I played my first Ranji Trophy game when I was 26 . I thought it was much delayed; I probably deserved it when I was 21-22. I had finished B.Sc Mathematics and my father pushed me to do engineering. When I was doing my engineering in Coimbatore, I came to Chennai every weekend to play first-division cricket. I was scoring a lot of runs, but there was no opening for me in the team.
I had to wait quite a bit because there were others who made their debuts. But they never quite latched on to the opportunity and I got my go. At one point, I thought I might never make it. But, I was so hell bent on wanting to play cricket that I didn't feel like going to the USA to pursue my MS degree. I asked my dad to give me one year's time and within that I would play in the Ranji Trophy. When that happened, he asked me "What now?"; I said, "Give me one more year, I will play for India". And I did play for India.
During the train journey to Hyderabad for my Ranji Trophy debut, whenever I turned around I would see someone or the other looking at me. My team-mates knew my father was a leading lawyer and I didn't come from a background where the Ranji Trophy meant a lot to me. They knew I used to drive my father's Mercedes Benz to matches. Not that I was pampered, but people looked at it and thought: "Oh god, this guy has got a lot of money." I just tried to read something on the train and make sure my nerves were settling down.
There were a few good things about making my debut at the Secunderabad Gymkhana. It has always been a good pitch to bat on and was lucky for me after that match as well. But, captain Abdul Jabbar lost the toss and we saw Abdul Azeem score a triple hundred. We then saw Khalid Abdul Qayyum and Vijay Mohanraj also get a hundred. I remember one fast bowler, Immanuel Rajkumar, was also making his debut; he must have wished he hadn't been there.
Those days few people had the Morrant pads, and Azeem was one of them. He played forward to a delivery from Rajkumar, and the ball ricocheted off the pads and went back to Rajkumar quite sharply. Rajkumar held it with one hand and appealed. It was so funny and we made fun of him. That kind of desperation was because Hyderabad's score at that time was 500 for 3 or something.
My team-mates knew my father was a leading lawyer and I didn't come from a background where the Ranji Trophy meant a lot to me. They knew I used to drive my father's Mercedes Benz to matches. Not that I was pampered, but people looked at it and thought: "Oh god, this guy has got a lot of money.
When my turn to bat came, I decided to hang on and play out 55 overs or so [on the second day]. I remember one moment when V Sivaramakrishnan was batting in the 90s, and he flicked the ball to mid-wicket to Azeem, who was their best fielder, and called for a run. He was really angry when I turned it down, but there was no run there. The next ball, Arshad Ayub went diagonally round the stumps and darted one of his faster ones - it must have been about 135 kph (laughs). He didn't offer a shot and the stump went flying. Sivaramakrishnan didn't say anything to me, and everybody in the team knew he was a fussy runner so nobody said anything. It was just his nerves in the 90s and he was looking get off strike. I don't remember how I got out, but it's a surprise I got out to Bobjee (Narasimha Rao); it must have been a terrible delivery (laughs). I was dismissed for 81.
I had never been to Hyderabad before that trip. I had read so much about the Charminar and seen photographs of it, so I desperately wanted to see it. But, once there, I felt totally disappointed; I could barely breath and move around. But, Hyderabad has been lucky in a lot of ways. I got a call to play for India in the one-dayers against New Zealand after the selectors saw me at the Fateh Maidan [Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium].
When I got back to Chepauk, there was this manager called Santhanam in the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association. When I met him, he said: "it's good you got out for 81." I was so upset because a hundred on debut would have been special, and asked him why he said that. He said batsmen who scored a hundred on debut for Tamil Nadu never played more than five or six matches. I actually ended up playing for a very long time [81 first-class games] - I made my debut in 1986 and retired in 1998.
As told to Arun Venugopal