Passion for cricket, obsession with umpiring kept Sadanand Vishwanath going

On Tuesday, he will retire as an umpire at 55 after the Chhattisgarh-Odisha match in the Cooch-Behar (under-19) Trophy at Bhilai, unless the BCCI grants him his wish for extension...

Sadanand Vishwanath has donned the umpire’s role since 1995.   -  K. Bhagya Prakash

He developed “friendship” with “solitude” and in the process was lost to the world of cricket.

As he explored means to sustain himself, living a hand-to-mouth existence at one point, Sadanand Vishwanath discovered a new vocation and some new friends.

From the heady days of being hounded by fans, the pin-up boy of Indian cricket, described by Sunil Gavaskar as the key man behind India’s success at the 1985 World Championship of Cricket, Vishwanath faced the harsh realities of life as he played his last match in 1988.

After toying with the idea of employment overseas, struggling to float on his own, he reconciled to a career again on the cricket field. He donned the umpire’s role and served in that capacity from 1995.

On Tuesday, he will retire as an umpire at 55 after the Chhattisgarh-Odisha match in the Cooch-Behar (under-19) Trophy at Bhilai.

Was he a case of talent gone astray in the world of fame and glamour? Losing his parents, he insists, in quick succession (1984 and 1985), left him disconsolate.

Sadanand Viswanath appeals for the caught behind for the dismissal of Imran Khan of Pakistan in the finals during the Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket at Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 10, 1985.   -  The Hindu Archives

  “It was a difficult period. My cricket was not progressing and personally I was alone. The grief of losing my parents pulled me back,” said Vishwanath.

His brilliance as a wicketkeeper has been documented with some unbelievable stuff in 1985 when India won the WCC at Melbourne and the Rothmans Cup when India tamed Pakistan in both the finals.

His international career, however, ended at 26, the age when some begin their cricket journey.

Vishwanath, who played three Tests, 22 ODIs and 74 First Class matches, deserved more. “I shall blame no one,” he says.

In a festival match, he was hit on the back of the head by Imran Khan. “I was never the same batsman again. I was never the same backfoot player again. Sachin (Tendulkar) and Mohinder (Amarnath) were hit too. But they hit back. I couldn’t.”

He was among the 10 candidates invited by the Board in 1995 to become umpires.

“I saw it was a nice way to get back on the field. Cricket was a passion and umpiring became an obsession. It took me to remote corners of the country and gave me an opportunity to meet so many people. I saw some young players from close. They went on to become impact players later (Virat Kohli, M.S. Dhoni, R. Ashwin, Ishant Sharma).

“I have seen them all grow and I love the joy of it all. The joy helped me overcome the pain, anxiety, hardships of being a professional player.”

Former India captain Anil Kumble had offered him a coaching job in Karnataka. “But I preferred umpiring.”

Vishwanath has requested the Board to give him an extension. “I can live cricket that way,” he concludes.