Milkha Singh Credit: H Natarajan
AG Milkha Singh. Credit: H Natarajan

AG Milkha Singh never had the glamour of his elder brother Kripal, but he was a regular feature in the Tamil Nadu domestic cricket circuit. He was stylish in a way left-handed batsmen often are, but seldom converted those starts to big scores. Indeed, 4,324 runs at 35 in First-Class cricket is barely something to write home about, though 2,151 at 41 in Ranji Trophy isn’t too bad.

Milkha had his moments under the sun, none more significant than in the first ever Duleep Trophy match, back in 1961-62. Milkha held the innings together with 151 — the first hundred in Duleep Trophy — as wickets fell around him, no one else going past 40. South Zone’s 302 turned out to be more than enough: North Zone were skittled out for 48 and 166.

Milkha’s biggest success came before that, in 1959-60, when the Indian Starlets toured Pakistan. Then only 18, he averaged 117 despite scoring 68 from his first 3 innings on the tour, for he rounded things off with 103*, 97*, 101, and 100.

It was this spree that made Milkha an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year and earned him a Test cap. The latter happened in the Pongal Test of 1959-60, against an Australian side that were probably the strongest touring side to India till that point. He failed, as he did against Pakistan in the Pongal Test the year after. Less than a month later he scored a career-best of 35 at Delhi.

His last Test, against England at Bombay, was a historic one, for Milkha took field along with SBI colleague and teammate VV Kumar. With Kripal also there in the side, this was the first instance of three Tamil Nadu cricketers playing in the same Test.

That was it: 92 runs at 15.33 was all that his career amounted to. He was not even 20 when he played his last Test. Only two other Indians — Apoorva Sengupta and Bal Dani — have played their last Tests at a younger age, while Jayadev Unadkat may still make a comeback.

Of course, he continued to play for SBI alongside Kumar, and won them to many a victory.

The family

Amritsar Govindsingh is an unlikely prefix for a Chennai family. That, however, did not stop from AG Ram Singh and his family from emerging as one of the most prolific cricket families of the city. AG, those iconic initials, were first used Ram Singh’s father under the pretext that Tamilians used a lot of surnames.

Ram Singh was the second cricketer to do the 1,000 run-100 wicket double in Ranji Trophy. He should have been on the 1936 tour of England, but Vizzy intervened. Ram Singh never played Test cricket.

Ram Singh’s three sons soon became stalwarts in Madras league cricket — surprisingly, for different clubs. Kripal played for EID Parry, Milkha for State Bank of India, and Satwender (who played for Tamil Nadu) for Alwarpet CC.

The brothers remained close to one another. Kripal’s sons, Arjan Kripal and Swaran Kripal, both played for Tamil Nadu as well.