A night to remember

Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid shared the prize for the era 1997-2006.-VIPIN CHANDRAN

Indian Test cricket’s 75 years were divided into six eras and the outstanding cricketer of each era received a special prize, writes Stan Rayan.

For nearly two hours at the Le Meridien in Kochi, one had a rare look at cricket’s Lost World. A world where the sport was often played at a leisurely pace, where opponents marvelled at and cheered each other’s feats, when the financial rewards were small but the joy came in bucketfuls.

Listening to some of the greats as they walked down memory lane, at the 10th Castrol Awards for Cricketing Excellence function which celebrated 75 years of Indian Test cricket, was quite interesting. And delightfully, comparisons were drawn between the past and the present, between the country’s first captain C. K. Nayudu and the new ODI skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Giving a keen ear, and perhaps soaking in valuable lessons, were some of the current stars.

“I think Dhoni plays the way my dad used to play. And had my father played Twenty20, I’m sure he would have hit a lot of sixes and fours,” said Chandra, the daughter of the late C. K. Nayudu who led India in its first Test, against England at Lord’s in June 1932.

“There are a lot of similarities in their captaincy too, Dhoni proves to be a shrewd captain like my dad.

“But there is one dissimilarity… my dad was more of a commander, he commanded obedience, while Dhoni seems more like a companion.” Dhoni, however, was not present to hear all these — he skipped the function.

Indian Test cricket’s 75 years were divided into six eras and the outstanding cricketer of each era received a special prize, with C. K. Nayudu being named as the cricketer of the first, 1932 to 1947. Chandra Nayudu received the award. Vinoo Mankad was adjudged the best of the next era (1947-1961) and his son Atul received the trophy.

Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (1961-1971), Sunil Gavaskar (1971-1981), the first batsman to score 10,000 runs, and Kapil Dev (1981-1997) won it for the next three eras. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid shared the award for the sixth, 1997 to 2006.

Indian cricket is virtually a non-stop circus, there is no off-season for its stars. “But those days, there were long gaps between series, we couldn’t carry our form from one series to another,” said former India captain Nari Contractor. “We used to have only two or three Test matches a year.”

To this, Harsha Bhogle, the event’s lively emcee, asked Contractor how many bats he carried on a tour.

“Just one,” said the former captain whose career was cruelly cut short when he was hit on the head by a short delivery from West Indian Charlie Griffith in 1962. “And if we broke it during practice or in a match, we used to borrow a bat from our teammates.

“These days, every batsman carries six to eight bats. And I’m told Sourav carries a lot of them.” Sourav Ganguly, who has a reputation of carrying nearly a dozen bats on every tour, came up with a witty reply. “If you carry one bat now, you could be dropped from the side for lack of commitment.”

Chandu Borde recalled the menacing speed of West Indian bowlers Wes Hall and Griffith in the 1960s. “All of us watching from the dressing room shivered in fear. All of us were out in the dressing room itself. Remember, we did not have helmets at that time.

“We never used to hit the ball, just kept the bat and the ball used to hit it and go.”

Erapalli Prasanna, one of India’s famous spin quartet, talked about how Contractor and Borde were a big part of his learning curve. “I learned a lot bowling to them, they were tremendous players of spin bowling. We did not have many Tests in the early years.”

The new generation meets the old one... Irfan Pathan has a word with Nari Contractor. Chandu Borde is also in the picture.-

Indian cricketers rake in crores of rupees today, are gifted houses and Porsche cars for winning tournaments, but life was very different a few decades ago.

“We used to get Rs 250 for a Test and if it got over in four days, the Board would deduct Rs 50,” said Bishan Singh Bedi.

Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar congratulated each other for winning the awards for the most recent era. “The new players have a different attitude, they are a lot faster and go for big shots,” said Tendulkar.

Dravid gave the best compliment to Tendulkar when he said, “The youngsters have been watching Sachin bat, they have picked off from Sachin.”

Sourav Ganguly beat many greats and won the award for the most successful Test captain. Indian captains — Contractor, Borde, Ajit Wadekar, Bedi, Gavaskar, Gundappa Viswanath, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid — were also honoured at the function.

Also, a few members of the team which won the World Twenty20.

Australian Adam Gilchrist, who was listening to the Indian greats very keenly, was clearly impressed with the function.

“At a time when everybody thinks of just the present, it’s very thoughtful of Castrol to honour the former cricketers,” he said. “These cricketers have provided unprecedented moments of joy to millions of Indians, Castrol is proud to recognise their outstanding achievements,” said Naveen Kshatriya, Castrol India’s Managing Director.

It was a night to remember.