A pioneer

Balan Pandit (in pic), who died in Kochi at the age of 86, was often called the ‘Father of Kerala cricket’. It was no exaggeration. No one contributed to the growth of cricket in the region, especially at a time when the sport had few takers and fewer followers, as much as he did, as a player and coach. “I would not have played so many matches for Kerala if I didn’t receive coaching from him,” says former Kerala opener O. K. Ramdas, who was also a teammate of Pandit. “He was the first to do cricket coaching in a scientific way in Kerala.”

Ramdas also has fond memories of Pandit as a cricketer. “I remember watching him score a brilliant half-century against a Madras Ranji Trophy side that had bowlers like S. Venkataraghavan and V. V. Kumar,” he says. “He was an elegant batsman, technically correct. He was a superb wicketkeeper, too. With some luck, he could have been Kerala’s first Test cricketer." Before coming to Kerala, Pandit had played in Mumbai and England. He was the hero of every budding cricketer in Kerala those days. Pandit, a former National junior selector, scored 2317 first-class runs, at an average of 29.70, with five centuries, including a 262 not out against Andhra in 1959. He led Kerala to its first ever win in the Ranji Trophy, against Andhra at Guntur in 1960. Fittingly, it was his unbeaten 145 that set up Kerala’s innings win.

P. K. Ajith Kumar