Love before first sight
Yere Goud. I can't say what made me decide I liked him. I had never seen him bat. I didn't even know what he looked like. Maybe he just filled a gap in my life. It was in late 2000 that I first heard of him, and that might be a significant detail, because Ajay Jadeja had just been banned, and was therefore no longer capable of making me pace anxiously in front of the TV.
Yere Goud. I had never seen him bat. I didn't even know what he looked like. But in late 2000, his name popped up often enough in the Hindu to be burrowed into my consciousness. Usually it was in the brief scorecards at the bottom of the Ranji Trophy round-ups, which were unaccompanied by photographs or descriptions of any of the innings that added up to his chart-topping aggregate that season. Maybe there was the occasional line or two pertaining to the number of balls he had faced and the boundaries he had struck. Maybe there were a couple of adjectives thrown in: "promising", "talented", "prolific". If there was anything more substantial, I missed it.
Yere Goud. To my 13-year-old eyes it was an unusual name, giving up no clue of its provenance. The fact that he was playing for Railways meant he could have come from anywhere. I didn't think about any of this then, but I'm trying, 14 years later (has it really been that long?), to figure out what exactly it might have been that drew me to him. Maybe I would have ignored him if he'd had a more commonplace name. Who can say?
Railways reached the final that season, and lost to Baroda. I watched the closing stages on TV, when Railways, chasing 223, collapsed from 190 for 6 to 201 all out. I remember Zaheer Khan running through the lower order. I remember Murali Kartik taking a swing at the stumps with his bat, and only just missing them, after he was given out caught behind. Goud, by then, had played his part, out of my sight, scoring 65 and 20 and taking a catch in each innings.
It would be a distortion of memory to say Goud was my favourite cricketer, but for a while, for that season and the next one perhaps, I wished him well, and I told some of my friends about him, about this promising, talented and prolific batsman who would soon play for India.
He didn't. He kept making runs but never again approached the heights of 2000-01. The words "talented", "promising" and "prolific" began appearing next to names of younger batsmen. Other labels attached themselves to Goud: gritty, dogged, veteran.
In 2008 I began working as a reporter for the Hindu. That December I covered my first Ranji Trophy game, Tamil Nadu versus Railways. On a benign Chepauk pitch three Tamil Nadu batsmen made first-innings centuries. Railways lost a wicket early in their reply, about an hour from stumps on day two. In walked Goud. What if he turned out to be an ugly plodder with a crouching stance?
If Goud had been an ugly plodder with a crouching stance, I wouldn't have written this. I wouldn't have attached any extra significance to my perusals of Ranji Trophy scorecards back in late 2000. Goud, as fate would have it, was good to watch. I thought so, at any rate.
It was hard to pin down his style, because there were no idiosyncratic flourishes, no tics or jerky movements. He looked relaxed in the knowledge that he could bat forever if he wished to on that pitch, and was consequently in no hurry to get runs. He stayed still at the crease and looked particularly secure against spin, never over-committing or getting into unsound positions. Occasionally, when it was pitched right up, he leaned over the ball and eased it into the covers. On this Chepauk outfield, you only needed to place it in the gap to send it skimming away to the boundary.
Goud batted through the rest of the session, and for most of day three, before he was eighth out for 97. By this time, perhaps an hour from stumps, one of Chennai's older and more jaded cricket reporters had arrived at the ground and sat himself next to me. Peering over the scorers' desk, he looked at the numbers next to Goud's name and then at me. "Ninety-seven off 293 balls. Can I call it a gritty knock?"
I'm not entirely sure he used the word "gritty". It's quite possible he said "dogged". But I'm fairly certain his report the next day described Goud's innings as a "gritty/dogged knock from the 37-year-old veteran."
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo