India Cements maintains hegemony

The victorious India Cements `A' team with The Hindu Trophy.-Pic. V. GANESAN

THE Twenty20 sizzlers are a rage in England this summer. The game is both evolving and discovering new ways to woo the spectators.

All this is not new though to cricket lovers of Madras (now Chennai); the spectacular race to the targets, the thrilling finishes and the death or glory methods.

Let's take a massive jump back to the days when cricket was played with the spirit of the amateur, the game was in `whites', and television had not occupied our drawing rooms.

But then, the duels in The Hindu Trophy in Madras were way ahead of their time. These were 30-overs-a-side face-offs, where there was no dearth of the booming blows and edge-of-the-seat action.

A competition that clearly glimpsed at the future. Named the Sport and Pastime Trophy until 1968, The Hindu Trophy has managed to stay in the consciousness of the cricket-loving people in the city, surviving contrasting eras.

A tournament restricted strictly to the business houses, The Hindu Trophy created job opportunities for aspiring players, who would have otherwise found it difficult to pursue their passion. The corporates were deeply interested and involved in the competition and cricket in Madras blossomed.

Yes, it has been 50 glorious years that have witnessed some high-voltage battles. Like champion leg-spinner V. V. Kumar of State Bank of India tossing it up to the twinkle toed A. G. Kripal Singh, representing Parry's.

The fare whipped up at the packed Marina ground, according to those fortunate to witness the action, thrilled the senses.

Illustrious cricketers from the State, such as M. J. Gopalan, C. D. Gopinath, Kripal Singh, Milkha Singh, V. V. Kumar, S. Venkataraghavan and Krishnamachari Srikkanth have graced the tournament over the years. There have been several others. State Bank of India (SBI) holds the record by winning The Hindu Trophy 11 times and with this year's victory, India Cements is just one behind with 10. There have been other significant performers in the competition such as Binny's, Parry's, Burmah Shell, Philips and SVOC (in the early years), Chemplast, TVS, SPIC, IOB, MRF, RBI and Indian Bank.

It has been a tournament where the underdog has often stunned the field, like Indian Bank's wonderful run in 1989-90, when the side, an emerging force, went on a giant killing spree before subduing Chemplast in the final.

There have been some record-breaking individual performances as well; R. Prabhakar's (SBI) 16 sixes during his 167 not out against McNiel Barry in '72, C. B. Selvakumar's (RBI) hurricane unbeaten 216 at the expense of The Hindu `A' in '79, Chandramouli's (TVS Motors) eight for 13 against Bank of India in '63, and S. Krishnamohan's (Indian Bank) hat-trick in the final of the '90 edition.

Even as the years rolled by, the tournament never remained static. In '62, a trophy was instituted for the runners-up in memory of S. Parthasarathy, Publisher, The Hindu. In '84, the climactic stages of the competition moved from the matting wickets of the then popular and colourful Marina ground to the turf at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium. And in '93, The Hindu Trophy witnessed its first day/night final.

It was a special moment indeed, when The Hindu Trophy final got under way again on June 9 after a three-year break. It was a clash between two heavyweights in Chennai — India Cements `A' and Chemplast.

A lot was at stake in this duel. A Chemplast victory would provide it with a rare double since it had already triumphed in the MAC-TNCA first division for the Raja of Palayampatti Shield. India Cements sought revenge for the defeat in the final. Besides, a win would provide it with an unprecedented sixth successive victory in the summit clash of the competition. It was the experienced southpaw S. Sharath who provided the thrust to the India Cements `A' innings after skipper S. Suresh won the toss. It was Sharath's sparkling 70 (57b, 1x6, 6x4), that included some crisp straight hits, and his 113-run fourth wicket partnership in 16.2 overs with another left-hander Sunil Viswanathan, that enabled the team to reach a combative 198 for seven in 30 overs.

For Chemplast, spearhead L. Balaji had an off-day, while his pace partner D. Tamilkumaran impressed, operating straight and full at a lively pace. The vastly underrated left-arm spinning all-rounder D. Vasu was on target too. However, the rest of the bowling failed to measure up.

Then, India Cements `A' bowled with discipline — left-arm paceman D. Devanand stood out — while the catching, especially in the deep, was outstanding. Chemplast needed one significant knock but that was not forthcoming with S. Badrinath's 46 ending up as the highest individual contribution in a score of 168 for eight. The game had to be halted for 51 minutes after the 11th over in the Chemplast innings since the umpires were not happy with the quality of the lights.

N. Ram, Editor, The Sportstar and Frontline, gave away the prizes. Sharath received The Sportstar Man of the Final award of Rs. 10,000 on a warm but spirit-lifting night as an enduring and endearing tournament celebrated its Golden Jubilee year.

The scores: India Cements `A' 198 for seven in 30 overs (S. Suresh 27, J. Jesubabu Honeymen 28, S. Sharath 70, Sunil Vishwanathan 46, D. Tamilkumaran three for 32, D. Vasu three for 28) bt Chemplast 168 for eight in 30 overs (S. Badrinath 46, D. Devanand three for 20). —

S. DINAKAR