A double delight

THERE should have been one more candle on the birthday cake of Srinivasa Venkataraghavan on April 21. Not because he grew one year older, but because after a long, long time he got the recognition that he thoroughly deserved, with the Government of India honouring him with the Padma Award.

S.M. GAVASKAR

Former Test captain S.Venkataraghavan receiving the Padma Shri from the President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. -- Pic. PTI-

THERE should have been one more candle on the birthday cake of Srinivasa Venkataraghavan on April 21. Not because he grew one year older, but because after a long, long time he got the recognition that he thoroughly deserved, with the Government of India honouring him with the Padma Award. This recognition of a man, who has served the game and Indian cricket in various capacities was long overdue. Never mind that it was late in coming but the Government deserves kudos and compliments for that just as the Government under former Prime Minister Chandrasekhar honoured Lala Amarnath, Prof. Deodhar with the Padma award late in their lives long after they had stopped playing.

Venkat may well be on an assignment somewhere umpiring but he would have certainly felt a lot better on this birthday. He has never been the one to court popularity and has gone about his business in his own unobtrusive way and concentrated on doing his job well. Whether it is as an umpire now or as a Test player or captain of his team, he went out there and gave his best to the teams that he played for.

He was not given the credit as a spinner that he deserved because India were blessed with three others who were preferred to him and so he was always playing in their shadow, but whenever given the chance he proved that he could have had as good a record as the other three spin magicians. They were all different, but thrived together as they spun their web around bemused and confused batsmen all over the cricketing world.

Not many will know that Venkat changed his bowling style to suit the needs of the team so he deliberately bowled a flatter line so that there were no easy runs available at his end, as the others used the flight and employed the guile to get their victims. Whenever Venkat played for Tamil Nadu, he reverted to flighting the ball and deceiving batsmen in the air, but for India he fulfilled the role of a tight mingy bowler who was difficult to get away. The one other aspect which was noticeable about Venks was that he never went off the field even in the most trying of conditions and the flattest of pitches. He was out there giving it everything and more.

In the Indian team he was known for his vast knowledge of just about every subject that was topical and every captain wanted him around, to be informed of the playing conditions and the laws and rules that were applicable. No wonder he took to umpiring after his retirement as a player like a duck takes to water. He is rated by the captains of the world as one of the best in the world and it's not just respect to a former captain and Test player but for his decision-making and more importantly for his integrity.

He also had a bit of a temper and often we, in the team would `wind' him up and as soon as we laughed at his explosion, he would quickly understand that he had been had and join in the laughter. His temper went off in a moment and all was forgotten and that's what was important for nothing was kept simmering. Not too many in the team would take liberties with him or try and pull his leg but he did allow Eknath Solkar and me to pull his leg occasionally and if I daresay it now, after so many years I think he quite liked his leg being pulled by us. Ekki was the only one who could ruffle his groomed hair or even pass a comment about his dress sense and get away with it. The one thing that we all tried to avoid and do so even today is to shake hands with him for he has such an iron grip that he crushes your hand and in our case takes great delight in doing so.

He is not one to suffer fools for he has always set high standards and expects others to try and get there if not match them. A proud Indian, he verbally tore apart anybody who took `panga' about India and that's another thing that made him popular with his teammates. There was one occasion when he took issue with the Mayor of a town in Australia at a function hosted by the Mayor, which had all of us supporting him totally. At the welcome address by the Mayor he mentioned the ties between India and Australia and then jocularly said that while he could pronounce Bedi, Prasanna and Chandra, he couldn't say the other spinner's name and so would call him `rent a caravan'. Although said in jest, Venkat cornered the Mayor after his speech and asked him why it was so tough to pronounce his name when the Mayor could say his state captain's name without any problem. The state captain was John Inverarity. Having made his point, Venks went away but the mayor understood what had happened and came and soothed him and of course, Venks being the sport he is, accepted and then got on to discuss politics in the state with the Mayor and surprised him with his knowledge of it.

It was great to see him turn up in a Nehru coat and smiling away as the President put the medal around his neck. One could see a hint of satisfaction and the pride in achievement that only a hard worker knows. He never asked for it nor did he lobby for it nor was it given to him in a fit of emotion that we Indians are so famous for and that's why the Padma Award will find a prominent place in his house.

Congrats Venks, Indian cricket is proud of you and so are all your colleagues and contemporaries. May you continue to serve the game for years to come.