Friday, November 26, 2010

A Cricketer Chief Minister - Kiran Kumar Reddy

Andhra Pradesh gets a new Chief Minister and he is a cricketer, one of the few greats who never played for Hyderabad. Kiran Kumar Reddy would have easily played higher grade cricket in the 1982-83 season itself had it not been for being vocal and upright about his stand. He was one of those few people who would not be cowed down by the system and the powers that be, though he was still a collegian then. The Hyderabad Cricket Association, guilty as it is of having strangled many a talented youngters' careers, is the one to blame for the early demise of Kiran Kumar Reddy's highly promising career.

I do not know the details of the spat because we were too young, only fifteen or sixteen, at that time. But we heard of the mighty row that happened between the HCA officials and two young cricketers on the verge of making their Ranji Trophy debut - Kiran Kumar Reddy and T. Pawan Kumar - both Nizam Collegians and highly prolific batsmen. I do not even remember the exact nature of the spat, except that the Secretary then was Man Singh, but there was some talk of disciplinary action against the two youngsters. Shortly afterwards. Kiran Kumar Reddy hung up his boots once and for all - decisive as ever. I was fortunate enough to have played with Pawan though, who played alongside us in a historic season for MCC when we beat many top sides, scored prolifically again and forced his way into the Ranji side before quitting the game and joining his family business.

Kiran Kumar Reddy never played again. Not even league cricket. Many a time, as youngsters practicing at Ameerpet Cricket ground, we'd watch his lonely figure step out of his house and watch us. Just across the nala, the 16th Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh's house, was the place where the mat and kit was kept. We knew he had been captain of the Nizam College team, a team with as much talent as you can get (like Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy sides, Nizan College was in the Osmania side - many times better than the entire Osmania side - and Kiran's team was one such), and as much politics as you can get in the Andhra politics.  But Kiran Kumar Reddy led it successfully, with a smiling face and also made a formidable reputation for himself as a decisive and effective leader, as one who spoke his mind for a cause and more importantly as a braveheart cricketer and a captain. I remember watching him play against our team MCC when they made short work of us and also taking in the names of all other formidable names that occupied the Nizam College dressing room then - the shy and reticent Congress MP, Mohammed Azharuddin being one of them.

But what remains mostly imprinted in my mind is a match that Kiran Kumar Reddy played for the Hyderabad Under 25 side against the Tamil Nadu Under 25 side. He was the captain of the Hyderabad side. I remember the match was being played at the lovely cricket ground at the back of HPS, Begumpet. I took the bus from my home and landed at the venue after a long walk to the ground, all of sixteen, to watch the big boys play. When I took my place at a corner of the ground, Hyderabad was already in a bad shape having lost four or five wickets against Tamil Nadu for 50 or 60 runs. A Tamil Nadu medium pacer, tall and well built, was breathing fire and he peppered the Hyderabad side with some fearsome bouncers and short pitched bowling, his name was Rajamnnar if I remember right, and as a youngster my eyes just opened wide at this deadly spectacle I was watching. How can anyone play this kind of a bowling I thought. But at the wicket was Kiran Kumar Reddy and I remember the way my heart lifted when, after several overs of watching our batsmen run and duck for cover, he stood upright and pulled fiercely the next bouncer that Rajamannar bowled, the bat making the sound of war, as the ball disappeared like a shot into the mid wicket region. That one shot brought parity to the game in one moment, as Captain Courageous then went about rebuilding the innings in the company of the tail. I remember that moment as clearly as any, and it stands tall in the many moments that cricket teaches you of character, of standing up when all else are running for cover and counter attacking. One of my very first lessons. Much of what I saw is testimony to his character, to his leadership capabilities which were well developed even then.

I have never known Kiran personally save from watching him with the admiration that a teenager has for his college heroes. If there had to be an equivalent character in the Mahabharatha he was Karna to us, denied his right to glory on the cricket field. But what I saw of him from the distance is enough for me to know that he is a tough, clear headed and decisive person. He stands for justice, speaks his mind, and has all the qualities that a  leader should have. I can only congratulate him on his new post and this time round, pray that he is allowed to play a long and uninterrupted innings for Andhra Pradesh, which would surely set it back on its road to prosperity and abundance.

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