ran was Nungambakkam Sports Club ‘A’ or NSC’A’. It was arguably the strongest team below the First Division and when promoted to the senior league, a competitive young side not to be trifled with.

Rangan is but a pale shadow today, very nearly a caricature, of the imposing personality he was in the 1960s, when he ran NSC ‘A’. He was monarch of all he surveyed at the Pithapuram ground at Nandanam, Madras, which he leased and maintained single-handedly, no doubt running through his family’s finances in the process. He ran a sports-goods business as well, which meant that his club always owed his firm substantial sums of money! In his heyday, he lived in style, dressed smartly, drove a Volkswagen, and offered net practice facilities round the year, insisting on his players attending these sessions without fail. The number of new cricket balls he made available at practice would be considered extravagant by any standards.

All this helped create a larger than life image of Rangan, and he took full advantage of that in putting the fear of God into his boys and demanding great performances from them. And he miraculously got the best out of them match after match. The Rangan influence over a whole bunch of young cricketers of the period was quite considerable. For years and years, they would rise to his defence against his numerous critics.

Rangan was a cocky little fellow, all muscle and sinew, very fit, a fiercely combative cricketer quite unlike the gentle Madras stereotype of his time. A competent, workmanlike but always positive opening batsman, he was aggression personified as a wicket keeper, not afraid to stand up to fast bowlers, and capable of the most convincing histrionics while appealing to the umpire. He was also a more than useful medium pacer, a facet of his cricket he never let us forget, resorting as he invariably did to the discarding of his gloves and pads in mid-innings to have a go at the batsman. His supreme confidence usually resulted in the breaking up of a troublesome partnership, enabling Rangan to crow over his success where others had failed. He always had a chip on his shoulder about being ignored as a player by officialdom and running his own club like a prince was his way of challenging the establishment. He not only scored tons of runs and won most of his matches, but made sure these victories were made possible by stellar contributions from other players the official selectors had overlooked. He was an original, not an imitation of some Test cricketer he admired. If there was anyone Rangan hero-worshipped, it had to be Rangan himself. Virtually unbeatable in the lower divisions of the TNCA league, his team was a dark horse capable of toppling the best in the senior division, once it was promoted to that level of combat.

I played under Rangan’s captaincy for exactly one season, at the end of which my uncles hijacked me to Mylapore Recreation Club, brainwashing me into believing Rangan was a bad influence on me. At any rate I was not ready, according to them, for the first division, where NSC ’A’ was now. The season I did spend with NSC was an exciting phase in my cricket, with some of the best practice facilities in Madras at my disposal at the Pithapuram ground at Nandanam, a superb home ground with a pacy matting wicket and a lightning fast outfield. If Rangan’s captaincy was eccentric, imaginative and defiant of convention and reputations, his loyal band of talented players were equally iconoclastic, partly out of fear and respect for Rangan, but also acquiring by osmosis the skipper’s in-the-face contempt for the opposition.

Rangan loved a fight and made it a point to get under the skin of opposing players. He taunted and teased them before, during and after matches. The bigger the reputation of the visitors to Pithapuram, the more hostile was the reception. He was notorious for his gamesmanship and his strenuous efforts to win at any cost. He was even credited with cheating at the toss, picking the coin up and announcing, ‘We bat,’ before the rival captain saw which way it fell.

We played matches every Saturday and Sunday, including so-called friendlies in the absence of official fixtures. On these occasions, Rangan enjoyed inviting strong opposition and defeating them with his young team. One such practice match was against the star-studded Jolly Rovers, who among others included Salim Durrani and S Venkataraghavan. The visitors ended our giant killing spree but not before we had put up a bit of a fight. Batting first, we were bundled out for 99, with Durrani, Venkat and the medium pacers doing the damage on a lively wicket. Going in at number 9, I made an unbeaten 15 or so, inspired by the occasion to defy Jolly Rovers’ top class spin attack. I was raring to go when it was our turn to field, wanting to do well against the stars whom a largish crowd had come to watch, Salim Durrani in particular. Our medium pacer KV Mahadevan, Maka to all of us, was in full flow and brought on early, I too, was all charged up, desperately wanting Durrani’s wicket. (I was barely 18 then and Rangan revelled in throwing his young ones in at the deep end, and cocking a snook at established reputations. My growth as an off spin bowler was accelerated by the supreme confidence Rangan showed in my ability).

Soon Jolly Rovers were some 40 for 4, Maka and I sharing the spoils equally. Durrani and Venkat came together and Rangan gave me an extraordinarily attacking field, with close catchers breathing down the batsmen’s necks. The wicket assisted Maka as well as me, and we were both transported to another, exalted zone by the excitement of the moment. We gave the batsmen hell and they had to bat out of their skins to survive, but survive they did, until they won the game without further loss—thanks to their skill, determination and experience, not to mention some dropped catches. At the end of the match, Durrani offered to coach me at the nets the Jolly Rovers captain S Rangarajan had organized at Farm House, The Hindu’s family estate. I was mighty thrilled by the offer, but being the idiot I was, did not follow up, succumbing to my uncles’ advice—the same uncles who would remove me from NSC ‘A’ at the end of the season.

Another memorable practice match from that period was one in which I played for a scratch combination under Ram Ramesh’s captaincy against NSC ‘A’. I don’t remember what I did with the ball that day, probably not much, as I would have remembered it otherwise, but do recall in clear detail being the junior partner in a century partnership with S Venkataraghavan. Even more vivid is the memory of facing the ultra-quick bowling of “Kuthu” Krishna Rao, who opened the bowling for Rangan’s eleven and later played as an off-spinner for the Services in the Ranji Trophy. Krishna Rao was a tall, strapping, handsome fast bowler, who struck terror in the hearts of batsmen on Rangan’s lively matting wicket. His action was a dubious one, the reason why the armed forces converted him into a slow bowler. On his day, he was quite a handful and this afternoon he was letting them buzz around your ears.

Whether I was promoted to No.3 because the team believed I had batting potential or whether I was a sacrificial lamb, I don’t know, but I do remember that Ramesh and Venkat who opened the innings with him put on a quick 60 or 70 before Ramesh got out. When I went in, I received the treatment from Krishna Rao and the other opening bowler Maka, and I can tell you it was a real baptism by fire for someone who had never played such pace or bounce before. Still, I was young and foolhardy, so I stuck around fearlessly, trying to stay with Venkat who led an astonishing assault on the quickies. He made a memorable hundred, hooking, pulling and cutting, to my 30 or so, as we coasted to a nine-wicket win. It was one of the most courageous batting displays I saw at close quarters. Those were pre-helmet days.

That was NSC’s and Rangan’s golden age. Even people who did not like him—and there were many such people, thanks to Rangan’s constant aggression on and off the field—admired and respected him for the enormous contribution he made to the development of the game in the city. Almost every league, state and national cricketer of Madras came to practise at the Pithapuram nets and play in the hundreds of games he organized there. Rangan met the needs of a whole generation of cricketers better than formal institutions.

Unfortunately, Rangan’s fortunes nosedived in the 1970s and steadily grew worse through the decades. As professionalism crept into cricket, it was no longer possible for individuals or clubs not sponsored by corporates to continue to support the game. Rangan who had been a non-smoker, teetotaller and an awe-inspiring figure for his wards, started adopting a more laidback lifestyle, eventually running into financial difficulties. Used to lording it over the many people whose cricket he touched, he proved incapable of holding a steady job into his forties and later. Today, he is in his seventies, and nobody takes his stories of the past and his grandiose plans for the future seriously, though nothing can stop him from weaving those tales. Young cricketers cannot see why the old timers still humour him, but any cricketer who came across Rangan in his prime is prepared to forgive him a great deal.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Baig brothers

(Stop if you have read this before!)

No one could have had a more sensational start to his Test career. 20-year old Abbas Ali Baig was a dashing young batsman at Oxford University, with a few exceptional performances under his belt in English county cricket, when the 1959 touring Indian team summoned him to play in the Manchester Test. It had been a severe drubbing for the tourists from Peter May’s Englishmen, but the handsome, fleetfooted Hyderabadi made a brilliant 112 on debut and in the company of Polly Umrigar (118) salvaged some pride for the Indians. Though England beat India in that and the next and final Test to make a clean sweep of the five-match series, Baig’s name was permanently inscribed in the pages of Indian cricket history.

Unfortunately, Abbas never repeated that level of performance in his Test career thereafter, though a defiant 50 by him against Australia in the Bombay Test next season, brought him an unexpected reward in the form of a kiss planted on his cheek by a young female fan in full view of the capacity crowd at the Brabourne Stadium. (The sensational act prompted veteran commentator Vijay Merchant to say to his colleague Michael Charlton, “I wonder, Michael, where all these enterprising young ladies were when I was scoring my hundreds!” Imagine this in Merchant’s singsong intonation).

Back in his native Hyderabad, Baig played a major role in the team's consistent performances at the league stage of the Ranji Trophy for well over a decade, though neither he nor his star colleagues Jaisimha, the captain, Pataudi and Abid Ali were able to achieve a title triumph in all those years. He was stylish in all he did, be it his thoughtful yet positive batting, his sophisticated contributions to team strategy or his urbane social skills.

His three younger brothers played competitive cricket. Murtuza, slightly younger in age, but older-looking and more sober and conservative in behaviour, was also an Oxford Blue, who played for Hyderabad with less success than Abbas. So did Mazhar, next to Murtuza, with a reputation of being a murderer of most attacks below first class level. If Murtuza was polished and rather understated in a British sort of way, Mazhar was relatively earthy, given to less patrician ways than his elder brothers. The youngest, Mujtaba, was the tiniest of them, with a batting style reminiscent of Abbas, a very nice, simple man, lacking the self belief of Abbas to put his talent to comparable use. I had the pleasure of playing a good deal of cricket with all four brothers at different times, and it was a pleasure and privilege to be their teammate.

Abbas—nicknamed Buggy by peers like Jaisimha and Pataudi—was often my captain in local cricket, when we both played for Hyderabad XI in the Zonal Tournament, the Hyderabad equivalent of Chennai’s Buchi Babu before 1968, when it changed from being a local zonal event into an invitation tournament for teams from all over India. He had great confidence in my ability, but it took me a while to realize that, as he nagged me constantly on the field of play, only to praise me generously at the end of the day. He also made it a point to spread the word whenever he felt a player had done exceptionally well. It was he who persuaded me to play in the 1975 Moin-ud-Dowla tournament, when I had doubts about my fitness. I did exceedingly well, finishing with eight for 75 against star-studded JK XI in the final, finally managing to convince the selectors with that performance, that I was good enough to play for Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy. To my amazement, Abbas stopped tutoring me during that match; he must have thought I had come of age. His delight at my success in that match and throughout the season that followed was heartwarming.

As I said earlier, Abbas and Murtuza were of somewhat different temperaments, and sometimes did not se eye to eye on some matters. Once, as Murtuza and I, my senior in the State Bank, were preparing to go to the office after a match had been washed out, even as the other players decided to have a beer together, Abbas said in his best acerbic manner: "The State Bank will collapse if Murtuz and Ram don't turn up for work!"

In yet another instance of sibling rivalry, I bowled a faster ball, following a signal from Murtuza from slip, to incur Abbas's instant wrath. Marching up to me, he admonished me: "Didn't I tell you to flight every ball? Don't you dare listen to that Murtuz!"

Of the brothers, Murtuz was my closest friend, though a bit of a mentor as well. We share a birthday, but he is six years older. (I didn't take it very well when Murtuz and his selector colleagues dumped me unceremoniously from the state team, though I knew Murtuz was a perfect gentleman and it must have hurt him to be a party to my axing). But the day Abbas announced he would no longer be available to play for Hyderabad was indeed a sad day. It had been a double whammy as Tiger Pataudi too had come to the same decision at the same time. It was at the end of the 1975-76 season, after we had lost a quarter final match we ought to have won to Bombay. It was the end of an era.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Reverse swing

First published in The Bengal Post

“Do you want to know how we made the old ball swing in Barbados?” The year was 1978, the man talking to us at the Lal Bahadur Stadium, Hyderabad one sunny afternoon in February or March of that year was one of the inventors of reverse swing, though it was yet to be known by that name. The tall, gangling, tousled-haired, moustachioed, side-whiskered Sarfraz Nawaz then proceeded to rub the fairly new ball on the bare ground just outside the boundary line until it became completely rough. He went on to polish the other side to make it shine like a mirror. The umpires looked the other way, as the match in progress between India XI and an International XI was the ML Jaisimha benefit match, not a first class fixture, though they did need a bit of arm-twisting by Sarfraz before they agreed to let him tamper with the ball.

What followed was a magnificent spell of fast swing bowling by the mad, mad Pakistani seamer, which was made more exciting by the efforts of his colleague from the other end to show everyone who was the quickest bowler around. Imran Khan had just a couple of weeks earlier been declared one of the fastest bowler in the world by some Australian commentators. “Bhai, hum donon men kaun zyada tez hai? (Brother, which of us is faster?)," Sarfraz kept asking us. Though all of us knew Imran was faster, none of us had any doubt about Sarfraz’s skill and wicket-taking ability. Only we did not dare say that aloud for fear of a boycott by Sarfraz.

In later years, I was to learn that Sarfraz had given us a demonstration of what became world famous as reverse swing, but I not speak about it, worrying that my audience would accuse me of making the whole thing up. I was relieved when Dilip Vengsarkar, who played in that game, gave a detailed account of that incident in his column in the Saturday Sports Special of The Hindu.

Three non-Test cricketers—M Narasimha Rao, Shahid Akbar and I—from Hyderabad were part of the International XI led by ML Jaisimha, as were former India captain Tiger Pataudi, Zaheer Abbas, Mushtaq Mohammad, Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz and a couple of Test cricketers who had been part of the Indian Test team that had just returned from a tour of Australia, but were not included in the India XI for this match. The Pakistanis were on their way back from the Kerry Packer World Series cricket. While Zaheer Abbas gave us a foretaste of things to come in the forthcoming Indian tour of Pakistan by hammering our great spinners all around the park, the two quickies gave us a devastating display of fast bowling, the likes of which we had not seen in Hyderabad.

The match started on a slightly damp wicket following an early morning shower. The wicket was certainly not fit for play, with a couple of wet spots threateningly close to the good length area. Chetan Chauhan and Anshuman Gaekwad opened the innings, sportingly agreeing to an on-time start because a large crowd had bought tickets for the benefit game. Unfortunately for the Indian openers, Imran and Sarfraz were intent on outbowling each other unmindful of the physical danger to the batsmen. The ball kept flying from a good length and both Gaekwad and Chauhan had a torrid time negotiating the pace and the bounce. “Come on Jai, what’s going on?” Chauhan complained to Jaisimha. “Why don’t you tell these guys to take it easy? No sensible batsman would have agreed to bat on this wicket, but these chaps don’t seem to care.”

The captain looked on helplessly while Pataudi sported a wicked grin as we slip fielders were jumping and leaping, trying to hold on to perfect defensive shots taking off first bounce over our heads.

Jaisimha solved the problem by bringing on the spinners soon after the first two wickets fell, with a grim-faced Chauhan and an equally upset Gaekwad trooping off. Though it should have been a great moment for me, my spirit was somewhat dampened by Mushtaq Mohammad walking in from mid-off every other delivery and saying, “Runs do, Bhai (give runs, brother)!” As if the great batsmen facing me, Sunil Gavaskar and Dilip Vengsarkar needed any such help. But the unexpected did happen. While Vengsarkar helped himself to a flurry of boundaries, Alaska pulled a long hop straight into the hands of deep square leg Ashok Mankad.

That evening, at a dinner hosted by Jaisimha, Mankad was entertaining a small crowd that included the Pakistani visitors, Bishan Bedi the Indian captain, and me, with some great stories delivered with characteristic panache, when an intrusive guest asked him, “Mankad saab, is there any old rivalry between you and Sunil Gavaskar saab? After getting out, he came into the dressing room, flung his bat and said, ‘The chap drops catches in Test matches, but holds this one in a benefit match.” Mankad’s reply was a classic: “Sunil Gavaskar’s catch and me drop it? Wake me up at midnight and I’ll still hold it.”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A murderer of off spin


Nagesh Hamand was one of those cricketers you come across often wherever the game is played, someone who is very successful at the junior and university level but does not quite make the grade in first class cricket. He was one of the first cricketers I met at Hyderabad, and one of my dearest cricket friends, who for years advised and guided me, constantly appreciating my efforts and pointing out my mistakes. He was my State Bank colleague as well as neighbour, living in a quiet residential area originally called Walker Town and renamed Padmarao Nagar.

Nagesh had captained Hyderabad Juniors at Madras in 1969 when we beat his team by an innings. He had put up a lone fight with a brilliant 80 or so, the first time I saw the raw power and aggression of his batting. What I did not know then was what a good off spinner he was, as well. He bowled with a brisk, economical action, and, while he was perhaps not so classically side-on as the purist might wish, he made up with his whippy action and the sharp tweak he gave the cricket ball. He was a confident, aggressive bowler who always believed he could get the batsman out. Also capable of bowling medium pace quite effectively when the mood caught him, Nagesh was convinced he was a better off spinner than Noshir Mehta, who formed a successful pair with left armer Mumtaz Husain for years in Ranji Trophy cricket.

Happily for me, he believed I was a better bowler than both of them and never hesitated to pass me useful tips. It was as a batsman that Nagesh made his mark in university cricket. He was an explosive middle order batsman, who would often take the bowling by the scruff of its neck and give it a mauling. He was particularly severe on off spinners, and loved to go after poor Noshir in local cricket. I too received the brunt of his fury on occasion, though I probably tamed him more often than other purveyors of my trade. The one chink in Nagesh’s armour was his weakness against left arm spin, which he managed to conquer on matting, but surfaced, sometimes embarrassingly, on turf.

A shrewd student of the game and an excellent tactician, Nagesh was an astute captain, though he did not receive too many leadership opportunities in his career. He was however an invaluable part of the State Bank think tank for well over a decade. An all round sportsman who could play a very decent game of tennis or table tennis, he had the irritating habit of smiling mischievously at you after defeating you, often coming back from difficult situations.

In the cricket conversations that are part and parcel of the game at all levels, Nagesh was a frank participant who did not bother to pull his punches. Of the firm view that he was a better cricketer than a number of middle order batsmen the Hyderabad selectors preferred to him over the years, he made no secret of his feelings, regardless of who was present. Based on performance at the local level, it was difficult not to agree with him.

An employee of State Bank of India, Nagesh is a conscientious worker at the bank, who made a smooth transition from player to officer. Today, he keeps in touch with the game he loves through coaching, partnering another outstanding Hyderabad cricketer of the past, Vijay Paul. Future India star Ambati Rayudu is a product of the Nagesh-Paul stable.