Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Gentleman - Intelligent Offie Srinivasan Venkataraghavan turns 75


He had the looks of a winner and had uncanny resemblance of the genius writer Sujatha – the suave Offie Srinivasan Venkatraghavan turns 75 this day.   .. .. admire him standing with other Captains in World Cup 1979 before which he was given a rousing party at kulakkarai of Thiruvallikkeni.  Wishing him good health and continued happiness. 


Remember adoring him and watching him in Dec 1976   Test at Chepauk, at a time when Bishansingh Bedi was the captain.  Glenn Turner was the Captain for the visitors, Sir Richard Hadlee was not that famous but we spoke about Peter Petheric who had taken a hat-trick in his debut test, including the wicket of Javed Miandad.  It was Test no. 787 – a 6 day match between 26th Nov to 2nd Dec 1976.    On the first day, no play was possible due to rain and 29th Nov was the scheduled rest day.  That match is well remembered for the good performance by gentleman and most intelligent - Srinivasan Venkatraghavan.

Indians were off to a bad start as Sunil Gavaskar and Anshuman Gaekwad were out with only 3 on board, both out to big burly Lance Cairns.  From 181/7  India went on to make 298 thanks to a fluent 64 by Venkat who hit 4 boundaries and a six off Petherick.   Gundappa Vishwanath made 87 like the many good innings he had played at Chepauk and Kirmani made 44. 

The tall suave, good looking offie, reverred as very shrewd and intelligent cricketer Srinivasaraghavan Venkatraghavan bore striking resemblance to the great legendary writer Sujatha.  Venkat revelled as a player and later as very respected Umpire.  Sadly, he did not get the right breaks and the matches he played were interspersed so much and he played at a time when India had famous spinners – Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna.

Would like to forget that test at Jalandhar in Sept 1983, when Anshuman Gaekwad grinded and roasted the Paki attack for a slow 201 off 436 balls – and alas, that turned out to be the last International match our Venkat played – far cry from that sensational debut against New Zealand in 1965.

At Delhi in Mar 1965 – India had an easy win because of a great performance by a young off-spinner – a tall lad from Chennai.  Venkat in the first innings had figures of 51.1-26.72-8 and 61.2-30-80-4 in the second.  At the same place, against  the Clive Lloyds West Indies in 1974-75, he had the ignominy of playing the 1st Test Bangalore taking 4 & 2 [off the 6 that were to fall]; captaining India in the 2nd Test at Delhi which was lost by an innings; Venkat made the scapegoat, dropped, humiliated and made  the 12th man in the very next match at Calcutta.  In that Delhi Test, Viv Richards went on to make an unbeaten 192 helped by a poor umpiring decision, which could have changed the fortunes of that Test and the way Venkat was to be treated.   Again after the disastrous 1979 England tour, he was unceremoniously dropped.  He did make a comeback in 1983 when India toured Windies under Kapil dev.   He played 57 Tests and made 748 runs in 76 innings.  He also played 15 one dayers.  He took 156 test wickets with best bowling of 12 for 152 at Delhi against NZ in his debut series.  His bowling was one of the factors that made India realize their 1st overseas series win in 1971 – at Port of Spain when Sunil Gavaskar debuted, he took a 5 for.  Venkat took 29 wickets on that tour.

He was a remarkable close-in fielder which was realized most in 1974 tour of England.  He played English league turning up for Derbyshire.  Venkat captained Tamil Nadu and was known to be a strict disciplinarian, setting personal examples.    He revelled and is respected as a  player, captain, manager, administrator, selector, columnist, expert television commentator, match referee and umpire.  Have heard him speak on a couple of occasion and have admired his language skills too.  

In an illustrious career stretching over 18 playing years, he led India in 5 Tests and more importantly in the Inaugural and the second edition ODI World Cups.  He is known to be a deep thinker and a very passionate lover of the game able to analyse and bring out the nuances of the game to the fore.  Known to be candid and outrightly frank in his views, he was not afraid in putting things in their proper perspective. 

At a time when slow motion TV replays & other technologies were throwing Umpiring blunders in light, his judgment was most respected and he won the admiration of  players, fellow umpires and administrators alike.   Venkat's temper became almost as famous as his playing ability, as he simply expected the same level of commitment and sincerity from players of younger generation.

New Zealanders will remember him not only for that innings at Chepauk but more for the dream performance a decade earlier in 1965 at Delhi enabling an Indian win.   
A man with his caliber should have shone much higher, but there are always things in life, where you can find rewards not matching talent.  Venkat will also be remembered for being a fit Cricketer, who never missed the matches at any level and a strict disciplinarian, enforcing it on the team too.

I would ever remember that trip from Mumbai on Apr 5, 2011 ~ on that day I spotted my favourite Srinivasan Venkatraghavan at the airport, mustered some courage in talking to him,  upon getting into aircraft -  pleaded for a photo with him – he readily obliged much to my glee ! .. ..

with regards – S. Sampathkumar
21.4.2020.


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