Kerala is no pushover on a cricket ground these days. It entered the knock-out stage of the Ranji Trohy last year, and has already posted a famous win this season, over Bengal in Kolkata a few days ago.
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There was a time, though, when the rival teams didn’t even have to push Kerala hard to knock it over. Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Hyderabad saw it as the team to take the full points from in the South Zone leg of the Ranji Trophy.
C.M. Ashok Shekhar belongs to those not-so-good times of Kerala cricket. “But we had no infrastructure and few opportunities,” the former Kerala captain told Sportstar at his home here. “Apart from the Ranji tournament, the only match we used to get was the one with the Sri Lankan team that would be travelling to Chennai for the annual M.J. Gopalan Trophy. The Lankans used to go to Chennai via Thiruvananthapuram.”
Ashok, who played 35 First Class matches, said there was no money in the game then and it was out of sheer passion that the men from his generation played. “It was my elder brother C.M. Chidanandan who advised me to play cricket,” he said. “He went on to captain Kerala in the Santosh Trophy and my other brother, C.M. Theerthanandan, also played football for the State.”
Though Kerala used to be very much the whipping boys, he said there were several talented cricketers in his time. "Balan Pandit was of course a fine batsman who is still talked about,” he said. “But there were also a few others like wicket-keeper H. Devaraj, who could have even played for India if he was with some stronger teams.”
Then there were also – not surprisingly perhaps – excellent pace bowlers. “I recall how quick P.M.K. Mohandas used to bowl,” he said. “His younger brother P.M.K. Raghunath was also a fine pacer. Come to think of it, Kerala has always produced good pace bowers and I am happy to see so many of them doing well now.”
Ashok said it was unfortunate that S. Sreesanth’s career had to be cut short by the spot-fixing scandal. “He was an outstanding bowler,” he said. “It was sad to watch his career ending the way it did.”
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