When you walked into the gates at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, looking for the entrance of the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) offices, you would have had little clue what to expect. In India, state associations felicitate their own so often, and with so little fanfare, that you expected the KSCA's gesture to honour five of their legends would be much the same.
But when you walked out to the ground, where all the action was, it was immediately clear that this was no small evening. A dais that would have done any awards function proud, on the outfield of one of India's premier cricket grounds, with the de facto master of ceremonies for anything that meant anything in cricket - Ravi Shastri - presiding, it was clear that the KSCA was not holding back.
It would be silly to skip directly to the beginning - where Chinmay, an upcoming young singer, sent the gathering to silence with a soulful prayer invocation - without examining the circumstances that prompted this evening. Brijesh Patel, the former Indian batsman, and secretary of the KSCA, has been the last, if not the most staunch, Jagmohan Dalmiya loyalist. The current power group of the BCCI, headed by Sharad Pawar, only sidled in to welcome the KSCA into its fold once Brijesh burnt his bridges with his old ally.
That done, and this is significant for there is now no opposition whatsoever to the current power group in all of the voting associations, the BCCI was keen to repay the faith with a show of strength. Hell, even Sharad Pawar went away from his prepared speech and cracked a few jokes.
The whole evening, dominated by characters from Mumbai - the current power base of the board - was spent forging bonds. "I played for Mumbai, but I am, from Mangalore, right here in Karnataka," Ravi Shastri, the former Indian captain, boomed, and as master of ceremonies, he had everyone's attention. "When we came here to take part in many training camps through junior cricket, I remember staying in these very rooms. And we used to jump the gates and go to MG Road [the lively, commercial road not far from the stadium] to get a whiff of the sounds of the music coming out from a pub called the Blue Fox."
Professor Ratnakar Shetty, the administrative head of the BCCI, was also on the podium, and he did his bit to build bridges. "I was born and brought up in Mumbai, but I'm a Kannadiga," he said, eliciting applause. "I work in the Mumbai Cricket Association, and also in the BCCI, and if we were to have awards for the best-run association, KSCA would come first."
Even Sunil Gavaskar, a special invitee who spoke in the evening, could not resist playing to the gallery, and said, "Ravi [Shastri] and [Ratnakar] Shetty, have claimed allegiance to Karnataka, and now I must say I have a relationship too - my brother-in-law [Viswanath] is from here."
What was no doubt intended as a show of strength - from both the BCCI and the KSCA - was also an evening of exceptional cricket vintage and nostalgia. The Karnataka legends who were honoured - Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Gundappa Viswanath, Syed Kirmani and Roger Binny - richly deserved the attention they received.
Chandu Borde, a man who led many of these cricketers, set the ball rolling, saying, "Chandra, for me you were the greatest." Bishan Singh Bedi, so keen on participating in the occasion that he ended up using his mobile phone to snap a picture of those on stage once he was done, set the pace with a gentle anecdote. "I was once disciplined by the Indian board president. The charge was that I had sent Vishy to fetch a bottle of scotch from the captain's room in the middle of the night," he said. "All I could say, was, 'what was Vishy doing in my room in the first place?' And what was the captain doing at 2am? I assure you he wasn't drinking milk."
Bedi soon moved on to more serious thoughts, congratulating the KSCA for their initiative in hosting the evening, and said, "such a thought will never occur to the people in DDCA [Delhi and Districts Cricket Association] or Punjab. Or anywhere in North India."
That sharp moment apart, it was an evening to celebrate some great cricketers. Gavaskar spoke about the joy of watching "batsmen being slowly taken to their death," by Prasanna or Bedi, both looking for the classical dismissal of their respective styles of bowling. Chandrasekhar, of whom it is repeatedly asked, "has a more humble man ever played for India?" was true to form, not firing in unplayable deliveries, but thanking everyone from Yagna Narayanan [the first coach to spot him] to ML Jaisimha [his captain at South Zone] to Tiger Pataudi. Interestingly, Chandra picked Ken Barrington as the toughest batsman he had bowled to.
Kirmani, usually flamboyant and not shy of being the centre of attention, would only say, "I dedicate all my skills behind the stumps to the legendary three spinners. I had to lift my standards to keep to them." Kirmani also spoke of how he was taken as a 12-year-old boy to the Karnataka nets, at the RSI grounds in Bangalore, to keep to these spinners, and would return home bruised and battered. "My left side was black and blue, and my mother tells me I used to moan in my sleep in pain."
Binny, ever the quiet one, swayed gently out of the way of most questions that came his way. In the end, when all was said and done, the cricketers were happy, the public was entertained, and the KSCA was over the moon. They were finally back in business.