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VOL. XXIII No. 9, August 16-31, 2013
A most cerebral cricketer
The ninth in a series of profiles by V. RAMNARAYAN of cricketers who may have made an all-time Madras* squad.

AG Kripal Singh

A.G. Kripal Singh was perhaps the wittiest, most cerebral Madras cricketer in my experience, wayahead of his time in strategic thinking and articulation of ideas. In addition to his undeniable class as a batsman – not to mention his shrewd off-spin bowling – his challenging field settings, his expert handling of his bowlers, his ability to read wickets and his bold declarations not only made him a respected captain of the Madras team, but also, briefly, a candidate for the Indian captaincy. Certain unfortunate off-the-field incidents, however, denied him any real chance of that top honour.

“The eldest son of A.G. Ram Singh was an outstanding batsman, arguably the finest right-hander produced by Madras, ahead of such fine batsmen as his younger brother Satvinder Singh, Michael Dalvi, C.D. Gopinath and T.E. Srinivasan,” I wrote in 2002. There have been some top quality batsmen from the State since then, with M. Vijay, Dinesh Karthik and S. Badrinath proving themselves to be reliable as well as attractive players in multiple forms of cricket, but A.G. Kripal Singh will still find a place in a Tamil Nadu list of all-time greats.

In the Ranji Trophy tournament when it was a knock-out one, Kripal was one of the most successful batsmen of his era, scoring 2581 runs (average 49.63) and taking 115 wickets (average 20.53). He played a leading role in Tamil Nadu winning the Ranji Trophy in the 1954-55 season, scoring 636 runs and taking 13 wickets.

In the semifinal against Bengal he hit 98 in the first innings and 97 in a total of 139 all out in the second. He also took 4 for 18 in the second innings.

Kripal, who would have missed the final that year, had Madras University not acceded to his request to take his exams at a later date, played a stellar role against Holkar at Indore, making 75 and 91 and grabbing seven wickets in a narrow victory. He had started the season on a grand note, with a career best 208 against Travancore-Cochin.

Making his Test debut in Hyderabad against New Zealand the following season, he scored an unbeaten 100 on appearance. That was his only Test hundred, though he made 63 and 36 in subsequent Tests in the same series, and a defiant 53 at the Madras Corporation Stadium against Gerry Alexander’s West Indies in 1958-59.

On the disastrous tour of England in 1959, when Dattu Gaekwad’s men lost the series in a 5-0 whitewash, Kripal gave enough evidence of his class. His 178 against Lancashire was a spectacular assault on an attack led by Brian Statham. Yet he played in only one Test in which he scored 41.

Kripal played three Tests in 1961-62 and two in 1963-64, all against England. It was in the third Test of the former series that he took his first wicket in Test cricket after a long wait, having bowled 588 balls in ten Tests, a dubious world record. A Sikh by birth, he made his Test debut in a turban, but later shaved his beard when he married outside his faith.

I had the rare experience of playing with or against Kripal, his younger brothers Milkha and Satvinder, cousins Jarnail and Harjinder, both his sons and at least one of his nephews. Though Milkha was one of the best left-hand batsmen of his era (the 1960s) and Satvinder would have surely followed in his brothers’ footsteps and played for India but for an unfortunate knee injury sustained in a road accident, there was something majestic about Kripal’s approach to the game that differentiated him from others.

Towards the end of his career Kripal became more of a bowler. He captained South Zone in the inaugural Duleep Trophy match. It was as South Zone captain that he started to demonstrate leadership skills of a high order, leading to speculation in some quarters that he might succeed Pataudi as captain – especially whenever India lost a Test match! Both Kripal and Pataudi gravitated towards Hyderabad, which was led by their charismatic friend M.L. Jaisimha. While Pataudi’s was a long innings for Hyderabad, Kripal did not continue beyond a solitary season. Suffering a setback in his health, he not only returned to Madras, but did not play first class cricket after that.

Kripal became a member of the Tamil Nadu selection committee in 1972-73 and its Chairman in 1980-81. He took his job seriously, watching as many games as humanly possible, and offering sage advice to young cricketers on the verge of higher honours. He treated them as his equals, often sharing a joke or two with nervous youngsters. He became a National Selector in 1984-85, and was in office when he died of a cardiac arrest in July 1987. He was only 53.

Kripal’s three children, Malvika, Swaran and Arjan, were all keen sportspersons, with both the boys playing Ranji Trophy cricket. Arjan Kripal Singh, the younger brother, was perhaps the more promising of the two, and once scored over 300 in an innings against Goa in a Ranji Trophy match. Remarkably, W.V. Raman also scored a triple hundred in the same innings.

I have a vivid personal memory of Kripal’s death as his son Arjan, still a teenager then, played a fighting knock of 69 on a nasty matting wicket for my team, Alwarpet Cricket Club, a day or two later. Standing at the other end as a tailender for most of that innings, I was convinced that I was in the presence of a future star. Arjan did his late father proud that day and for some years thereafter, though he did not quite fulfil his potential.

The name of A.G. Kripal Singh will certainly go down as one of the greats of Madras cricket, second only to his illustrious father in stature amidst an extraordinary family of cricketers whose ancestors came from Amritsar to Madras in the early years of the 20th Century and completely integrated into Tamil society.

* Madras Province/State/Tamil Nadu.

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In this issue

Metro Rail’s impact – on churches
Why can’t temple tanks be put to good use?
Taking a look at bridges
Portuguese San Thome and Madras Week
The Gentle Book Man – in his simplicity sublime
Kalakshetra’s new Director
The gubernatorial life
Speaking of heritage at a Sunday breakfast
Madras Week 2013
A most cerebral cricketer

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