Destiny, and an unforgettable domestic game

From Pradeep Ramarathnam, USA

From Pradeep Ramarathnam, USA
Last year, some 500 people saw the Ranji finals at the ground. The ones who didn’t turn up have no idea what they were missing. Away from the glare of international media, with dirt cheap ticket rates and questionable security, a domestic game is a great chance to get up close with cricket. And if you are lucky, you might witness something close to what I saw in 1994.
The winter of ’93 was an unusual time for Tamilians in Bangalore. After years, no decades, of a seamless, unobtrusive civil orchestra with the local Kannada populace, there was a simmering undercurrent of uneasy tension.
A first attempt at resolving the Cauvery water dispute was made by the British Government in 1890.Mysore and Madras gave way to Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, but like Cromwell’s warts, the problem refused to go away. Instead, it lurked menacingly, threating to spill blood the instant anyone would so much as stoke it. After a tribunal verdict went against Karnataka’s favor in ’91, large scale riots broke out across both neighbouring states. Some counts put the urban Tamil population in Bangalore at a staggering 38%, with a healthy number of Kannada speakers in Chennai. Bellicose politicians on an unabashed publicity binge only added fuel to the fire. Buses were stoned, shutters were down, but the 1994 Subbiah Pillai Trophy tie – Ranji ODIs for South Zone teams – was on schedule between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in January 1994.
I remember this game like it were yesterday, because it was the last game I saw at a ground with my grandfather .It was also the first domestic game I saw live. The plan was to take off to Rex theatre in the afternoon if the game got boring. I was 13, and I was fairly sure I was going to see Madhuri Dixit on the big screen that day, or, at the very least, get a nice nap in the sun and a chance at some autographs on the boundary.
Nothing prepared me for what was to happen later. It was, at the end of the day, a game of such relentless drama and one I can never forget.
Between them, Karnataka and TN had 10 players who were picked for India at some point. For Karnataka, there was Rahul Dravid , a most affable senior from my coaching camp, who I was particularly looking forward to watching, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Sunil Joshi, Anil Kumble and not to forget Syed Kirmani who, while past his prime, was still a heavy contributor with the bat, almost making it to the ’91-92 tour to Aus. Tamil Nadu had WV Raman, Robin Singh, the cavalier VB Chandrashekar , Sunil Subramaniam – now back in the news for coaching R Ashwin to 22 wickets in his debut series – and the fierce M Senthilnathan. But the one person who will never forget this day, is Shyam Chandra Bhat, the young Karnataka opener.
Bhat had shown enough promise in his debut season to be seen as a viable long-term replacement for seasoned domestic contributor Carlton Saldanha. His one-day career got off to a promising start with a 50 on debut, but in a line-up including Dravid, Kirmani and captain Kartik Jeshwant, Bhat was not expected to steal the headlines.
As it turned out, Karnataka batted first and young Bhat rode roughshod over TN with a chanceless 124. He particularly took to Robin Singh, who conceded the most runs. Bhat was well supported by Dravid, who finished unbeaten on 81.Between them, they scored the bulk of Karnataka’s total score of 284. After two innings, SC Bhat averaged 87 – it was that easy for him.
There were more people that day at the Chinnaswamy stadium than at the three India v West Indies Tests put together. After Bhat and Dravid’s masterpieces, people streamed in as entry was made free. River water was a grey area, but at least a cricket match would be won against the arch rivals.
Tamil Nadu’s VB Chandrashekar had grabbed everyone’s attention in the 1988 Irani game. Hooking helmetless against a line-up of India fast bowlers , VB let rip an innings of staggering brilliance and ferocity. He had ended up with a 100 off 56 balls, the fastest first-class hundred by an Indian. Sadly VB’s international career never took off, ending abruptly in a slew of single-digit scores. Against arguably the best bowling line-up in the domestic scene, a washed out VB was unlikely to make any sort of impact. If things went well, I thought I could catch the 2.00 pm show after Srinath knocked over VB.
As it turned out, VB chose that day to try out the forward defensive. In an innings of sustained aggression, he weathered Srinath and Prasad early on, and scored heavily off the spinners, especially Kumble, who went for 58 off his 10.When Kumble did get VB stumped for 88, TN were 170/2, with Robin Singh walking in to join the fluent WV Raman.
With four top-notch India bowlers, all Karnataka had to do was find a half decent fifth bowler. Back in those days, Jeshwant did the job, bowling left arm spin. That day, however, he decided to let the two youngsters Bhat and Dravid , brimming with confidence after their superlative batting display, have a bowl. Unmitigated disaster followed.
Raman and Robin went on to make half-centuries, falling to the fast bowlers after taking TN mighty close. Bhat bowled two overs. His first one went for 16 and his second, which he bowled well into the slog overs, went for 25. Dravid sent down three overs for close to thirty. Jeshwant went for just under five runs per over in his spell.
TN had the combative D Vasu at the crease for the last over. Karnataka, with Srinath, Prasad, Joshi and Kumble having bowled out, tossed the ball to Dravid. The game ended half way into the over. Dravid, after his 81 in the morning, ended with 3.3-0-36-0.The game was lost. What followed next was mayhem.
As the players trudged back to the pavilion, chairs were hurled into the field. Not one, not two, dozens of pieces of fine KSCA property were pelted down the path of the Karnataka fielders, many of the projectiles hurled at one man – the centurion and hero of the morning, Shyam Chandra Bhat. After a good fifteen to twenty minutes of sustained abuse (I was 13, I made notes), the cops finally got into the act to restore some sense of sanity. In the stadium at least.
The Bodyline series is truly one of the most romantic episodes of cricket. Harold Larwood never played a Test after that series, and eventually moved to Australia, the very team, and country he traumatized in 1932. He would later become a softdrinks salesman. Dravid probably doesn’t even remember this game, has over 20,000 international runs , and is still going strong. Bhat never played a game for Karnataka after that season, and that 124 was to be his last limited-overs knock.
In one game, he had seen enough. For seventeen years now, SC Bhat remains an honest banker living somewhere in Chennai, probably watching his erstwhile partner in crime carve hundred after Test hundred, and wondering what might have been.