Sadagoppan Ramesh May 3, 2010

Coming soon to a theatre near you

... is S Ramesh, the former India opener, now trying to make his way as an actor. He talks about getting dropped, dealing with frustrations, and discovering his inner funny man

Walking into Sadagoppan Ramesh's house, the first thing that meets the eye is opulence. There is attention to detail in every corner of the plush, spacious, contemporary, breezy 11th-floor apartment in Chennai's upscale MRC Nagar. An arrangement of bamboo shoots resting on white pebbles greets you near the front door. Not the sort of home you'd expect a cricketer who didn't quite make it to have. Then again, this is the home of a player who has put behind him the disappointments of an aborted career to start afresh in another field, which has kept him in the limelight - show business.

Ramesh looks almost exactly the same as nine years ago, when he last played a Test for India. The prospect of meeting a Tamil movie actor often conjures up images of a larger-than-life personality, but Ramesh, new in the field, doesn't fit the prototype yet. He has just finished shooting his latest movie, Patta Patti 50-50, a cricket-centric comedy where he plays the lead role, appearing as himself. He's eagerly awaiting its release in May to gauge how he has been accepted in his chosen field. After more than three months of hectic shooting in Tamil Nadu's Madurai district, Ramesh has been using his spare time to catch up with family and friends and also take off to the hills.

Since 2001, Ramesh's life has been a rollercoaster ride, having endured the pain of being dropped not only by India but also his home state of Tamil Nadu. In between, he got married, moved states during a Ranji Trophy season, and dabbled in commentary and television before slowly finding his feet in the movies. Where did things go wrong? Could he have done things differently? How did he deal with rejection?

When he made his Test debut at his home ground in 1999 and left everyone spellbound with pristine drives off Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, it seemed as if India had finally unearthed another fearless opener. At the end of the Sri Lanka tour in September 2001, where a majority of the batsmen failed, Ramesh had respectable returns of 223 runs at 37.16.

It all started to go wrong when a back injury ruled him out of the South Africa tour. It was the start of a farcical revolving-door policy at the top of the order, where India tried out as many as 10 different opening combinations over three years. Though he had scored a half-century in his last Test, Ramesh was already a forgotten man.

After more than two years off the radar, he had another opportunity when he was picked for the 2003-04 tour of Australia as a third opener. What went on in the background is still shrouded in mystery, even for Ramesh himself, who wasn't given an opportunity in any of the four Tests despite performing decently in the side games.

The puzzling events started on the morning of the tour matchagainst Victoria. "I didn't even know I was playing until I sat down for breakfast that morning," Ramesh recalls. "Andrew Leipus [the physiotherapist] told me I was replacing VVS Laxman, who had the flu. I said, 'Are you kidding?'

"It wasn't the captain or the coach who told me, and I was really surprised that they didn't. Sourav [Ganguly] asked me to bat at No. 3. I had no batting practice before the game. I had to ask one of the crew members, Ramky the analyst, to give me throwdowns. Sachin and I had a big partnership. I scored 87."

For the next game, in Brisbane, Ramesh was inexplicably pushed to No. 7, giving Deep Dasgupta a chance at the top. It was obvious that India were experimenting to find the perfect foil for Virender Sehwag, but on the eve of the first Test at the Gabba, Ganguly decided to revert to the combination of Sehwag and Aakash Chopra - which turned out eventually to be successful. But Ramesh was a casualty, a victim of a lack of clarity on his position in the side.

When he returned from Australia, Ramesh got the disturbing news that he wasn't needed with Tamil Nadu either. A selector explained that they were building a younger team and that Ramesh didn't fit in their scheme of things. The timing couldn't have been worse, because Ramesh was trying to make his comeback.

Like many other Tamil Nadu players, he found work elsewhere and represented weaker teams like Kerala and Assam. Though it was a climbdown, playing for Plate teams, Ramesh enjoyed better stature among his new team-mates and bosses, who treated him with more respect. But despite scoring over a thousand runs for Kerala one season, there was no national recall in sight, and the writing was on the wall that his Ranji career was stagnating.

Ramesh describes the dark days of 2004 as the worst phase of his career. Dealing with rejection tests the strongest characters, more so in sport than in any other field. With such a large pool of players to pick from, and a bad performance around the corner, a sizeable number of professional sportsmen are bound to be left behind - especially in a system like India's, with its lack of transparency. Ramesh didn't have someone to put an arm around his shoulder to explain why exactly he was rejected and what he could do to revive his career.

Indian cricket has had its share of sob stories, of cricketers who couldn't come to grips with handling fame or being dropped, and going on to endure wretched periods in their personal and professional lives. Players like Sadanand Viswanath, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, Maninder Singh and Vinod Kambli were notable among them; some even had rough times with alcohol and drugs.

Fortunately, Ramesh had a strong family net to help him through the dark days.

"My father-in-law watched my debut in Chepauk, and he was a fan of my batting even before he met me. They dreamt of me making a comeback. In 2004, when things didn't work out, I actually had to console them."

He was making runs, but the frustrations ran deep - hidden though they may have been. Being cynical over your fortunes is one thing, but expressing it is another. Ramesh doesn't belong to the same category as a Sreesanth or a Harbhajan Singh, whose approach to giving free rein to their emotions often leaves them poorer in the pocket.

Ramesh had his own ways of dealing with disappointments. He told himself that he had been luckier than a thousand other players, who'd chop off an arm or leg to play for India. Whatever little he had achieved was still more than what plenty of players could dream of.

"When I went through a bad patch, the best thing that happened to my life was my daughter. She was like my medicine, she helped me get over it. I used to keep my feelings to myself, and my wife, Aparna, used to ask me many times, 'How are you are not angry?' "

Did Ramesh's soft-spoken, nice-guy image work against him and make him a pushover?

"I sometimes wish I practised harder. I was never a Rahul Dravid. People like him and Kumble live and breathe cricket. South Indians rely a lot on talent and not much on big scores. Dravid is a typical West Zone player, who can bat for long hours"

"It's there in the Indian system, where more than your performance, people see how you behave on the outside," Ramesh says. "If you are very emotional, people think you are a very aggressive cricketer and more serious about your game. Having said that, there are some really quiet cricketers who are very aggressive when it comes to the crunch. Unfortunately I was not made that way. But I had the fire to perform."

Ramesh can now look back at his career objectively. Critics were sceptical about his lack of footwork, which they said would expose him on bouncy surfaces. While Ramesh doesn't entirely agree, he does say he wishes he had employed a better work ethic.

"I sometimes wish I practised harder. I was never a Rahul Dravid. People like him and Kumble live and breathe cricket. South Indians rely a lot on talent and not much on big scores. They are happy with a 40 or a fifty. Dravid is a typical West Zone player who can bat for long hours."

Ramesh's advice to youngsters who wish to have long Test careers is to follow Dravid's discipline. What separates Dravid and Tendulkar from the rest, he says, is that they decided early in their careers they would not settle for anything less than a decade as a India cricketer. Ramesh is also worried about young players prioritising the IPL over Test cricket. He mentions the example of a player who wanted to play Tests before the IPL simply because his bidding price would be higher.

Ramesh hasn't retired; he keeps in touch with the game through first-division cricket in Chennai, where he is still among the runs. Looking back at the last nine years, he knows he could have scripted things better. But he was always destined to remain in the spotlight, and acting has opened new doors. At least now his scripts are written for him.

Kanishkaa Balachandran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 5, 2010, 1:28 GMT

    I hope Ramesh would read this someday! We're proud of you, I still remember cheering for you when I was studying for my 12th board exams and following your scores on the internet whenever you played. Will never forget the hatrick catch you took at eden. :) All the very best, let's hope you set the screen on fire in Tamil Cinema, Vazhga Ramesh! Kalakku :) - Cricket fan from Chennai ;)

  • Dummy4 on May 4, 2010, 20:38 GMT

    In india where there is such huge pool of players on fringe you have to catch your opporutnity by the scruff.

    Ramesh did not get the opportunities but he like Aakash also did not set Ganges on fire when there were others like Virendera, WAsim Jaffer, Gambir even Dhawan waiting their turns

  • Dummy4 on May 4, 2010, 15:35 GMT

    Apart from the Indo-Pak Test series where he shined, his knock of 55 against Zim at the 1999 world cup in england showed a lot of character. Replacing Sachin in such a pressure game and doing well is surely worth appreciation.

  • praveen on May 4, 2010, 5:34 GMT

    Ramesh was one of my favorite batsmen to watch. His first test innings was a pleasing cameo. But his most impressive innings was the 95 or 96 he got against Pakistan in that same series. That innings helped India to win the match and is more valuable than any 100 or 200 scored by other batsmen in easy situations. One of the factors that contributed to selectors developing negative opinion about Ramesh is the non stop comments made by cricket commentators about his lack of footwork. They just couldn't digest the fact that someone could be so unconventional and still be successful. They said the same about Sehwag but he proved them wrong in a most resounding fashion. I wish they had chosen Ramesh as Sehwag's opening partner in that 2003 series against Australia. What a great pair they would have been! Ramesh's career may have ended abruptly but in his career he has played innings he can be proud of.Fans will never forget his artistry and his bravery standing up to the fiercest opposition

  • Sunil on May 4, 2010, 4:41 GMT

    I agree with many of the comments here. Ramesh, you will always stand out in our memories for the way you handled Waqar and Wasim nonchalantly during that Pak tour. They were at their peak and you saw them off like a cool cucumber - even if was for 30 or 40 odd runs - you did the job for your country. We'll drink to your good health and lots of success!

  • SRIVATSAN on May 4, 2010, 1:17 GMT

    What a waste of good talent. Ramesh was becoming a very good fielder at gully taking a few good catches (Srilankan tour ?) and he got an absolute raw deal. Yet another case of regional divide. It is great that he has taken things in his stride, rather than express himself publicly. Good luck to his future career.

  • Viswathika on May 4, 2010, 1:09 GMT

    Ramesh, You are being very diplomatic. Every average Chennai fan knows that you didn't get along well with the `Dada' which cost you in the end. don't worry. Dada is known for upsetting even bigger people like Sachin, Kumble, Dravid and even foreign players like Steve Waugh. He does expect people to worship his path. With him it is a case of either you're with me or out. On your own front, I think you didn't have the mental strength to bounce back because anyone who can drive Wasim Akram's first ball for a four is not an average batsman. I was one of those who watched your debut from the stadium and I cut classes for that. I have even watched Santhosh Subramaniyan. Good luck (at least) in your acting career.

  • Unmesh on May 3, 2010, 21:50 GMT

    Only thing I would say to Ramesh is that he is not a forgotten man, at least to the cricket fans who watched that 1999 series against Pakistan. I still remember his nonchalant flicks off the bowling of Waqar and Wasim, and the sweetly timed drives against spinners. Unlike other domestic Indian players, he never seemed 'hurried' against fast bowlers; he always had that extra split-second to play his shots. Later on, he probably didn't make as many big scores; but even his 30s and 40s were a treat to watch, just for his timing and wonderful hand-eye coordination. --Unmesh

  • shafeen on May 3, 2010, 21:45 GMT

    Ramesh was one of the classiest players I've seen - he stood up straight, hardly moved until the ball was on him, and then just gave it a gentle tap which sent it flying towards the boundary. I thought he could have done much more for his country. reminds me of david gower - who's technical weakness' didn't stop him from being a prodigious performer.

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