The essence was courage

It is a pity that life ebbed out of Budhi Kunderan when the world was gripped by soccer fever. Surely, this EBULLIENT star's death deserved greater notice than it did in the Indian media, writes S. THYAGARAJAN.

The charm of cricket lies not merely in the classicism of orthodoxy but also in the defiance of its designed grammar. From the imperious CK to the incandescent Mushtaq several cricketers had enthralled spectators by the sheer power of aggression and ingenuity instead of conforming to the edicts of technique.

Budhisagar Krishnappa Kunderan, who died of lung cancer on June 23, 2006, at Glasgow, belonged to this genre for whom the canons of cricket existed only in manuals. Unique in aspects more than one — Kunderan earned his Test cap before playing Ranji Trophy; scored a double century (205) in Ranji Trophy on debut for Indian Railways; opened the batting and bowling for India in his last Test in 1967— the life and times of Budhi Kunderan were a melange of guts, gumption, fortitude and the insatiable passion for carving new dimensions.

Tutored by Homi Vajifdar, that well-known Parsi star, Kunderan blossomed into a star of national stature by the weight of his unconventional, cavalier approach to the art of batsmanship. He wielded the willow as if it were a wand for destroying the demon of fast bowling. In this exhibition of uninhibited hitting he revered no reputations — be it the outstanding mover of the ball Alan Davidson, or a genuine speed-merchant like Ian MecKiff.

Made to open in only his second Test match when the regular opener N. J. Contractor was indisposed, Kunderan seized the opportunity with both hands. He tarnished the reputation of the established Aussie seam bowlers, Alan Davidson and Ian MecKiff, in a thrilling demonstration of batsmanship that sent the crowd into raptures at the Corporation Stadium in Madras in the 1959-60 series.

The audacious cuts, drives and pulls he played still linger in the minds of those who saw the Aussie greats humbled in front of a huge crowd.

Compelled to compete with another swashbuckler-wicketkeeper, Farokh Engineer, Kunderan's masterpiece was against England in Madras in 1964; a gallant knock of 192 runs — 170 of them coming on the opening day — with 31 boundaries. He notched up another century in Delhi to take his aggregate to 525 runs in the series. Only two wicketkeepers, Denis Lindsay (606 for South Africa versus Australia, 1966-67) and Andy Flower (540 for Zimbabwe versus India, 2000-01) besides Kunderan have this honour of scoring more than 500 runs in a series.

The essence of Kunderan's cricket was courage, backed by athleticism. A trained boxer, he used the attributes of footwork and reflexes as a batsman and wicketkeeper. He might have been the despair of purists but he was the darling of the crowd wherever he played.

His Test career reflects the appalling inconsistencies that governed India's selection process then. More than once Kunderan could step in only because someone like Nari Contractor, Engineer or Sardesai was indisposed or injured.

Born on October 2, 1939 at Mulki, near Mangalore, Kunderan flourished in the maidans of Bombay. His maiden first class appearance was for the CCI against the West Indies in 1958-59.

After a stint in the Railways, Kunderan played for Mysore, excelling behind the wickets against Chandrasekhar and Prasanna. Coming back to the Test squad in 1966-67 against the West Indies, he figured in a unique incident.

In the Bombay Test, he was declared out early in the innings but stayed back to score 79 in 92 minutes after Garry Sobers signalled that the catch was taken on the bounce. Interestingly, Kunderan opened the batting and bowing for India in his last Test against England at Birmingham. He was the top scorer with 47 in India's total of 110.

Kunderan turned professional in the late 1960s. He figured in the Lanchashire league, and then with Drumpellier in the Western Union in Scotland.

He also played for Scotland in the Benson and Hedges Cup in England. He changed his surname from Kunderam to Kunderan in 1964. He was one of the five who scored a double hundred on debut in Ranji Trophy.

It is a pity that life ebbed out of this ebullient star when the world was gripped by soccer fever. Surely, Kunderan's death deserved greater notice than it did in the Indian media.