Monday, May 18, 2020

My Cricketing Insights - V Ramnarayan

V Ramnarayan played for Hyderabad in the 70s and was an integral member of the team of handsome dashers from Hyderabad - a team led by M.L. Jaisimha with the likes of MAK Pataudi, Abbas Ali Baig, Jayantilal, P. Krishnamurthi, Govind Raj, Abid Ali, Mumtaz Hussain, Jyothi Prasad, Narasimha Rao etc. The team had seven or eight Test players and beat some great teams but enigmatically, never won the Ranji Trophy for all its talent.
V Ramnarayan bowling in his prime
Ramnarayan was the team's penetrative off-spinner and wrecker in chief of the Bombay first innings when Hyderabad took a sizeable first-innings lead and then collapsed and lost inexplicably in the quarter-final. He made his debut for Hyderabad at 28 and 5 years of competitive cricket during which time he was named in the Indian probables camp. However, his tragedy was that he was the third man - always behind EAS Prasanna and S. Venkataraghavan - and all that talent went waste.
A fav pic of mine - that shows Ram in character - he came to the Chennai launch of 'The Men Within' all by himself, only to congratulate me on writing the book which he had bought and read. I had tried to reach him but I could not and I was thrilled when he walked up to me quietly and introduced himself and congratulated me. This picture was taken moments before he met me - I am at far left in the background, VB upfront in the blue shirt and Ram on the far right in his blue shirt. Gentlemen cricketers

In 25 first-class matches, Ram got 96 wickets - 6 wickets on debut against Kerala, followed by 6 in his second match against Andhra and a career-best 7 for 68 against Bombay in the quarter-final which gave Hyderabad a first-inning lead that was later squandered away. Post cricketing career, Ram did several things but finally found his calling in the world of writing as an author, translator and editor of anthologies. "Mosquitoes and Other Jolly Rovers, The Story of Tamil Nadu Cricket" (2002), "RK Swamy, His Life and Times"2007) and "Third Man, Recollections from a Life in Cricket" (2015) are three of the many books he has written. Ram also edited India's leading magazine 'Sruthi' on performing arts. 

In Indian cricket, Ram's name always turns up in the list of players who missed out on playing for India. He is highly regarded for his knowledge of his craft, his humility and the breadth of his experience which traverses cricket, literature, music, singing, dance. 

Here's Ram, sharing his insights into the game.

"I was told by my parents the first reading I did was cricket news in The Hindu. I grew up surrounded by a large cricket-mad family of siblings, cousins, and uncles. The first case of a concussion that I came across was when I was hit on the forehead at short leg off a vicious pull. That probably explains all the mad things I have done in my life. 

Spinning the Ball - Most Important 
Like many kids, I tried my hand at the whole gamut of bowling specialities before zooming in on off spin at age 16. Even at that stage, I was very sure I would learn to spin the ball well before striving for accuracy, thanks to my precocious devouring of cricket literature and advice from older cousins. 

A bleeding spinning finger at the start of the season before a callus was formed was one's badge of courage. One derived massive masochistic pleasure while subjecting said finger to 3rd degree torture day after day.  

Put Enough Revs So Ball Does Not Reach the Batsman
I learnt early enough to put enough revs (didn't quite think of it that way then) on the ball that it would not quite meet its appointment with the batsman ( Ian Chappell on Prasanna). 

The idea was to land on a spot where the batsman didn't know whether to play forward or back. You made him play forward and discover that he was not quite there. 

Endless hours of visualisation had you dreaming of catches to short leg, rattling of the stumps from outside the off stump, or catches to short mid-wicket or back to you while the batsman's intent was quite different. 

Length and Line
Length is mandatory, says Prasanna, but I would add "Line too," as Hanumant Singh once told me. The only variations an off-spinner can indulge in are in trajectory, pace and deviation, none in line and length. Try varying line or length and you will have your captain tearing his hair trying to set a field for you.

Of course, length will vary depending on the batsman's reach. 

Bowling to Left-Handers and Right Handers
Bowling to left-handers, I learnt from my captain MLJaisimha, to cramp them on leg and middle from over the wicket. 

To neutralise right-handers strong on the sweep, I went around the wicket, again courtesy Jai's wisdom. 

I enjoyed some success in both cases. One had to be so precise in length and line, that one never bowled with an offside sweeper, something unheard of among off-spinners of the time. 

Simple rule: you can't set a field for bad bowling.

Brilliant. Pure gold. Thanks, Ram for the quick master class on spin bowling.

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