July 7, 2001

He was the Nawab of Hyderabad cricket...

"Do you remember that evening in Bangkok in January 1978 when we had some 12 bahts between us and needed to buy a bottle of soda?" my old captain would ask, recalling the ridiculous experience of circumstantial poverty that had had a couple

"Do you remember that evening in Bangkok in January 1978 when we had some 12 bahts between us and needed to buy a bottle of soda?" my old captain would ask, recalling the ridiculous experience of circumstantial poverty that had had a couple of thirsty souls seeking desperate measures on alien soil. He would then proceed to describe the clothes you wore, the décor of the hotel room in which you had been salivating for Scotland's premier produce, and even try to remember the name of the waiter who rescued you from dehydration.

This eye for detail and prodigious memory stood Motganahalli Laxminarsu Jaisimha in good stead as captain of Hyderabad for nearly two decades. Every little nuance of the leading batsmen of the day was filed away in his mental database for future action. The moment one of them took guard against his team, the field was carefully rearranged; and with Jai's reputation for cunning on a cricket field, that was enough to sow doubt in the mind of the batsman.

Everyone knows that ML Jaisimha was a stylist par excellence, with his immaculate grooming, graceful walk and copybook technique. Nothing ugly marred anything he did on the cricket ground, tennis court or golf course. Even to friendly arm-wrestling, in which I recall no youngster ever defeated him, he brought an elegance and nonchalance that could compare with the seeming effortlessness of his cricket. Jai was a man of strong likes and dislikes - and he disliked cricket that was aesthetically objectionable. As a result, he had no time for some players of considerable utility whose methods were crude and who might have been better appreciated by other captains.

Today, two years ago, Jaisimha breathed his last. He left behind him a way of life steeped in sport, and a host of friends and acquaintances replete with memories of the fantastic hospitality of the Jaisimha household. He was the most feared captain of his time in Indian cricket, someone the Indian captain `Tiger' Pataudi was happy to play under in the Ranji Trophy. And as a Hyderabad player of the time, I can vouch for Pataudi's admiration for him and total acceptance of his leadership.

I close this tribute with a reference to a masterstroke in 1975 that gave Hyderabad a rare victory after being led by 220 runs in the first innings of a three-day match. Winning the toss against Railways in the Ranji Trophy knockout, and electing to bat on what looked like a perfect strip, Jai - and our other batsmen - discovered wet spots on it from excessive watering the previous night. Left arm medium pacer Anil Mathur was virtually unplayable. There was a steady procession of batsmen and soon we were 50 for 8, well before lunch.

That is when Jai declared. His move paid off as our medium pacers too posed problems to the Railway batsmen. Soon they were 65 for 7, but the wicket improved and a record eighth wicket stand helped Railways reach a total of 270.

Hyderabad piled up quick runs in the second innings and bowled the opponents out in about three hours of play to win the match with minutes to spare. It was MLJ's finest moment as captain.