Cricket for the Nawabs
I played cricket in the 1970s in the twin cities of Hyderabad-Secunderabad, a tranquil, overgrown village back then. Today, just like the city, the game there has grown into something unrecognisably frenetic.
It was pretty much somnolent then, and matches did not always start on time. Sometimes the umpires came late, and could then be persuaded by the rival captains to wait for all the players to arrive. Yet in an unexpected theatre of the absurd, there was this provision for two innings in a single day, with bonus points awarded to a team if it won outright. I often witnessed - and participated in - reckless attempts to win a match outright without losing points for falling below the requisite over rate.
My State Bank of India team-mate Nagesh was an expert at running through his overs in seconds, often rushing the batsmen to take guard. These were sheer bullying tactics by the big teams against the weaklings of the league. I rarely got a bowl during a long wait for recognition, yet I once managed to take three wickets in a single over - my only over in the match - when defiant batsmen were frustrating our efforts to enforce the follow-on; only for my captain, Habib Ahmed, to guffaw, "Even Ramnarayan came in useful!"
Motganhalli Laxmanarsu Jaisimha, tall, strong of muscle and lithe of movement - an aesthete in all he did on the cricket field, tennis court or golf course - was the undoubted Nawab of Hyderabad cricket. His Marredpalli Cricket Club was a throwback to the village cricket ambience of the England he last visited in 1959 as a member of Dattu Gaekwad's Indian team.
Jai's MCC was a collection of Sunday cricketers coming together for the love of the game. It could surprise you every now and then with the high quality of its cricket, depending on the availability of players of calibre - for example, Cambridge blue Santosh Reddy, or the Nawab of Pataudi on a visit to the city.
Jai himself added a touch of class with his impeccable defence and breathtaking shots. He was also a clever bowler of medium-pace swing, or offspin, as the occasion demanded, and an astute strategist as captain, marshalling his resources adroitly to beat the top teams of the city whenever he caught them napping.
Hyderabad cricket had more than its share of characters. There was Kalim-ul-Huq the legspinner, of the film-star looks, Elvis Presley hair and flamboyant ways. He had a bustling action and could turn the ball, but alas, was past his best. Like SK Patel and V Kannan of my college days in Madras, Kalim was the most industrious net bowler around. He also enjoyed a reputation as a raconteur of stories starring Kalim-ul-Huq. "Kalim just completed his 100th wicket of the season. In the nets!" his team-mates would cackle.
My own favourite character was the short-sighted old umpire Sultan Saab, who would rub salt into your wound after a batsman had hit you out of the tiny Nizam College ground, by asking, "Kya tha woh, 4 ya 6? Tum kuch bolte nahin! (What was that, 4 or 6? You tell me nothing!)"
There were other personalities like the cricket-mad PR Man Singh. His playing ambitions thwarted by poor eyesight, he diverted all his energies to a life in cricket administration. The stories of his wheeling and dealing were as prolific as those of his chivalry and valour, depending on which of two rival camps you belonged to - Man Singh's or Jaisimha's. You had to support one or the other if you wanted to amount to much in Hyderabad cricket. Each was a great contributor to the game, but a whole generation of cricketers suffered as a result of this rivalry, real or perceived, between them.
The cricket conversations of Hyderabad often revolved around past greats, especially those who did not make it to the highest level despite their undoubted gifts - because of the evil machinations of some villain or other. Tales of such skulduggery were told with relish on the lawns of Fateh Maidan Club over several draughts of the golden liquid. Eddie Aibara, a fine allrounder in the early years of the Ranji Trophy, and later a kindly, wise coach who guided many young cricketers, was one such unhonoured hero.
I was lucky to experience the different ethos of two cricket centres of the south, Madras and Hyderabad. My cricket thinking was shaped by the company I kept in both cities, though ever so slightly dominated by the greats with whom I rubbed shoulders in the twin cities. Yet my adamant shortcomings as much as my rare flashes of inspiration were of my own doing. You cannot blame Madras or Hyderabad for them.
V Ramnarayan is an author, translator and teacher. He bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s