V Ramnarayan bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s. His latest book is Third Man, Recollections from a Life in Cricket
Kumar Sangakkara's exit from international cricket so soon after Mahela Jayawardene's retirement leaves a void in Sri Lankan cricket as significant as the departure of India's batting greats from the scene a few seasons ago. Sangakkara was a cricketer's cricketer, a batsman's batsman, a left-hander's left-hander. That, however, did not mean he was not a mass hero as well. He was not the most stylish southpaw among a tribe known to be naturally graceful, yet his batting was easy on the eye, never clumsy even on the rare occasions he was out of form. His was an efficient, often voluble presence behind the stumps; his glovework was not overtly spectacular, his chatter was teasing, funny and aggressive.
His captaincy was understated, effective, frequently successful. He was Tendulkar-like as a record-maker, but rarely seemed preoccupied with records. He crept into your consciousness so unobtrusively that you did not realise he had occupied a permanent spot there as one of your favourite cricketers in a lifetime of cricket watching.
Most of my cricketing heroes have been right-handed. The exceptions just had to be extraordinary. Sir Garfield Sobers was the greatest of them all. It was a few years before the young Sobers burst in on the scene that I, all of nine, watched transfixed as Neil Harvey smashed nine boundaries in a 37-run cameo at the Corporation Stadium in Madras, when Ian Johnson's Australians trounced India. Our family rickshaw puller, Kathan, had run all the way to the ground from our distant home to transport me, both literally and figuratively, to the world of left-handed brilliance.
Earlier that year, New Zealand's Bert Sutcliffe made two forties at the same ground, but the memory of Harvey's knock has lingered longer. When I met him at a cricket get-together in Chennai in 1998, I proudly showed off my statistical prowess by recounting details of that brief knock, only to witness some 150 old-timers repeat my feat, to Harvey's amusement.
Of India's left-hand batsmen, AG Milkha Singh was the first I watched in Test cricket. He looked vulnerable and ridiculously young in the two matches I saw him play. He failed and was discarded forever afterwards, despite a fine domestic career. Nari Contractor was brave and copybook at the top of the order, before he was felled by a Charlie Griffith bouncer.
Ajit Wadekar's thrilling counter-attack in the second innings of the Chepauk Test, against the West Indies fast bowlers in January 1967 - his debut series - perhaps came in the nick of time. His earlier innings in that series had been brief and undistinguished, and but for that knock of 67, he would surely have missed the England tour that followed. Wadekar looked phlegmatic at the crease, did not seem to move his feet much, and rarely played a shot in anger, for timing was his forte. He had scored thousands of runs for Bombay, but he was not your typical Bombay batsman.
Underrated by the historians, Wadekar the batsman perhaps played a crucial role more often in Indian victories than did Salim Durani, the mercurial genius. Though it was Durani's nonchalant dismissal of Sobers and Clive Lloyd during India's first Test win in the West Indies - after apocryphally snatching the ball from captain Wadekar's hand - that went into the history books, equally dramatic was his 104 after being promoted from the tail to one-drop when India followed-on in the fourth Test, in Port of Spain back in 1962. A decade later, I watched Durani toy with the left-arm spin (he was allergic to it from any bowler other than himself) of Norman Gifford, despatching sixes in the direction of the most vocal demand for them in the galleries.
Almost as gifted was Surinder Amarnath, treated roughly by the selectors after a great start to his Test career with a hundred on debut. He first served notice of his talent by winning a schoolboy international match for India in England by hitting two sixes off the last two balls with 11 needed.
His early exit from Test cricket was as tragic as Vinod Kambli's years later; and Amarnath's batting technique had no obvious flaws.
Sourav Ganguly and his protege Yuvraj Singh belong to a brave new breed of Indian cricketer. Each has thrilled in his own distinctive way, but the other left-handers I have remembered here are from a generation in which their brilliance shone amid widespread gloom, and therefore brighter.
Two modern left-handers delighted spectators everywhere: Alvin Kallicharran and David Gower. Both were elegance personified but slightly built. Kallicharran, of Indian origin, was a romantic figure in a West Indies powerhouse of batting talent. They were my personal favourites among late 20th century left-handers.
My grudging admiration went also to Allan Border. As it has been said of Kumar Sangakkara, Border was someone you'd unhesitatingly pick to bat for your life, wouldn't you?
AG Milkha Singh