As a young cricket fanatic lapping up everything the media of the period offered by way of reportage and history, I was moved by the misfortune that struck Geoff Griffin, the young fast bowler from South Africa who was no-balled repeatedly for throwing, not only in the Lord's Test in 1960 but even in an exhibition affair put on specially for the Queen following the early completion of the official match.
It was still relatively easy for me in distant Madras to be detached about the young man's humiliation and distress, consoling myself with the thought that chucking must be ruthlessly eliminated from the game. And my views on the subject haven't changed in all these years, though the hurt an offending bowler invariably undergoes when punished can be pitiable.
When I witnessed a similar episode in domestic cricket some 20 years later, it was not so easy for me to be rational. A Ranji Trophy match between Hyderabad and Tamil Nadu in Hyderabad in 1980 provided that repeat occasion, but this time my feelings as a spectator were rather more complicated. One of the umpires in the match, Piloo Reporter, was a good friend, with whom I shared a rapport and a quiet (or not so quiet) joke or two whenever we met. Now Reporter had a fearsome reputation as a no-nonsense one-man brigade out to rid the game of the scourge of chucking. I respected him for his commitment to his principles and the courage with which he did his job.
To this day, Vasan is convinced that the umpire had been forewarned to look out for an illegal bowling action, else how would he call him in his very first over?
In the Hyderabad team was a young man I liked and admired, who was trying to establish himself as a fast bowler. L Vasan was tall and well built, a genuine quick, and had recently been successful as captain of the Osmania University and South Zone Universities teams, winning both the Rohinton Baria and Vizzy trophies. He had earned the respect of his team-mates and rivals with his sense of fair play and fighting qualities, but the one troubling aspect of his cricket was that people were whispering behind his back about the legality of his bowling action.
I had watched Vasan in action a few times, even played with him, but I was never able to decide if he chucked or not. He had quite a high-arm action, which should have made it difficult to throw.
The Hyderabad captain MV Narasimha Rao made the match memorable for himself and his team by scoring 91 and running through the Tamil Nadu batting with a stunning 7 for 21 after Tamil Nadu got off to a breakneck start, with the openers Kris Srikkanth (88) and V Sivaramakrishnan (51) putting on 145 and then being dismissed in quick succession. Barely 15 overs later, when Rao led his team back to the pavilion, Tamil Nadu had been bundled out for 194.
The dramatic collapse completely overshadowed the drama of Vasan being no-balled three or four times by Reporter in his initial overs. As was his wont, Reporter called Vasan from his position as straight umpire standing back a couple of yards. To this day, Vasan is convinced that the umpire had been forewarned by someone to look out for an illegal bowling action, else how would he call him in his very first over - and while standing as straight umpire at that? When I met Vasan later that fateful day, he was almost tearful when he asked me what I thought of his action. To my shame I don't think I gave him any solace with my reply. I tried to make amends by inviting both Reporter and Vasan home for dinner, in the hope that Vasan would receive some clarity about his action from the umpire's explanation.
Thirty-five years have elapsed since that unusual dinner, but I was recently reminded of the incident when I met Vasan in his Southern California home. He was a most gracious and helpful host as he tried to make my stay and work there as comfortable as possible. An engineering graduate of Osmania University, he went to the US in 1981 to study, and worked for some years as an engineering design consultant, before he became a successful manufacturer of kitchen equipment. He showed me around his impressive plant and introduced me to his efficient and highly motivated workforce, some 80 strong.
The key to Vasan's success as an entrepreneur was his disappointment as a cricketer, even if being called for chucking came as a rude shock to him. ''That was the one turning point in my career," he told me. "I decided to turn my attention from cricket, which had been my all-consuming passion for as long as I could remember, to a career in engineering. Thankfully, I had always been a good student, strong in my basics." And indeed, untouched by bitterness, he transformed cricketing adversity into opportunity.