Time Travel: A Ranji Trophy final, a Viswanath double ton and a flat tyre

Vijay Lokapally takes us on a trip down the memory lane when he witnessed GR Viswanath score a double century to help Karnataka lift the Ranji Trophy title in 1978-79. GR Viswanath adds his take on that memorable innings.

Karnataka team with the Ranji Trophy it won against Uttar Pradesh by a huge margin of an innings and 193 runs, on the third day of the five-day final match played at Mohan Nagar, Uttar Pradesh on April 06, 1978.   -  The Hindu Archives

It was around the same time 42 years ago. “Viswanath is in town,” my friend broke the news. Actually, GR Viswanath was passing through the Capital on his way to Mohan Nagar in Ghaziabad, a dusty town bordering Delhi. The occasion was the Ranji Trophy final between Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh to be played from April 4 to 8. Five days of cricket feast. Forget the summer heat. Forget everything in life. Cricket and Viswanath beckoned us.

GR Viswanath - batsman extraordinaire.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

Now, Mohan Nagar was a good 35 kilometres from Andhra Bhawan (then Andhra Pradesh Guest House), where I lived. The challenge was that there was no money to take a bus to Mohan Nagar. My friend decided to “borrow” a cycle and off we were to see our hero. We took turns to cycle and reached the venue, only to run into a bigger challenge: entry to the ground. The match was hosted by the Mohan Meakin Breweries and the entry was restricted to the temporary stands. The friend managed to ‘befriend’ the chief of the guards and we just mingled into the army of fans where literally everyone had thronged to see just one man – Viswanath.

“We also wanted to see Viswanath,” laughed Vijay Chopra, the UP wicket-keeper in that match. “But not the way we did end up seeing.” To the delight of the spectators, and the embarrassment of the home players, the master came up with a delightful 247, each run worth a diamond, especially for two teenagers who had cycled all the way from heart of Dehi.

We were disappointed when UP elected to bat but delight was in store as BS Chandrasekhar (6/57) and EAS Prasanna (3/43) skittled the home team out for 129. “I think we won the match on the first day itself,” said Viswanath, remembering the final. In answer to our prayers, Viswanath walked in early at the fall of Sanjay Desai’s wicket and finished the day one run short of a century.

  • On completing his 100 and later 200, Viswanath had to scamper to the dressing room to escape the onrushing spectators. “I think his run to the pavilion was faster than his running between the wickets,” Chopra burst into laughter. Viswanath remembered too. “I was never a sprinter when taking the runs because I was a good judge of ones and twos. Not that I was jogging when taking those runs,” he said with a chuckle.

“What a class innings. We expected Vishy to slam the bowling but it was sheer joy to watch him in action from so close,” remembered Chopra. “Their team was full of stars. It was our first final but honestly we were overawed by their line-up of batsmen and bowlers. We basically wanted to give them a good fight because it was hard to think of beating Karnataka. Vishy was in sensational form. It took my breath away when he played those late cut shots almost off my gloves. My God. I have not seen such silken touch. He played the ball late, supremely on the back-foot. Believe me, I don’t remember one ball coming to me when he was on strike.”

Viswanath's individual score, in fact, was more than the two innings aggregate of Uttar Pradesh.

Viswanath, humble as ever, responded, “I guess that was because the bowlers did a good job of making me play every ball. I know there was no contest but I enjoyed my batting. It was my career-best score and I was proud of that fact.”

UP's Rajinder Singh Hans was distinctly unlucky not to have played for India. He took nine for 152 in the 1978-79 Ranji Trophy final against Karnataka.   -  The Hindu Archives

 

At one point Chopra tickled Viswanath, “Ab bas karo (please stop).” And Chopra was floored by the reply, “You know the selectors complain that Viswanath doesn’t play long innings. Let me play one here.” Chopra silently cursed the selectors and returned to his job of “enjoying” the Viswanath “show” in front of a packed audience.

On completing his 100 and later 200, Viswanath had to scamper to the dressing room to escape the onrushing spectators. “I think his run to the pavilion was faster than his running between the wickets,” Chopra burst into laughter. Viswanath remembered too. “I was never a sprinter when taking the runs because I was a good judge of ones and twos. Not that I was jogging when taking those runs,” he said with a chuckle.

That double hundred, which was heralded on the second day, was a priceless gift for us. But there was an exemplary performer from UP too – Rajinder Singh Hans, a superb left-arm spinner who, like Rajinder Goel, Padmakar Shivalkar and Sarkar Talwar, was distinctly unlucky not to have played for India. Hans took nine for 152, the other wicket going to seamer Aslam Ali.

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“Hans bowled exceptionally well,” complimented Viswanath. “He is too kind,” was Hans’ memory of his bowling and Viswanath’s batting. “It was impossible to bowl to him. What footwork! His rasping cuts and confident sweep shots left me frustrated. He was the king of stroke-play. We were the home team and he was the hero. Trust me, none of us grudged the respect and attention that Vishy got. Twice the game was held up when he reached the century. We were a mere part of the event where Vishy was the celebrated star.”

Hans remembered, “You know I dropped Vishy off my bowling. Big deal. He was on 212. I really did not mind because I am sure the spectators would have cursed me had I sent Vishy back to the pavilion. He eventually got out to me at extra-cover and it remains one of my most memorable wickets.”

Viswanath had come to Mohan Nagar on the strength of a sterling 118 against Delhi in the semifinals at the Ferozeshah Kotla.

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Viswanath has fond memories too. “The final was only the second match after my marriage. The previous one against Delhi was against a stronger attack (Madan Lal, Bishan Singh Bedi, Mohinder Amarnath, Rakesh Shukla and Praveen Oberoi). It came on a good pitch and a great occasion. Winning the Ranji Trophy was so special.”

Legend has it that the host kept decent stocks of beer for the Karnataka team with the ‘hope’ that it may slow down their reflexes on the field. “I don’t know how much of the hospitality Vishy enjoyed but he sure made us drink water for the two days that he shone with the bat in the middle,” Chopra’s laughter summed up the eventful match.

P.S: After the match, we noticed our cycle had flat tyres (I suspect punishment by one of the gate-men who we refused to pay for entry). With no money to fix them, it was a long walk back home but memories of Viswanath’s breathtaking batsmanship took away the pain. Over the years sharing the experience with friends has been a lovable exercise. As it has been with the legendary Viswanath on a few occasions.

* Scorecard reproduced from 1978-79 Indian Cricket.

 

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