The gloved wonder of 1985

"CRICKET IS STILL PART OF ME and without it I am dead," says former Indian wicket-keeper Sadanand Vishwanath.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Sadanand Vishwanath, the young hero of India's triumph at the World Championship of Cricket, is now an umpire in domestic cricket and he hopes to make a comeback to the international scene soon, this time as an official, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Cricket fans religiously dusting photographs of Kapil Dev holding aloft the Prudential World Cup of 1983 have another visual etched indelibly in their collective memory. That of Sadanand Vishwanath whipping off the bails after Laxman Sivaramakrishnan foxes Javed Miandad in the Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket in Melbourne in 1985. "It was purely instinctive," reminisced the former India gloveman. "As a wicket-keeper, I knew that Miandad was gone. The bails were off, those were great days."

It was a moment frozen in time but one laden with hope — the most heartening aspect of the tournament that India won under the astute leadership of Sunil Gavaskar was the performances of the young trio, Vishwanath, Mohammed Azharuddin and Sivaramakrishnan. However, Vishwanath and Sivaramakrishnan lost their way. "You could call it fate but I did try hard to comeback and when everything failed I was realistic and gave up the game," said Vishwanath. "But cricket is still part of me and without it I am dead. I re-emerged as an umpire in 1996 after clearing the BCCI's umpiring test for former cricketers. I am in the Ranji panel now and I am also a qualified Level three coach and my academy is into its eleventh year."

It is a warm afternoon and out there at the NAL Ground, Bangalore, a middle-aged man with red streaked hair and a blue bandana is gifting mementoes to his academy boys. A pep talk soon follows and he winds it up with a line that stays in memory: "Life is a mystery, experience it. It is not a problem to be solved."

Perhaps, there is a touch of Paulo Coelho to Vishwanath's words but having flickered in Indian cricket before plummeting into an abyss some philosophy is inevitably forthcoming. The lessons of 43 past summers always linger. And Vishwanath flips open the book of his past. "I was lucky to grow up in central Bangalore and I was close to all the stadia," he said. "Besides I also studied in St. Joseph's, known for its cricketing culture and for being Dravid's alma mater. I joined the Syndicate Bank at around 17 or 18 and that helped me play in the local league too. Soon I was part of the State Ranji team and seniors like Brijesh Patel, Roger Binny, Syed Kirmani, Vijayakrishna and others made me feel comfortable."

The step up into the Indian team happened soon as Kirmani was dropped following the Test series loss to David Gower's men. "I was this young wicket-keeper who gave everything on the field, who also had a bit of chat out there. I enjoyed being on the field and to be part of a great team with players such as Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath and others was a great honour," said Vishwanath.

The spotlight was on Vishwanath but the shadow lines were close by. His parents' demise unsettled him. "My father passed away in 1984 and then in 1985 my mother breathed her last because of a heart problem. Her death shook me up. I was young, popular but feeling lonely and insecure. I would never blame my parents' demise for the way my career shaped up. In fact, on the field, I gave my best but at that young age I wish I had some guidance. May be, if we had a Sandy Gordon then, things would have been different."

After the triumphant Australian sojourn, Vishwanath went to Sri Lanka and played in three Tests. "I didn't do very badly though I could have scored some runs. But I was dropped suddenly and from then on it was an uphill climb. I worked hard but financially it was tough. I was in the clerical grade of Syndicate Bank and those days we were just paid Rs. 3500 for a one-day international. I am glad that players these days earn well," said Vishwanath. He did come back into the Indian squad when Imran Khan's Pakistan arrived in 1987. "I played in the one-dayers but it was frustrating to be part of the squad but yet miss out on the playing eleven in the Tests. The most decisive moment was not being selected for the Reliance World Cup. I attended the conditioning camp, worked hard but More and Chandrakant Pandit were selected. I knew then that the doors were closed. And then in my State side, Kirmani, being the fighter he is, earned the right to keep wickets, And at 31, I announced my retirement."

Vishwanath then went to the Gulf and after a brief stay there returned home, quit his banking career and found his second wind through umpiring and coaching. In a life that had its highs and lows, Vishwanath has made peace with himself. "The benefit match during the Challenger Series here a few years back helped me a great deal. The KSCA got me a benefit purse of Rs. 20 lakh and that helped me build a property in the site gifted to me by the late Ramakrishna Hegde way back in 1987. I have rented out that property to an automobile firm. Now I am keen to get into the national panel of umpires. If I get there and then into the ICC panel, my life will turn a full circle — from an International cricketer to an International umpire," said Vishwanath. He then walked away to his trainees with the words, "concentrate lads, make every moment count."