He is from a cricket family

THIS is a fascinating story of a cricket family in Visakhapatnam. Five brothers have supported each other and cared for each other with the common desire — try and play for the country at the highest level.

vijay lokapally

THIS is a fascinating story of a cricket family in Visakhapatnam. Five brothers have supported each other and cared for each other with the common desire — try and play for the country at the highest level. And now one of them is close to making it. Y. Venugopala Rao's 228 not out to help South Zone overhaul a target of 501 in the Duleep Trophy was phenomenal. The 22-year-old has arrived on the national scene with a bang.

"It's my dream to play for India. From the time I took to competitive cricket, I've nurtured this desire and I'll work to achieve my goal," says Venugopala Rao. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

Y. Matcheswara Rao's five sons wanted to become cricketers and it was difficult for him to take a decision. He was not in the best position to judge their potential and he was, as any middle-class parent would, keen that his sons excelled at studies to ensure a secure future. But he encouraged them as well to play cricket in the port town of Visakhapatnam.

Y. V. Saikumar, Y. Sivakumar, Y. Raghunath Rao, Y. Venugopala Rao and Y. Gnaneshwara Rao, all have passion for cricket. "wanted at least one son to represent India,'' said Matcheswara Rao, a recently retired official of Hindustan Zinc.

Saikumar, a left-arm spinner, was the eldest. He played for Andhra in all the age group competitions but could not go beyond. Now 26, he is settled with a job in the Railways. The father did not lose heart. He then placed his hopes in Sivakumar, an off-spinner, who also found a regular place in the Andhra team in the age group tournaments. But Siva, now 25, also lost direction. Raghunath, one year younger than Siva, bowled medium-pace but success eluded him beyond the age-group tournaments.

"It was disappointing but my younger sons found inspiration in Saikumar. He has played an important part in the grooming of his brothers. I've tried my best to provide them the best of the facilities available but Sai has looked after their cricket very well. I'm proud of my sons,'' an emotional Rao spoke from his home.

Now, the focus is on Venugopala and Gnaneshwara. And these two have the potential to break into the big league.

The Andhra Cricket Association secretary, N. Venkat Rao, has been a silent force behind these exciting cricketers. "Both have been performing exceptionally well in the domestic cricket for quite some time now. In fact, in the last five years they have distinguished themselves very well and they do deserve a break,'' says Venkat Rao. A former first-class cricketer himself, Venkat Rao is a well placed official in the Board.

Gnaneshwara is a compact batsman and bowls off-spin. He is only 19 and appears set to make headlines in the times to come. He exudes confidence in the middle, always motivating his mates to give their best. For a player of his age, Gnaneshwara is rated high in the cricket circles.

But it is Venugopala, fondly called Venu by his colleagues, who promises to make the grade faster on the basis of his consistent progress in the last two seasons. "These lads from Andhra are very committed and fiercely competitive,'' says former India skipper Mohammed Azharuddin. "They want to make it big. Watch out for a boy called Vanugopala,'' he had said some time ago.

Y. Venugopala is finally getting recognition for his outstanding talent. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

Venugopala is finally getting recognition for his outstanding talent. He may not have been picked in the National team this season but it will be tough to keep him out, given Venugopala's single-minded devotion to wear the India cap. It has been a wonderful journey for this soft-spoken young man, who began his career as a leg-spinner before developing into a sound batsman. Interestingly, he bowls off-spin now to support his claims as an all-rounder.

"It's my dream to play for India. From the time I took to competitive cricket, I've nurtured this desire and I'll work to achieve my goal,'' said a modest Venugopala after that sensational match-winning show at the TERI Oval, a pretty ground amidst hills on the outskirts of Delhi.

A brief background to that effort would be appropriate here. South Zone, facing England `A', was set a target of 501 to win. At various points, it looked like losing its way but Venugopala, S. Sriram, S. Sharath and S. Badrinath pulled off a coup. They scripted a famous win for their team with Sriram and Badrinath hitting centuries and Venugopala showing his mental resilience and physical fitness by compiling an unbeaten double century.

"Please write something about this boy. He is outstanding,'' teammate Sharath remarked even as Venugopala built his innings in the middle. "He's a fine player,'' says Sriram. This support for Venugopala from the two Tamil Nadu players is a glowing example of the spirit that prevails among the players in the south.

Venugopala learnt the basics from R. V. K. Prasad, a State coach of immense experience and quality in Andhra before travelling to Chandigarh nine years ago where he stayed at the Academy under the charge of Desh Prem Azad.

Venugopala and Barrington Rowland, currently playing for Karnataka, were the two openers Azad concentrated on. He fondly remembered Venugopala as a "hard-working and very disciplined trainee'' and added "I was very impressed by his sincerity to learn and improve. He was one of the best trainees of the Academy and I'm not at all surprised he is doing well at the national level. I think he is ready to be inducted into the big league and I'm sure he'll be an asset to the team.''

Watching the innings at the TERI Oval, Kiran More, one of the National selectors, commented, "his temperament is fantastic. I'm very impressed with his temperament,'' he said of the batsman who pointed out the high competitive league in Chennai as the best grooming ground he could have enjoyed. "I've learnt a lot playing in the Chennai league and at the MRF Academy,'' stressed Venugopala.

Syed Kirmani, chairman of the National selection committee, also joined his colleague in praising Venugopala. "It was a fantastic effort. Keep it up,'' he said as he patted the modest Andhra batsman for one of the most eventful performance in domestic cricket. It was the first occasion a team had made 500-plus in the fourth innings to win a first-class match on India soil. Delhi had once famously got past a target of 700-plus against Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy but that was in the first innings, the lead for Delhi coming on the sixth day of the contest.

This innings not only reflected on the maturity of Venugopala but also his ability to guide the team when confronted with such a stiff challenge. Presently working with the Indian Overseas Bank, he belongs to the same batch as Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif but has not enjoyed the same support as they had in the selection committee.

The double century at the TERI Oval shall remain the landmark feat for Venugopal in his effort to play for India. It was a flawless knock with just two shots, both safe, in the air. "His drives were impeccable'' gushed More. Even the Englishmen, not known for good behaviour on this tour, appreciated the innings by Venugopala.

It is now up to the National selectors to give this talented batsman a break at the right time. For Matcheswara Rao, it will be a great day to watch his son walk to the middle in a Test arena and realise his dream. The entire port town in the south of India prays and waits to rejoice in the company of this talented, little cricket family.