Sunday, August 4, 2019

Osmania 1990 - A Reunion after 29 years

In December 1990, the Osmania University cricket team led by P. Vijay Kumar of the Commerce and Business Management College won the South Zone Inter- University title after a gap of 13 years. Many teams had not achieved this feat in the past decade, all of them better in terms of names on paper. How a motley crowd of over-the-hill seniors, rookies and first timers got together to pull off a convincing win against some good sides in a two week campaign at Vizag is a wonderful story.

Vijay and I were studying for our final year MBA at the Osmania University College of Commerce and Business Management then. This would have been my sixth year of playing for the university, four while doing my engineering degree and two while doing my post graduation in management. I was past my best years, having played Ranji Trophy almost four years ago, though I now valued what it means to win and had figured out what it takes to win, with experience. Maybe I was less of a player than what I was but I knew how to use what I had left with me.

I was not very keen on playing this year primarily because I felt that perhaps a youngster could get a shot - I haven't done anything worthwhile for the University in the past anyway. It was Vijay who convinced me that we must play and win and that I had a role to play in his scheme of things. Other seniors in the side included Vijay (2) himself and Masood (3), my first captain in the Hyderabad Under 15 side in 1982, and Akram Quadri (4), a fast bowling prodigy who lost his way after a blazing start, all of whom had been on the fringe of the Ranji Trophy sides and were unlucky not to have made it. Riasath Ali Khan (5) the dashing wicket keeper batsman was another in the senior brigade as was the leg spinner all rounder Mahesh Raje (6) and attacking middle order batsman Bansi Narayan Singh (7).
Sitting l to r - Riasat Ali Khan, Masood Ahmed, Vijay Kumar (captain), Arjuman Rao (Coach cum Manager), me, Ehtesham Ali Khan (subbing for Akram Quadri) and Srikanth Iyengar
Standing l to r - Venkat Dhatrak, S Sridhar, Ayub Khan, EP Srinivas, Baliguddin (subbing for Kartik, Mahes and Hari Krishna), Bansi (who was missing from the original picture) and Shujath Ali
On the younger side was the refreshing talent of Ayub Khan (8), an aggressive, tearaway fast bowler, S Sridhar (9)a fast bowling all rounder who was studying Chemical Technology, Srikanth Iyengar (10), an off spinner batsman and a prodigy who had accomplished much already and was studying Electronics Engineering, Kartik Mecheri (11) who was a good batting prospect and studying at SP College, Hari Krishna (12), a wonderful leg spinner with oodles of talent, Mohib Ali Khan (13), a stylish and  elegant batsman with lots of time and great timing, EP Srinivas, who shouldered the burden of Osmania's bowling tirelessly in the league (once even bowling 45 overs at a stretch). Venkat Dhatrak (14), batting all rounder and Shujath Ali (15), a crafty all rounder. Most of the younger lot were playing for the University for the first time. We had a very experienced manager cum coach in Arjuman Rao, a genial gentleman who was now into his tenth year as coach. He was there all through the years I played for the University and had seen a lot of mischief and politics. He was fair and always did what was best for the team in his own quiet way.
L to r - Srikanth (with his back), Arjuman Rao, EP Srinivas, Vijay, Riasat, Bansi, Venkat and me
Vijay was exceptional as a captain and that was the easily the biggest difference that year. s Jim Collins in 'Good to Great' says - the first prerequisite to a team producing great results, not just good results, is a Level 5 leader. Vijay had a clear purpose to start with. 'Let's win' he said to all of us. He was honest and vulnerable, put his heart out and we bought into it.

Second, Vijay tried got the best team together to achieve his purpose. He knew experience counted as much as youth and insisted on retaining the seniors. There was a bit of drama there apparently because the selectors again played mischief (for the second year in a row) and dropped all seniors. The name of Mohan, the mischief making selector comes up often and he was involved in a similar activity the year before as well. Apparently Mohan and his band of selectors used their favorite ploy of  finalising the team and releasing it to the newspapers without consulting the captain. Vijay was made of tougher stuff - he went and met Ranga Rao, the Director of Physical Education, and had his way. The seniors, including me, were back on the team and a new team was released the next day. Wow, talk of conviction. That is the sort of stuff one needs from a leader.
Posing with caps presented by our thoughtful skipper Vijay - Riasath Ali Khan, Venkat Dhatrak, Ayub Khan, Vijay Kumar, Bansi Narayan Singh, me, Sridhar, Shujath Ali and EP Srinivas
Seated - Srikanth Iyengar and Arjuman Rao
I remember a chat that Vijay and I had then - I told him that I will do my best to help win the South Zone tournament, but if we win, he must not insist that I come to play Rohinton Baria which is a tournament the top 2 teams of each zone play. It's a prestigious tournament and one that we had not played for a long time. Vijay agreed - and this secret pact between us, he kept secret all these years - until I told my mates about it the other day. I had to come back owing to some affairs of the heart.

The team went to Vizag and stayed at the Andhra University. We had to play from the first round owing to our poor performance the year before. Every evening Vijay, Mahesh and me, would sit at some bar and over drinks, strategise about the game the next day. Since our purpose was clear, we always got the best team, the best combination going. Here Vijay did another wonderful thing, he had many good friends, including Mahesh Raje who was perhaps a very close friend. But Vijay simply went with Hari Krishna as his first choice for leg spinner and dropped his best friend. It was fantastic to see that. Mahesh was a wonderful leg spinning all rounder but Hari was bowling phenomenally that year. Vijay was fair, just, approachable and brutally honest.

Our strategy was clear - since we had lost many times before by eyeing the final in the first match - my only submission was that we should only focus one match at a time and take every game very seriously. We won match by match by match sending off Calicut, Bharathiyar, Bangalore and Madras. Bangalore University was the toughest of the lot but we beat them in a tight game in the semi final. The final against Madras was set up well by us with a 250 plus total but Madras just crumbled after that and were all out for 80.

After 13 years or so, we had regained the trophy! We were over the moon.

It was even more satisfying for me because it was the one thing that was missing in my cricketing accomplishments in my short career - I had been part of winning teams for Hyderabad from Under 15, Under 19, Under 22, Under 25, Buchi Babi, Kishen Prasad and the Ranji Trophy. This win added the one that was missing - and being part of the Osmania University team that won made me very proud (and later being part of the victorious South Zone Universities team at Varanasi for the Vizzy Trophy). With 12 wickets in the tournament it was my best ever performance for the University. I was glad I could pay back my alma mater. I also ran every single run like my life depended on it - I now knew how important every single run was in the final analysis.

After the final, there was a  wild celebration by the team at the Vizag beach where the tipplers (four or five of us)  got drunk out of our minds in the sands, then joined the rest in the restaurant and gave passionate and slurred speeches at the dinner table and made plans for the Rohinton Baria tournament. I knew  I was not part of that story and I did not have the heart to let the young lads down. I slipped away in the middle of the night after telling Vijay, wishing him luck, a warm hug, and on to the railway station and a drunk, unreserved travel near the toilets on my return to Hyderabad to finish some important unfinished business. So much for one of the heroes of the campaign.

Masood and Riasath getting a hundred and a 97 in the game against Calicut, Hari Krishna deceiving a rampaging Rajesh Kamath with a googly to pull the game back against Bangalore. Srikanth's fantastic running catch at square leg off my bowling to catch Mehra who had just hit two consecutive sixes off Akram and was threatening to take the match away, Mohib's composed batting and his spell of 6 for 15 in the final, Akram's first or second ball dismissal of the Madras University opener in the final, Masood telling me to shorten my length because the Madras University batsman was standing out of his ground, Ayub's aggressive bowling, Vijay's safe keeping and three consecutive catches off my bowling in the final (caught Marsh bowled Lillee!) were some cricketing memories. In non-cricketing memories I remember the walks to the beach with young Kartik who was probably the junior most member of the team and listening to 'Motley Crue' and 'Heart' on the Walkman, the evenings at the bar strategising for the next game, the celebration after the final.

The rest of the team went forward to Varanasi to play Rohinton Baria and continued their gallant winning streak against Punjab and falling to Guru Nanak Dev University. The country was aflame then on the back of the Babri masjid issue and the Ram temple rath yatra. Osmania University, with half of our team mates being Muslim, were  targeted by some lumpen elements in the Hindi stronghold of Varanasi. But the team team stayed together, held their ground and came back with their heads held high.
Paaya from Paaaya House
The team of 1990, met up again after these 28 years on the 3rd of July 2019. Masood was in town from the US and Vijay and I decided that we should get together. Riasath, large hearted as always, offered his newly opened restaurant Paaaya House on Road No 12 as the venue - place and food on the house. Bansi said he could come on a Saturday so Sat it was. Everyone signed on except Kartik who is in the USA, Akram who is in the KSA, Mohib who is in Uganda and Harikrishna who had some personal exigency. Coach Arjuman Rao said he would make it too.

We met at 8 and it went on till 1 pm. Vijay gifted us all with caps, Bansi came with an Osmania cap (the green one), and a couple brought flowers. Here's what the gang is doing now. Riasat (1) is an advocate and practices law, Masood (2) is settled in the US and works in the IT industry, Mohib (3) works in Kampala, Uganda, Srikanth (4) is Vice President of Toshiba in Hyderabad, Vijay (5) is Superintendent, Central Excise, EP Srinivas (6) works in the Railways, Bansi (7) works with the AGs office, Ayub (8) returned after a decade in the Saudi as Marketing Manager British Airways and is now a real estate man, Kartik (9) runs a software firm in the US, Akram (10) works in the Saudi, Shujath (11) works in SBI, Moula Ali branch, Venkat (12) works in the SBI too, Hari Krishna (13) handles the Hyderabad end of Kartik's company, Sridhar (14) is an award winning scientist who works in the IICT, Mahesh Raje (15) is an advocate and our coach Arjuman Rao has retired from his job as Physical Director, Matrusri Engineering College. Ayub, Bansi, Venkat, Srikanth were in their element as was Riasath and it was fun just listening to them.

A bunch of youngsters who were at the next table were intrigued by what was happening here and asked someone. Then they came over, some eight of them, IT professionals perhaps, and met our captain (who we said was as good as meeting us all) and said they were amazed to see us all meet after so many years, thrilled to see so many cricketers at the table, to see a story unfolding. The look in their eyes said it all. Before going out after their dinner they came again to our table and clapped for all of us and went. It was beautiful. I wonder if anyone had a picture of that.

Ehtesham Ali Khan our captain on so many state tours, and part of two of the strongest University teams in 1984 and 1985, dropped in with Masood, and so did Balig who was with the Osmania team in 1986 when we played under DTS Prasad. They sportingly filled in for the missing team members in the picture.
Skipper Vijay making a point watched by Venkat and Riasat!
The food and ambience was amazing, and Riasath kept plying us with more and more. The restaurant serves authentic Hyderabadi cuisine and Bansi instructed me how to go about eating some of the stuff - like paaya. The stories were brilliant and I asked them what they remembered - some had vivid memories and some had none until we all pooled in put them together. I told them I would like to do a story on the campaign. in a little more detail, than this. Now to collect more information and write down that story. It will be well worth it.

The story, has just begun!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow! Hari bhai! Loved it! What a poignant story and so well written! My respect for the team and especially for Vijay has grown ten-fold! Nicely done you guys! Prouder to have been in Osmania (Nizam’s) at the same time as you all!

God bless you all and my very best wishes,
Nagarjun (Arjun) Reddy
Bcom batch of ‘89

Harimohan said...

Thanks so much Arjun. This is just the gist - I plan to dig up more from each of my team mates and write it down properly. Will update on that. It was very special for me. Learned a lot. Thanks for writing in and we carried a bit of you and all else who played with us and against us - in all these games - so its as much your story and victory as ours!