How cricket brings out the partisan in Ram Guha

Vinay Kamath B Baskar | Updated on January 17, 2018

Kapil Dev releases a chronicle of the Sanmar Group’s contribution to cricket. He is flanked by historian Ramachandra Guha (left) and the book’s author V Ramnarayan. Sanmar Group Chairman N Sankar (second from right), Vice Chairman N. Kumar (extreme right) and Vijay Sankar, Deputy Chairman (on left).

Test cricket is the real deal, declared Ramachandra Guha, cricket historian and writer, emphatically. Tests are like single malt, one-day cricket like Indian-made foreign liquor and T20 is like locally brewed arrack, he pooh-poohed. Guha is utterly dismissive of T20 cricket saying that he never watches the IPL as it had brought out the worst in Indian cricket.

Delivering a lecture titled ‘five cricketing partisanships’ last weekend to commemorate the Sanmar group’s 50 years of support for cricket in Chennai, Guha said his first loyalty is towards his local club in Bengaluru, Friends Union Cricket Club. His next loyalty is towards his State side, Karnataka. Guha grew up in Dehra Dun which was then in Uttar Pradesh but he belonged to a Tamilian family and his uncle was a coach for the club in Bengaluru. So he had the choice of supporting UP, Tamil Nadu or Karnataka. He said he shrewdly chose Karnataka because it had a better record of winning the Ranji Trophy.

His lecture was peppered with several anecdotes regarding Karnataka cricket, the most interesting one being how Karnataka beat Bombay for the first time in the 1973-74 season. GR Vishwanath, a hero of Guha, walked in at one down after the opener had departed quickly and was plumb in front of the very first ball he faced. But the umpire ruled him not out and Viswanath then went on to score 160 setting up the first ever victory for Karnataka against Bombay. The Bengali umpire, Ganguly, who gave Viswanath not out later went to Kolkata and boasted to Bengal cricketers at Eden Gardens, “I have done something you guys couldn’t do all these years, made sure Bombay didn’t win the Ranji Trophy!” This story was reounted to Guha by Raju Mukherjee, an ex-Ranji player.

For Guha bowlers have a special place in his heart. He called bowlers the underclass, the subalterns of the game bringing out the social historian in him. The batsmen set up the platform for victory but it is the bowlers who ensure it by taking 20 wickets, he said.

The last ‘partisanship’ for Guha is generational – the cricketers one idolizes in childhood always take precedence over the current generation, notwithstanding their talent and ability. And being a Karnataka fan, is it any surprise that it is Prasanna, Chandrsekhar and Vishwanath who find a pride of place in Guha’s heart?

Despite his disdain for T20 cricket, Guha admitted rather grudgingly that he sometimes watched T20 international cricket. Watching Virat Kohli send the Australian bowlers to the cleaners in the recent T20 World Cup, Guha replaced Viswanath with Kohli in his all-time Indian 11, with a hint of regret.

Kapil Dev, the chief guest of the event, in his speech had the audience in splits with his earthy, self deprecating humour. He started his speech with a piece of advice his English teacher gave him when he said he was going to address an audience in Chennai. The teacher told Kapil not to speak for more than three minutes as his vocabulary would desert him after that.

He recounted a few amusing stories from his early days in international cricket when he didn’t know a word of English. In fact, the chief selector was very reluctant to appoint Kapil captain for the 1983 West Indies tour as he spoke no English. Kapil’s reaction to that was that the selectors could appoint an Oxford educated captain who spoke impeccable English, while Kapil would get on with the cricket. Kapil said he problems with the way English was spoken in the countries he visited. In Australia he was stumped when a cricketer asked him: “Have you come to die?” Nonplussed, Kapil replied, “No, I’ve come to play cricket,” till former captain S. Venkataraghavan nudged him and said, he’s asking if you’ve come today?

In a riposte to Guha, who rhapsodised about Kapil’s superlative catch to get Vivian Richards out in the 1983 World Cup final, and where he claimed that Kapil was actually grinning, Kapil said tongue-in-cheek, “I wasn’t smiling, I’m buck toothed, even when I’m angry, I look the same!”

A book titled, ‘Cricket for the love of it’ written by V Ramnarayan, ex-Ranji cricketer and writer, was released on the occasion. The book traces 50 years of the Sanmar Group’s support of Jolly Rovers Cricket Club, two of whose members R Ashwin and Murali Vijay are currently part of the Indian team touring West Indies. The association was started in 1966 by group patriarch, the late KS Narayanan, and continued by his sons N. Sankar and N.Kumar and grandson Vijay Sankar.            


Published on July 31, 2016

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