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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XXIII No. 7, July 16-31, 2013
The Mr. Versatile of Indian cricket
The seventh in a series of profiles by V. Ramnarayan of cricketers who may have made an all-time Madras* squad.

S. Venkataragahavan

He must be cricket's most versatile all rounder – within the game – not an all rounder beyond it like C.B Fry, the Rev. David Sheppard or Mike Brearley, cricketers who rose to great positions in other walks of life. For, few players have achieved excellence as Test cricketers as well as international umpires, besides serving the game in administrative and other capacities, as S.Venkataraghavan has done.

Venkataraghavan's credentials as an off-spinner were immaculate. He came into the Indian side when he was a student of the Guindy Engineering College, barely two months short of his 20th birthday. Making his debut at the Corporation Stadium, Madras, in February 1965 against New Zealand, he bowled impressively, finishing with figures of 48-23-90-2, clean bowling Dowling and Sinclair in the process. That he stood out in a spin attack that also included Durrani, Borde, and Nadkarni was testimony to his impact in that drawn game.

Venkat, as most cricketers know him, then bowled in a sharp, fastish style and was almost impossible to score off, as many of us who played against him in local cricket knew. He was a tall, good-looking, slightly built young man, with long, strong fingers that enabled him to give the ball a sharp tweak at terrific pace. He was accuracy personified and bowled a wicked leg cutter that caught batsmen – and often the slip fielders – by surprise. He was superbly fit and quite tireless, which explained his accuracy over long spells. He was a brilliant close-in fielder and a very competent batsman, quite fearless against fast bowling, as he showed against the express pace of Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith barely a couple of years after his Test debut.

Venkat's most successful Test match came in his very first series, when he played a large role in India's win in the Delhi Test. His 12 wickets in the match – 8 in the first and 4 in the second – cost him merely 152 runs in an astonishing total of 112.3 overs.

In the series against Garry Sobers' West Indies in 1966-67, Venkat bowled well enough to draw high praise from Sobers, and played defiant innings in two rearguard actions in Bombay, but lost his place to Prasanna, making a comeback at Chepauk.

His best performances for India came under Ajit Wadekar's captaincy in 1971, when he played a crucial role in India's twin triumphs in the West Indies and England. He also captained India with skill during the 1975 tour of England, though the disastrous World Cup campaign, for which the captaincy could hardly be blamed, resulted in his exit as captain.

I played with or against (mostly against) Venkat from the time I was about 10 and he 12. We had some enjoyable exchanges, highly competitive and intensely fought, at the college as well as State levels. We both played for the same school, P. S. High School of Mylapore, Madras, but in college cricket, we were regularly pitted against each other. He led the formidable Guindy Engineering College against Presidency, my college, which had a number of talented players. He was already a Test cricketer, and some of the senior batsmen in my side got out to him even before they left the safety of the pavilion, so complete was his psychological domination on them. Our first victory over Engineering was achieved only after Venkat's graduation.

My enduring memory of Venkat is one of seriousness with which he approached net practice, bowling non-stop for three hours every day, following that with an extended session of fielding practice. Taking a hundred slip catches a day was above par for the course for him.

Throughout his career, Venkat never left the ground citing injury. Two occasions stand out in my memory. The first was during a Duleep Trophy match against Central Zone at Bangalore in 1975. One evening during the match, Venkat met with a minor road accident, falling off a scooter. (Can you imagine a current Test cricketer on two wheels?) On the morrow, he carried on as if nothing had happened, bowling a long, match-winning spell with little or no indication that he was in any discomfort. But back in the pavilion he had great difficulty taking off his trousers to change, because he had been badly bruised from waist to foot on one side.

No tribute to the disciplinarian Venkat can be complete without mention of the terror he struck in the hearts of colleagues and rivals alike. I remember him describing the South Zone fielding in that same Bangalore match as "diabolic" and my wondering how many of my teammates understood the word. And sure enough, I found one of them scurrying off to the KSCA office and asking the clerk there if he could borrow a dictionary.

Another time, playing for Madras Cricket Club in the Chennai league, he was the non-striker, with S. Vasudevan in the midst of a brilliant spell of left-arm spin, claiming six wickets on a placid track. Vasu bowled one ball down the leg side during that spell, possibly the only bad ball he bowled that day, and to his utter shock the non striker literally barked: "How many times have I told you to bowl the faster one on the stumps!" Venkat was then the captain of the State team and Vasu was one of his main bowlers.

The years Venkat led Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy were some of the best in its history –merit alone mattered in his scheme of things, and despite his stern exterior, his players knew that he was a fair man who led by example. With V.V. Kumar, he struck a deadly partnership that ran circles around most opposition batsmen. His record against southern greats like Jaisimha, Pataudi, Patel and Vishwanath was outstanding.

After his playing years, Venkat continued to be aggressive and relentlessly focussed on his job as an umpire. He has never sought to win popularity contests and revels in calling a spade a bloody shovel. He is indeed a professional, for whom pride of performance in all he does has been an article of faith.

* Madras Province/State/Tamil Nadu.

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In this Issue

Yet another Cooum clean-up!
T. Nagar multi-level parking lot revived, again!
Path of industrialisation
Always first with the latest equipment
Down memory lane
The founder of South Madras
A gold chain from the Prince of Wales
Draw up your plans for Madras Week
The Mr. Versatile of Indian cricket

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Madras Eye


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