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(ARCHIVE) Vol. XVIII No. 27, may 16-31, 2009
that’s nursed cricket talent
(Courtesy Matrix)

You will have to go back to the 1960s and 70s to find an equivalent to the kind of contribution Sanmar is making to Indian cricket in terms of the number of players selected for the national squad. Teams like ACC, Mafatlal and Nirlon sometimes had more than one representative in the Indian Test team, and JK XI, which was on the scene for a mere couple of years, had three of its players touring New Zealand and West Indies in 1976, but Sanmar holds a unique position in the pantheon of major cricket patrons in India. During four decades of supporting the game, it has given India several players to choose from.

The veterans remember

A couple of Jolly Rovers’ veterans of the 1960s recall how different the cricketing scene was in those less professional times. K.R. Rajagopal, the flamboyant wicket keeper batsman, was to open the innings for Madras in a Ranji Trophy match against Hyderabad with Belliappa, his Jolly Rovers and State captain. However, he was unsure whether he would be relieved from his official duties as an engineer working at the India Cements foundry in distant Nandambakkam.

Came the morning of the match, and he was right in the thick of action at the foundry, having been there all night, his German boss showing no understanding of the importance of the match to him or sympathy for his plight.

A chance visit by Managing Director K.S. Narayanan to the foundry enabled Raja to make it to the ground in the nick of time. KSN had Raja released from duty and put him in a car with instructions to the driver to deposit him at the ground in time for the start of the match. When Raja entered the ground without his cricket kit, Belliappa, on his way to the toss, had struck his name off the list, fearing he was not going to make it. He added his name back just in time for the formal exchanging of the lists of players by the two captains. Belliappa won the toss, Rajagopal opened the innings with him, in completely borrowed gear, and scored a swashbuckling hundred!

B. Kalyanasundaram, Kalli to all, has several fond memories of his stint with Jolly Rovers, too. He was so much in awe of his seniors when he joined that he felt no human could lead such a galaxy of stars. One particular captain was Ramamurthy, who Kalli puts in the Mike Brearley class of captain as a player with modest credentials but a shrewd man manager. On one occasion, Ramamurthy completely reversed the batting order and Jolly Rovers ended up all out for 135 or so. In reply, Alwarpet CC was cruising at 90 for 1, when Kalli struck gold to dismiss them for 111.

Another memorable occasion was when Kalli reached the ground early – a rare event in Kalli’s career – for a Buchi Babu match in 1971 and the police, controlling a huge crowd which had gathered to watch Sunil Gavaskar just back from the West Indies, refused to let him in, not recognising him. The Jolly Rovers marker Manickam had to rescue him by informing the policeman what an important member of the team Kalli was. (Courtesy: Matrix.)

M. Vijay, L. Balaji and Dinesh Kartik toured New Zealand. Three other fine young Sanmar cricketers who have been chosen for India for one series or another are leg spinner Piyush Chawla, paceman Tinu Yohanan and S. Badrinath, who was desperately unlucky not to be on the flight to New Zealand with the Indian cricket team.

“The three tours of England with the Sanmar team helped us develop as cricketers and prepared us for tours with the Indian team,” says Badrinath.

The coaches contend that these tours have helped refine the players on and off the field. According to them, “They learn how to carry themselves in the social context, thereby gaining great confidence as individuals.”

The players are under no pressure from the management to perform. There is no direct contact between the players and the top management and the cricketers are treated as professionals. They are given enough space to work hard and find their own ways of performing and winning.

In addition to the superb IIT-Chemplast cricket ground and infrastructure, the teams enjoy, in both cricket and physical fitness terms, a fullfledged support team of a physio, trainer and masseur. The Sanmar pavilion, dedicated some years ago by left handed Australian great Neil Harvey, may look like an old English pavilion, but it has the latest conveniences for the players – nice showers, a lovely view and plenty of space to stretch before and after the game. Every care is taken to offer nutritious food to players – both the home team and the visitors. It may all seem like pampering but the players are put through a tough regimen of training and practice so that they are constantly match-sharp.

Here are some of the stats which have made the Sanmar cricket teams such a force to reckon with. It has won the Palayampatti Shield for the TNCA I Division league a record 15 times, the latest occasion being this year. It has contributed more than 25 cricketers to Indian teams. On more than one occasion it has swept all before it – the League, the Hindu Trophy, Moinud-Dowla, KSCA, Escorts Cup, Arlem Trophy, and Mumbai Corporate Cup. The total domination of the League and the Hindu Trophy from soon after the management took over the running of Jolly Rovers back in 1965 has perhaps been unequalled by any team.

Bharat Reddy was a member of the Indian squad which competed in the 1979 World Cup in England and also toured Australia with the Indian team. B. Arun, a fast medium bowler, played for India. L. Sivarama­krishnan, the leg spinner who starred in India’s triumphs in the World Championship of Cricket in Australia and the CBFS series in Sharjah, was a member of the Chemplast Sanmar team when first selected to play for India. Batsmen Robin Singh, T.E. Sri­ni­vasan and V.B. Chandrasekar, and Test opening bowlers T.A. Sekar and Harvinder Singh represented Chemplast teams as did Arshad Ayub, the former Hyde­rabad and India off spinner. Sunil Vason, a member of India’s World Cup winning team of 1983, played for Chemplast too. Former India captain S. Venka­ta­­­raghavan was a member of the Jolly Rovers team which won the League championship in the 1960s. Sujith Somasundar, who opened the innings for Jolly ­Rovers in the TNCA League,was another who played for India. Other Indian cricketers to have turned out for the Chemplast team include Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Debashis Mohanty.

Today, Sanmar sponsors Jolly Rovers and the Alwarpet Cricket Club in the 1st Division TNCA League. The author recently met N. Sankar, Chairman, the San­mar Group, and talked to him about the Group’s role in sponsoring cricket.

Jolly Rovers, the winners of the Palayampatti Shield, 2008-09

How did you come to sponsor cricket with such passion, when you have always been a keen amateur tennis player?

Cricket was always my first love. It’s only after I fell seriously ill when I was around 17, and could not play competitive cricket any more, that I took to playing tennis. Love for cricket was in my blood. Before me, Father (K.S. Narayanan) was a keen enthusiast. With the help of Ananthanarayan, Chief Cost Accounts Officer in India Cements, a former Ranji Trophy player and a moving spirit behind cricket in the Company, Father ran a cricket team at India Cements, mainly for fun. In the mid-1960s, we took over Jolly Rovers, a TNCA First Division League team, taking cricket sponsorship seriously. Those days, public sector banks like SBI and IOB were the main sponsors of domestic cricket. Other public sector corporations also supported the game. For some reason, the ITI Bangalore cricket team had players leaving it en masse. The General Manager of ITI asked Father to take some players if he could accommodate them. K.R. Rajagopal and Najam Husain were among them. Rajagopal was feared as a batsman. Soon, there was a stage when we had eight or nine players in the State side.

Father wanted to build a good team. The players also worked as officers in the Company, with responsibilities in sales and engineering, combining work with cricket. The team developed and grew into a very strong one. We won the league in the first year. Those days, the league was of one-day matches.

Those days, Father and Mr. S.K. Chettur, who first supported cricket while at the helm of SBI and later continued to do so in IOB, used to watch so many matches together.

In the 1970s, there were problems in the cement industry and internal issues in the Company. Father could no longer devote time to cricket. Though India Cements continued to support cricket, it was a dull phase.

In 1978-79, I joined Chem­plast as Managing Director and took on the sponsorship of Jolly Rovers. We then hired new players with the help of M. Subrama­niam. We recruited some young players. India Cements backed out hereabouts. Father too retired. It was in the 1990s that N. Srinivasan came back to India Cements and resumed cricket sponsorship there. Since, then both India Cements and Chem­plast have supported cricket and produced champion teams.

Did you watch a lot of matches?

Yes I did. There were some unique matches. During a Buchi Babu match against ACC, Bombay, at the Marina cricket ground, there was a riot against Jolly Rovers, the local team! We were so dominant that there was a reaction against it. Crowds supported the underdog.

Can you compare Jolly Rovers cricket then and now?

We were a dominant side in the 1960s. Belliappa, Raja, Venkat, Kalyanasundaram, George Thomas... it was a formidable combination. Those days, jobs in the private sector were valued commodities among cricketers. There was no livelihood in cricket. All the players worked in the office. When Chemplast got into sponsorship in 1978, we were in a cusp – the cricketer employees were playing a lot of cricket and therefore spending less time at the office. By now the first division league matches began to be of two days’ duration, to be increased to three days in the 1990s. The cricketers could no longer do a proper job at the office. At the same time, we had to look after them after their cricketing days. It was a difficult period. We had to do a lot of balancing to make sure they had a career after cricket.

By the mid-1990s, the scenario changed completely. Young people could make a career out of cricket – as players, coaches, commentators.

The investment on cricket grew substantially.

Yes, the cost of equipment increased. More than that, the cost of players grew substantially. It is a professional game. The players play cricket almost full time. They attend coaching and fitness programmes morning and evening. They are extremely busy. It is difficult to expect them to work at the office. In fact, none of them does.

What is the secret of the team’s consistent success, even in the absence of stars?

In the first few seasons, we completely dominated local cricket because of the star players we had in the team. (K.R. Rajagopal, Belliappa, Najam Husain, P.K. Dharmalingam, P.S. Narayanan, K.S. Vaidya­nathan, K. Bharadwaj, Balaji Rao, K.V.R. Murthi, V.R. Raja­raghavan, A.K. Vijayaraghavan and B. Kalyanasundaram were some of the players who made Jolly Rovers such a force to reckon with.) Later, I will attribute it to Bharat Reddy, who brought a couple of players from State Bank of India to start with. He is responsible for the tough cricket Jolly Rovers plays, and for the team spirit. He has done a great job. It is unforturnate that because of his association with ICL, Bharat had to leave and is no longer associated with us, except as a well-wisher. From the mid-1990s, India Cements has also been a dominant player, along with us.

What are the problems you face in running cricket teams?

One of the problems is that the star players are often not available, because they are away on national or State duty. In the early days, league teams were granted postponements when these players were on national duty. Nowadays, it is a disadvantage to have State and India players, as no such postponements are granted.

What do you gain from sponsoring cricket?

Our sponsorship is not commercial, as we do not sell a product like tyres or cement.We are doing it for the love of cricket, though there is some corporate advertising. Given that, it calls for a lot of commitment to keep going at this level of expense.

Do you have second thoughts about going on at this level of sponsorship?

I have had second thoughts over the years. The whole scene has changed, especially since the emergence of IPL last year. It has changed the dynamics dramatically. Many of our players have been selected for IPL teams – Badri, Vijay, Vidyut, Balaji, Dinesh Kartik, Suthesh and Tinu Yohanan. It is a lucrative option for the players, as the numbers in IPL are mind-boggling. At the same time, these options are only available to seven or eight people. I don’t know how the future will pan out. It is evolving.

The issue is that we have on board players to whom we pay salaries through the year, while they are available to play only a few games for us, not even 50% of our matches.

It happened in the case of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh.

That was expected, but they probably played more for us than today’s players, because there was less cricket then. They only went away to play Ranji Trophy and Test cricket. Today, there is a lot more cricket being played.

ICL took away a number of players, too.

Yes, that was the other problem. It has been a very unfortunate development, this dispute between ICL and BCCI. I hope it is soon resolved. We need more ICLs. IPL can take care of 40 players or so at best. We are denying the rest a chance to earn a living. I do hope the problem gets resolved.

What is the most important contribution Sanmar has made to cricket?

Jolly Rovers and our other team Alwarpet Cricket Club have been nurseries of cricket talent. We have produced nearly 30 international cricketers. Many of them are our discoveries. Full marks to Bharat and his team, who spot talent at various levels. Balaji, Vijay, Suthesh and Badri are examples from the current batch.

And the facilities?

We took over the IIT ground some ten years ago. We always wanted a home ground. The first attempt at the University Union did not last long. The same thing happened at Vivekananda College. When we develop a world-class cricket ground, we cannot have it used for other purposes. IIT gave us a chance and we have developed a real state-of-the-art ground. Many international players have played there, the women’s World Cup took place there. The Indian team has trained there and was even selected there, when Chandu Borde was chairman of selectors.

There are restrictions now on players from other States taking part in the TNCA league.

Yes, there is a TNCA ruling restricting outstation players. It is acceptable if the rule is consistent. In IPL, you have players from all over the country and the world. We have to recognise whether it is a profession or a sport still.

Did our standards improve when more other State players played here?

Certainly. The standard improved dramatically when they all came and played here. Chennai has perhaps the best organised league in India. Players want to come and compete here. They get excellent match practice. But the one-year residency rule makes it difficult for them.

Chemplast used to compete in tournaments outside the State.

It still does, but nowadays our key players have to skip them when they are selected for the country or IPL. The number of tournaments and participations is coming down in the current economic scenario as well.

Looking back, do you have a sense of accomplishment?

Certainly. We have done a lot for cricket. Going forward, I am not so sure how it will all unfold. The whole game has changed. The ambience has changed. Now cricket is itself a profession, far more lucrative than a job elsewhere. Is there a role for people like us who sponsor amateur cricketers? Perhaps a new role will evolve.


In this issue

A scheme to green...
How about a master plan...
Wayside inns, headload rests...
Sponsorship that's...
Historic residences...
Other stories in this issue...

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