The life and times of Sadanand Viswanath September 5, 2008

'I stepped out of the whirlpool'

An account of the highs and lows in the life of former Indian wicketkeeper Sadanand Viswanath who now revels in his role as umpire in domestic Indian cricket

Back then: Sadanand Viswanath with a fan © Mid Day

Fame. Tragedy. A battle with the bottle. Hope. Dream. Faith. Sadanand Viswanath has been to hell and back. After 14 years as an umpire, the 'A' Test between Australia and India in Bangalore is his first major game - and, possibly, his redemption song.

"The angry young days of Vishy are over," he says as dusk descends on the Chinnaswamy Stadium. "It has been some rollercoaster ride but it's about finding peace now. I have made my share of mistakes (but) I managed to step out of the whirlpool."

Indian cricket's shooting star of the 1980s, Viswanath acquired a huge fan following with his sleight of hand behind the stumps, his boisterous camaraderie with seniors and his flamboyant personality. Sunil Gavaskar, in his book One-Day Wonders, says one of the main reasons for India winning the World Championship of Cricket in 1985 "was the presence of Sadanand Viswanath behind the stumps."

"Fame does funny things," Viswanath says. "The adoration from the fans is indescribable. You have to be there to understand it."

He had it all. Then, suddenly, the lights went out.

He'd already dealt with tragedy once, when his father committed suicide - following financial problems - in 1984, a few months before he made it to the Indian team. His cricketing achievements helped overcome that but an even bigger calamity awaited.

In 1985, just before he went on the tour of Sri Lanka, his mother underwent open-heart surgery. She never recovered. That was the beginning of the end for 'Sada'; a broken finger hampered his wicketkeeping and, though he picked up six dismissals to equal the Indian record in his last Test against Sri Lanka at Kandy, he was out of the reckoning next season.

Fame does funny things. The adoration from the fans is indescribable. You have to be there to understand it. One should go out on a high and leave the public lingering with a happy memory.

Syed Kirmani, whom he had startled as a teenager a few years earlier while hitching a scooter ride - "Kiri, one day I will take the gloves from you" - came back with a vengeance and waiting in the wings were Kiran More and Chandrakant Pandit. Sada, emotionally vulnerable and "trying to get his life in order", couldn't handle the competition.

There followed a failed relationship and a battle with alcohol, which resulted in his giving up cricket. "Yes, I went over the limit, attended great parties where I had lots of alcohol but, luckily, I never reached the point of no return. To fill that personal void people turn to alcohol but you don't make it the core of your existence. It was about looking for affection, a shoulder to cry on ... a cry in the wilderness."

He refuses to blame anyone for that period, calling it a cause-and-effect situation. "I knew then that if I get my thoughts right and go towards my target I will get back what I achieved."

Having quit the game, he left the country and moved to the Middle East on a 14-day visa. He advertised for a job in the local papers; offers came but he was hesitant to join. "With two days left for my visa to expire, the friend who'd brought me to the Middle East introduced me to an NRI, Raghuram Shetty, who offered me a job."

His salary was 4,000 dirhams; his first paycheque was celebrated over a bottle of Johnnie Walker. But - there is always a 'but' in Sada's life - he longed for India, for home. "They told me the first year is the most difficult in the Gulf. If you survive that, you are fine. But I couldn't stay after seven months. India was where I was adored, loved and the people I cared for lived there. I returned home and rejoined my bank job [in Bangalore] after a month."

This was in 1991, and for four years he lived a relatively anonymous life. But in 1995, determined to break out of the sedentary lifestyle, he quit the bank when they transferred him out of Bangalore. The finances dried up and he moved out of his rented house into a hotel where he lived for five years.

Now: Sadanand the umpire © Mid Day

"Hotel Kamadenu [now closed down] offered me a room at a monthly rent of 2500 rupees, which was cheaper than the house." Sada shared a room with a chef from a five-star hotel and began thinking his way out of the mess. "Friends suggested a benefit match for me; [the then state chief minister] Ramakrishna Hegde had given me a plot of land in Bangalore after the World Championship of Cricket and I wanted to develop that."

He spoke to Imran Khan and the Pakistanis and a couple of West Indians about an India v Rest of the World game but it never happened. A few years later, a match between "Hansie Cronje's Devils" and "Indian Angels" fell through when Cronje was found guilty of match-fixing.

In between, his second innings - in the game, in life itself - began. A letter arrived from the Indian board asking if he was interested in appearing for the umpiring examinations. "Ten of us, including Kirmani, Bishen Singh Bedi and Lalchand Rajput, landed up in Hyderabad. I did well in the viva...that made me dream of living a life with cricket."

Not long after, he met officials of the Karnataka State Cricket Association [KSCA] including the secretary, the former India player Brijesh Patel, and was informed of his benefit match. "It was 2003, 16 years after I last played the game."

To ensure the money wasn't frittered away, Patel put it in a joint account with the association. Soon an auto showroom opened on his plot of land and "finally", as he says, the financial worries eased.

However, the loneliness has remained as he looks to take a bigger step in his umpiring career. "I have a coaching camp and i am busy with that for three days in a week. I have been umpiring for the past 14 years. I just wait every year for the season to start. With a promotion, I will be officiating in 15 games, instead of six games currently, which means 60 days of umpiring."

Life is certainly looking up for Sada. "Thankfully, with the help of friends, the KSCA, Brijesh Patel and the BCCI, along with my sheer determination to keep fighting, I've kept to the right path. Tomorrow nobody should say here was an Indian keeper who went down the dark abyss. That's not a good thing to hear."

"You should go out on a high and leave the public lingering with a happy memory."

Fate denied Sadanand Viswanath that exit the first time around; now he has a chance to make amends.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • A. on September 10, 2008, 15:55 GMT

    Great article, thank you for publishing it and please convey my best wishes to Vishy. Touching and at the same time, inspiring story, something that we all can learn from. I will always be grateful to Vishy for the fantastic memories of the Benson & Hedges World Series cup in 1985. I was just 8 years old then, but the performance of the team then was so spectacular, I just fell in love with cricket and have been a fanatic since. I still hope after all these years that India will one day produce such a world beating team which was light years ahead of the rest. I'm not sure it will ever happen. So I think Vishy for providing us Indians that opportunity.All the best to you sir, for your second innings.

  • ATUL on September 10, 2008, 12:00 GMT

    A very good read. I read about Sada in Sunny's books and the WSC highlights which are often shown on TV. All the best for the second innings, Sada.

    A word of appreciation for the BCCI as well who sent him that letter after all those years.

  • Subhasish on September 9, 2008, 18:43 GMT

    Dear Sriram Thank you for this unebelievable article on Sada. Among the many fans that he had captivated, I remember how his style got me behind the wickets- A position that I never took while playing. I did not get to play any high level cricket (Mom wanted to me to be an engineer, which I became!), but Sada remains etched in my memory as the benchmark in keeping. It is so nice to see his redemption. How indeed agonizing it was to hear my fallen hero and how equally elated I am to hear his redemption! I wish him to redeem his place in history behind wickets, albeit with Gloves.

  • Tejas on September 9, 2008, 17:54 GMT

    I was pretty young(5 or 7) when Sada played for India. And there are some things that just stick in your mind. Reading through the comments of the readers, slowly those other forgotten instances start flashing in your mind. But the one I remember even today and thats when I understood what being street smart in cricket means is when he ran out Rameez Raja (I think) in one such match he played. I remember it was colored clothing but have no idea what match that was. The Pakistanis were playing well and the other opener glanced one to deep fine leg and ran a single. The throw comes in one bounce at about knee height. Sada pretends that he didnt collect the ball and that it went through his legs and yells at the fielder who threw it. A split second decision for Rameez, who isnt sure what happened & attempts a second run. The moment he took a step out of the crease, the bails were whipped off-run out. That was Sada's flamboyance and smartness. And Rameez's sheepish look said it all.

  • S on September 9, 2008, 12:43 GMT

    Thanks Moderatorji for sharing Sadanand Vishy's views. I am not sure if this a little late in the day but is it possible to have some sort of a follow up piece? I would love to read about Sadanand's memories of 1985 World series of cricket. Even though 85 WSC was nominated as India's greatest win, ahead of 83 WC, oddly enough we know little about it. So we know about Yashpal Sharmas innings in 83 semis, but little about Kapil in 85 against NZ. Since Vishy was the keeper to likes of Kapil, Binny and a very talented Shiva his analysis of them would be great as well.

    I would very much love to hear about 85 WSC, is there any chance you can satiate mine, and many like me, desires??

  • Cricinfo on September 9, 2008, 8:54 GMT

    As the moderator, We thought our readers might like to know how Sada feels about the outpourings of genuine sentiment from them. Well, in his own words, here it comes: "Convey my greetings and thanks to all those friends who showed care and faith and for their prayers and good wishes which will hold me in good stead in my second innings. Pls post this message from me to all the readers. Thanks a lot. Regards. Vishy"

  • SRIRAM on September 8, 2008, 21:43 GMT

    Very nice to see Sadanand in news after a long long time. I vividly remember the WSC Benson & Hedges in Aus, 1985 which India won. One of the architects was Sadanand Vishy along with Kris, Ravi, Lax and Kaps. Wondering where he has gone all these years... Good Luck and Best Wishes in your second innings.

    Sriram S USA

  • ramdas on September 8, 2008, 19:21 GMT

    sadanand vishwanath-was one of the most naturally gifted wicketkeepers i have seen-he had personal problems-as an admirer of his cricketing abilities-i wish him all the best-this boy when he came into the indian team was absolutely stunning- with warm regards, dr. ramdas rai

  • Deepak on September 8, 2008, 12:51 GMT

    One thing you have not touched upon is Vishy Sir's coaching. He used to coach at NAL Grounds in Bangalore. He was a source of inspiration for many kids like me. He wanted us not just too be good cricketers, but excellent human beings and he did all he could for us. I remember when my parents told me to go there first. I was quite upset to leave BPCA but I am eternally grateful to my parents for forcing the change.

    My years with him taught me a great deal, about not just cricket, but life. Despite monetary troubles, which all us kids knew he had(this was his Hotel Kamadenu days), the passion for the game was unmistakable, and sometimes quite overwhelming. The love for the sport, and the love for us kids was genuine and there for all to see. I hope to visit him when I get back home, and I hope he remembers me as fondly as I remember him.

  • Rajesh on September 8, 2008, 10:01 GMT

    Thanks a lot Sriram to let us know about this Gentleman..I still remember a Ranji match between TamilNadu Vs Karnataka in MAC,Madras where he hit a straight six which just went above my Head..After the session was over he came to me and enquire everything was fine....All the best Sada..When i come to India i vl definitely see one of your matches...Would like to see you in Elite panel soon...

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