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  • The Singhs of Chennai never really got their due in cricket

    November 15th, 2017adminSports

    Some of it was sheer bad luck; inevitably there was politics too

    The Singhs of Chennai have been the first family of cricket in the State. Three generations going back to A.G. Ram Singh, hero of the inaugural Ranji Trophy match (he took eleven wickets), have played First Class cricket. Yet, why did this talented bunch of players not get its due? Some of it was sheer bad luck. Inevitably, there was politics too. With the passing of Milkha Singh last week, the question will be asked afresh.

    Stylish southpaw: A.G. Milkha Singh had the grace and flow of a natural. The Hindu Archives

    Stylish southpaw: A.G. Milkha Singh had the grace and flow of a natural. The Hindu Archives

    Ram Singh might have been on the 1936 tour of England. He was 26, had taken wickets and made a century in the Ranji Trophy. But in the days of the quota system, Tamil Nadu were allowed M.J. Gopalan and C. Ramaswami. Two in the squad was reward for backing the right horse in the cricket board!

    Done in by canard

    Ten years later, the senior Nawab of Pataudi, India’s captain, had asked Ram Singh to get his passport ready for the tour of England. Then, during a selection match in Mumbai, Ram Singh asked for a glass of water while batting, and it brought on cramps. A senior player spread the canard that Ram had a heart problem and could not travel.

    For years Ram Singh kept silent over the identity of the player who did this. Then in an interview to me some three decades ago, he revealed the name — Vijay Merchant. Ram Singh outlived both Merchant and the man who went on that tour, the great Vinoo Mankad.

    Ram Singh was a legendary coach — he learnt under the Sussex allrounder Bert Wensley who also coached Mankad — whose passion inspired both the young and the established. Bishan Singh Bedi was already a Test cricketer when Ram Singh made a slight adjustment to his follow-through. He was one of the early influences on Bedi’s career.

    Kripal Singh began with a century on Test debut, and might have led India had his place in the team been assured. Yet, despite leading South Zone and being recognised as one of the best captains in the country, he was never in the running.

    He played his first Test in 1955, and only 13 of the next 43 that India played till his final match a decade later. By then Tiger Pataudi had already led India, and that position was no longer vacant. Kripal’s sons Swaran and Arjan, and his daughter Malavika were also cricketers.

    Years ago in Chennai, Kripal and I would sometimes drive around in his little car, visiting grounds where matches were played. The sticker on his car read, “When I grow up I want to become a Mercedes.” The day following one such trip came the news that Kripal had passed way. He was just 53 and had had a massive heart attack.

    Kripal, a treasure of stories

    Kripal was a treasure house of stories about Indian cricket; he was also a national selector with a keen understanding of a player’s temperament. “Average ability with a big heart will always score over great ability with no heart,” he would say. One of his favourite stories – later confirmed by the then TNCA Secretary Mr S. Sriraman — was how he got the BCCI to postpone a Ranji Trophy final which happened to clash with his university examinations!

    The youngest of the brothers, Satwender might have been in the reckoning had a road accident not held him back; Arjan’s knee injury prevented further progress. He was 27 then.

    For years, the force of Tamil Nadu’s grouse against the national selectors was second only to Bengal’s. In the 1960s, Bengal might have felt hard done by, owing to the treatment meted out to the talented Ambar Roy. Tamil Nadu might have felt the same way about Milkha Singh. Both were attacking left-handers, both belonged to distinguished cricketing families, and each played just four Tests.

    Both were probably kept out by the same player — Mumbai’s Ajit Wadekar, who made his debut for India at 25. Wadekar was born in the same year as Milkha; Roy was four years younger. Milkha was good enough to play for India at 18.

    Milkha, like Kripal, was a jovial soul whose guiding principle seemed to be: “Anything for a laugh”. He enjoyed life hugely, was a popular manager for a side that often had to put up with stuffed shirts who wouldn’t allow youngsters to enjoy the game. He believed that enjoyment was a necessary part of all sport, and laughter enhanced performance.

    When I spoke to Milkha (he was “Micky”, Kripal was “Pally”) about a month ago, he was in good form, as always. He recalled the 1967-68 Ranji Trophy final against Mumbai, and explained where things went wrong for Tamil Nadu.

    But there was no resentment, only a touch of surprise at an umpiring decision half a century later!

    This lack of resentment has been a Singh family feature. It is an important legacy. And no one exemplified this better than Milkha.

    source: / The Hindu / Home> Opinion> Columns> Between the Wickets / by Suresh Menon / November 14th, 2017

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