Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Rare Eyewitness Account of G.R. Vishwanath's Debut Ranji Match

This is an article written by Krishna Prasad Nukala - one of the most interesting individuals I have met. He is an avid sportsperson, a stylish cricketer, a single malt expert, a sailor, seeker of exquisite and exotic experiences, trout fisher, foodie, cook, reader, photographer, relentless traveller and much more. KPN amazes me with his energy, his zest for life and his constant upgradation of experiences. More about him later - I need to do a piece on him exclusively - but for now this is a piece he wrote of his experience as a young boy in Vijayawada who watched a historic match - without realising it.

Read on and enjoy.

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A Ranji Match
K.P. Nukala

This is my account of GRV’s Ranji debut match at Vijayawada played on 11, 12, 13th November 1967. I was a twelve year old boy then. The cricket bug had just caught me a year before. We would play the game with all kinds of contraptions; any solid piece of wood ended up as a bat, any small stick as a wicket and any round object a cricket ball. We used to play in all open spaces and there was no dearth of open fields in those days. In the collector’s office, in the Police Parade Grounds and in vast paddy fields when the crops had been harvested. For cricket information we used to look up to our elder brothers who had a better understanding of the game gathered mainly from news papers and radio commentaries. The big names of Gary Sobers, Nawab of Pataudi, Bobby Simpson, Graham Mckenzie, and Colin Cowdrey fascinated us immensely. We all wanted to play like them. They were like Gods to us.

(The match was between Mysore and A.P. It was still Mysore and the state was named Karnataka much later. And obviously it was undivided A.P!)

The match was played at the Police Parade Grounds, Vijayawada, on Bunder Road. This road goes to Machilipatnam and was named Bunder Road because Bunder means port and Machilipatnam had a port. The ground is also famously known as PWD grounds. It still exists and is used chiefly for holding exhibitions and fairs. A large part of the ground has now been converted into a farmer’s bazaar.

This ground also served as a playing ground for all children. We used to play all sorts of games there; cricket, football and most importantly gilli danda. It used to be a picturesque set up with many stately trees all round. The ground however was devoid of any grass and was chiefly a flat, red, mud ground.

On the day before the match, we played on the center strip where the Ranji Match was to be played. We had no idea that a Ranji match was scheduled for the next day.

At around 4 pm, a police van arrived and a bunch of people emerged from it. They inspected the ground, especially the centre strip where we were playing.  On enquiry it turned that these were the Mysore Ranji players and a Ranji Trophy match was to be played on the next day against A.P. We were thrilled, as by then, we were familiar with the star studded Mysore Cricket with players like V. Subramanya, B.S Chandrasekhar, EAS Prasanna and the new wonder boy Syed Kirmani, who had just returned from England, as part of the successful Indian Colts team that defeated the English school boys.
(This famous school boys team comprised of Ajit Naik (c), Raju Mukherjee, the Amarnath brothers, Dipankar Sarkar, Syed Kirmani among others. In the last match at Lords, India needed 10 runs from last two balls and Surinder Amarnath hit two sixes to wrap up the match! Hence we were very eager to see Syed Kirmani.

We were disheartened to learn that none of the star test players had come to the ground, but were somewhat happy to know that Syed Kirmani was in the team. We asked for him and a small thin lad came forward to identify himself as Syed Kirmani. We shook his hand enthusiastically and after some time all the players left the ground.

We went home with great joy looking forward to next day’s match and spread the word all around.
Next day the ground transformed itself into a proper cricket field. A green mat was rolled out on the center and the boundary lines were chalked with a lining of ACA (Andhra Cricket Association) flags. The ground was cleared of its stones, debris and all rubbish. (The flags later ended up as underwear for some boys who decided that the silky cloth was as good a material as any for the said purposes!). Two shamianas were erected and served as pavilions for the two teams.  There were volunteers to take care of the needs of the players and the admin team. The volunteers assisted with whatever the players wanted - like carrying water, buying cigarettes, snacks and so on. In fact during all water break sessions of the match, the volunteers were the drinks carriers to the field along with the 12th man!

A few boys including me took up a vantage position on the branch of a banyan tree just beside the north sight screen (Civil Court end). The said branch protruded at least 5 meters into the playing field so we were literally part of the match! Needless to say we had the best view of the match.
The toss was won by Y.B Patel, who captained Mysore in the absence of V. Subramanya. YBP is a fine left arm pace bowler and an uncle of Brijesh Patel, an electrifying batsman and fielder who played several tests for India later on.

V.S Vijay Kumar, a debutant along with some other opener came to open the batting for Karnataka. The A.P bowling was opened from the Civil Court end by Venkat Rao. We were familiar with Venkat Rao, our local hero, and used think that no one in the world could bowl faster than him.
The bowing from Bunder Road end was opened by RP Gupta who hailed from Vizag. He was a natural swing bowler.

Two wickets fell cheaply, below 20 runs- both to Venkat Rao and we were thrilled to see Kirmani coming to bat at No 4. The third wicket also fell quickly, before the score reached 50. We were excited that everything was going in our favour - opponent wickets were falling - and our favourite player Kirmani was still at the crease.

Slowly batsman no. 4 started hitting boundaries at will. The most striking of his shots was the one where he leaned back on his back foot and cut the ball, bat parallel to ground. The ball sped to the boundary like a bullet, so square of the wicket that it seemed like an extension of the batsmen’s crease. We later came to know that this was the famous square cut. Sometimes, he leaned so far on the back foot, and just before leaving the ball, tapped it on the head. The ball raced to the fence in no time. We came to know later that this was the famous late cut. Runs flowed at will and just before lunch, he raised his bat. He had scored a century before lunch, an indication of how easily and quickly he had scored those runs. On the branch of the banyan tree, we were thrilled and excited that our hero Kirmani has scored century. One of the customs in those days in Vijayawada was that if anyone was nearing a century, somebody would run to the local market to buy a flower garland to honor him. Just after the century the enthusiastic spectators rushed on the field with a garland and we were shouting with joy that Kirmani scored a century.  Then somebody pointed out that it was not Kirmani but a new player called G.R Vishwanath who had made his Ranji Trophy debut! Kirmani was already out for 16 and sitting in the pavilion. Our joy died down and it was an anti climax.

Nevertheless, after lunch, play resumed and the wonder boy kept scoring runs at will. Almost all his runs came on the off side laced with exquisite square cuts, late cuts and cover drives. Word spread around that a wonder boy from Mysore was sending the A.P bowlers on leather hunt and people came from nearby places to see the young boy batting. At the end of the day, the he remained not out on 209 with team total just below 400. People were already predicting the young boy’s place in Indian test team and I did not have the slightest doubt about it.  Ultimately GRV was out for 230 and the Mysore innings folded at 460. At close of play on second day A.P were 69 for two. On the third day the A.P team was all out for 181 and was asked to follow on. In the 2nd innings the Andhra fared slightly better and scored a respectable 360 thanks to a spirited 86 by B. Mahendra Kumar who had in fact migrated to Andhra from Hyderabad where he was not getting a proper chance among the star studded Hyderabad team which had the likes of MLJaisimha, Abid Ali, Abbas Ali Baig, Jayanthilal, Krishnamurthy, Waheed Yar Khan, Mumtaz Hussain, Nausheer Mehta, Govindraj and so on.

The match ended in a draw with A.P getting 3 points and Mysore 5.

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P.S: When GRV was selected to play against Australia in 1969 in the Kanpur test I boasted about my prediction to my friends in Calcutta. Our family had migrated to Calcutta then. When he scored a zero in first innings I was devastated. My friends taunted me about my prediction. In the 2nd innings he scored a brilliant 137 (with 25 boundaries) which helped India to a respectable draw.  The third test at Delhi was won by India, thanks a brilliant 5 wickets each by EAS Prasanna and B.S Bedi folding out Australia a paltry 107 runs in the 2nd innings. The fourth test was won by Australia at Calcutta and they were leading 2-1 in the series. In the final test, India did splendidly well to restrict Australia to a low score in the 2nd innings, thanks to a brilliant debut performance by Mohinder Amarnath (2 W) and EAS Prasanna ( 6W) but India lost the test ultimately chasing 248. GRV was the highest scorer (59).The series was lost 1-3.

GRV went to score about 14 centuries and India never lost a test match when he scored a century. In fact GRV scored runs whenever the team needed him the most and his 97 not out (out of total of 190) against the West Indies bowling attack of Andy Roberts and company at Chepauk is rated as one of the best non-century innings by Wisden. He scored 112 against West Indies in the highest run chase ever at that time. GRV is also known for his sportsmanship; he recalled Bob Taylor back to bat when the umpire gave him out in the Golden Jubilee test. England went on to win the match thanks to a big partnership that Taylor put on with Ian Botham. GRV is a gem of a cricketer who entertained us in true fashion of the game- a true gentleman of a gentleman’s game (at least what we used to know then)

Sources of information:  Wikipedia and www.espncricinfo.com


3 comments:

Rajendra said...

classic indeed. GR Visvanath was certainly a cricketer and a gentleman. Can't imagine Kohli doing anything he did.

Harimohan said...

:)

narayanan said...

Brings back the memories of those golden period when KP , me and our other great friends use to enjoy the great game together atCalcutta!