When Ravi Achan’s weakness turned out to be his strength

P. Ravi Achan, the first Kerala cricketer to achieve the all-rounder’s double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets, turns 90 on Monday.

P. Ravi Achan played the Ranji Trophy till he was 41.   -  Thulasi Kakkat

He is the first Kerala cricketer to achieve the all-rounder’s double, 1000 runs and 100 wickets, in the Ranji Trophy but surprisingly, Paliath Ravi Achan had a major weakness in his early career.

He could not play back-foot defence!

“Those days, in Kerala, there was no such thing as playing forward. They defended with the back and hit. Defence always meant playing back,” said Ravi, as he walked down memory lane at his Tripunithura residence.

But Ravi was cast in a different mould.

In the mid-1940s, when he was doing his B.Sc at the Annamalai University in Chidambaram, a few students had gone to the then Madras where Englishman Albert Wensley was conducting a month-long camp. “Wensley had coached Vinoo Mankad and when the boys returned from Madras, I noticed that their game had changed completely. Watching them, I learned how to play forward,” revealed the former Kerala captain.

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“I was the only player who could play forward those days. I only knew how to play forward, not back.”

Ravi, who turns 90 on Monday, had a memorable cricket journey and one chapter he relished talking about was his ‘weakness’ when he made his Ranji debut for Travancore-Cochin (which later became Kerala) against Mysore in Thiruvananthapuram in 1952.

“It was Travancore-Cochin’s second-ever Ranji match and Mysore had Varadaraj, a top left-arm spinner. We had not seen anything like that. And those who did not know forward play would always go back,” he recalled. “So, a lot of people got bowled or lbw. I did not know how to play back, so I had to either play forward or cut or pull. So they thought I was a very good cutter and puller. And by the time they figured out a strategy to get me, I had scored 43, the team’s highest score in my debut match.”

Long career

Born on March 12 1928, Ravi had an unusually long career — he played Ranji till he was 41. His career-high score of 70 came in his last game, against Madras in Tirunelveli in 1969.

Ravi played at a time when Ranji teams in Kerala did not even have a preparatory camp, travelled in unreserved compartments, and for nearly five years when the National Championship was played in a knockout format. “Those days, the fattest player was made to field in the slips because he did not have to run much there,” he said.

He played a big role in starting the learning process for Kerala cricket which was often left battered with heavy losses frequently.

He read about what Australian legend Don Bradman had to say about batting, from magazines, and tried to follow that. And having played against many Indian greats, including B. S. Chandrasekhar, E. A. S. Prasanna, S. Venkataraghavan and M. L. Jaisimha, he picked up quality cricket.

He was a fine bowler, too, and had a mix of everything, mainly leg-spin and medium pace. His best figures (6-34) came in 1960 when Kerala thrashed Andhra at Guntur.

He was also a big hit at Tripunithura’s Pooja tournament, one of the world’s oldest limited-overs tournaments, and lit up the Palace Oval there even after he had crossed 50.

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