Handsome as they come, Daredevil as they go


IF C. S. Nayudu by then was already a living legend, Douglas Jardine was the grim reality. A February 1944 Brabourne Stadium sight I never can forget, therefore, is Douglas Jardine (when on 43) bringing off a ferocious square-cut off Shute Banerjee. Only for C. S. Nayudu, standing at eternal gully, to stick out his right hand, take stunning hold of the stinging shot and throw down the wicket - all in the same reflex action. Douglas Jardine could but stand and stare - run out by CS while still in his stroking-making follow-through as captain of Services XI vs Syed Mushtaq Ali's Indian XI.


Verily was Cottari Subbanna Nayudu a live wire - incredibly agile and mobile in the field, heartily healthy in hitting the cricket ball even while investing his right-arm wrist-spun leg-breaks and googlies with an esoteric legerdemain all their own. That as my childhood idol, CS, all charisma, sojourned (with the Bhagat Brothers) in the same building in which I resided - Tulsi Vihar on the Marine Drive seafront - drew me that much closer to the man. On one such visit to Bombay, CS even joined us kids during nets at Lloyd's Recreation (now Wankhede Stadium), offering some trenchant comment on the leg-breaks I allegedly bowled.

That Indian cricket saw CS disappoint more often than succeed was a development of no immediate significance to me as a mere fan of the game still. All I remember, as I watched this illustrious younger brother of C. K. Nayudu perform for Hindus in the Bombay Pentangular - as the wrist-spinning foil to Amir Elahi operating with matching adroitness for Muslims - is the way CS would change caps the moment he came on to bowl. Normally in a blue county, CS would exchange his fielding cap for a multicoloured bowling cap as, with an unorthodox round-arm action, he began sending down his leg-breaks, googlies and top spinners with rare flexibility of wrist and disguise of intent. As a batsman, CS gave the ball a wholesome whack from the word go - without ever looking a mere slogger. Cries of "CS! CS!" would rend the stadium air as Nayudu Junior walked in to bat, all style in questing for a six.

Neither with bat nor with ball did CS, in the end-result, do his talents real justice, as should be manifest from the figures put out upon the passing of this Nagpur-born 88-year-old stalwart in Indore. CS always was in the shade of That Man of Ebony, C. K. Nayudu. Yet, CS's own shadow never grew less. This was because CS had a cricketing identity his very own. That CS, a conspicuous Test failure, accomplished little when he joined the Indian team as a fresher on our troubled 1936 tour of England could be attributed to the fact that, as a leg-spinner, he was still maturing. On the 1946 tour of England, CS took a great start vs Surrey at The Oval with a hat-trick that saw him dismiss Laurie Fishlock (62), N. H. Bennet (0) and Alec Bedser (0) in the match in which Chandu Sarwate (124 not out) and Shute Banerjee (121) came up with that famous stand of 249 for India's 10th wicket.

C. S. Nayudu was at his enigmatic best when he bowled for Baroda. By the time he moved to Holkar he was more a reminder of Arthur Mailey as one who bowled like a millionaire. CS lived life, too, like a millionaire - on his own terms. His record 917 balls in the 1944-45 Holkar-Bombay Ranji Trophy encounter at the Brabourne Stadium testify to his faithfully following in the footsteps of Arthur Mailey. CS's match analyses here broke up into 64.5-10-153-6 & 88-15-275-5. Earlier, at Poona in 1939-40, CS had returned innings figures of 64-4-261-4 for Baroda vs Maharashtra. His flights of fancy yielded runs by the shoal. CS cared little about this spendthrift aspect of his game as a typical product of his times. His Ranji career figures of 295 wickets at 23.49 runs each suggest a strike rate that was not sustained in the higher reaches of the game - just two wickets from 11 Tests at 179.50 runs each!

Yet, C. S. Nayudu, somehow, always carried this chip on his shoulder that the Indian selectors were dead set against him. He failed to see that he had not translated his early promise into solid performance. To think that I, too, am able to see things that way but now! In his prime, CS, to me, was an icon without peer. His Ranji batting career tally of 2575 runs (ave. 30.20) from 56 matches recalls, to the mind's eye, some incredible straightfield hits. A CS patent was the ball lifted bang over the sightscreen. Yet it, is as 'The Googly Man' that the CS image endures. Before a full Brabourne Stadium house on the Sunday afternoon of November 10, 1946, in the first unofficial Test for Vijay Merchant's India vs Australian Services, CS created a sensation by dismissing, in a dream spell, both Lindsay Hassett (52) and Keith Miller (1), lbw, with googlies and then clean bowling E. A. Williams (4). But such success invariably saw CS venture to experiment, so that he ended up being hit (48-7-141-3).

For all that, while he held the spotlight, CS was a personality performer - handsome as they come, daredevil as they go. Now he is gone, having made his end-years more tortured than he need have. This in personal life. In public CS always met you with a smile - still retaining a semblance of the physique that took Douglas Jardine by such surprise. As CS - his bowling arm by then even rounder - lost out to first Sadhu Shinde and then to Subhash Gupte as a wrist spinner, he finally accepted his fate philosophically. Cricket for CS was always a fun game, to the end he remained the true amateur. That we still instinctively associate the name of C. S. Nayudu with the best in wrist spin is a measure of the impact he left on cricket in India when at his parabolic zenith. CS practised a specialist craft with skill and imagination, always retaining his sense of humour when collared. Bye, CS, there always will be a cosy niche in my psyche for you as the supple, subtle purveyor of wristy slows elevating leg-spin to an art form.