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Narain Swamy: The speedster who preferred the frontier to the arena

Logo of the Services Ranji Trophy team
Narain Swamy was a devoted member of the Services cricket team

Born on May 23, 1924, Narain Swamy was among the group of cricketers who were part of a close-knit Services side in Lt Col Hemu Adhikari’s heydays. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the story of the speedster who was dropped without a reason.

After his shift to Services, Lt Col Hemu Adhikari became the first cricketer of the Ranji Trophy side to play Tests for India. However, he had a bigger role to play for Services: it was under his tutelage that the careers of several Services cricketers blossomed. Several of them went on to become Test cricketers: the list included Chandrasekhar Gadkari, Raman Surendranath, Apoorva Sengupta, Venkatappa Muddiah, and Narain Swamy.

Venkatraman Narain Swamy was a fast-medium bowler who played a single Test for India and was dropped without a valid reason. Despite his slight frame of 5’9” he could be nippy, and largely depended on cutters for his wickets. His services at the border meant that he played only 19 First-Class matches, but it was enough for him to pick up 68 First-Class wickets at an excellent average of 22.16 and four five-fors. No mug with the bat, he also scored 201 runs at 14.35.

Early days

Born near Calicut, Swamy passed an intermediate level of BA at Madras, and joined the Indian Army as an officer in 1944. He was a keen cricket player, and made his Ranji Trophy debut against Rajasthan at Ajmer in 1951-52. Spearheading the attack, Swamy ran through the Rajasthan batting line-up, finishing with five for 33 to bowl them out for 83. In his next match, against Southern Punjab at Kotla, he returned figures of five for 50. He had arrived.

Swamy also played in the semifinal against Holkar at Indore; he finished with two for 27 and three for 83, but Services were knocked out of the tournament. Following his 53 (only First-Class fifty) and six for 29 against Eastern Punjab at Jalandhar he earned a sudden call-up in the first Test against New Zealand at Hyderabad.

Test cricket

Swamy became the first Kerala-born cricketer to play Tests for India. The Test (the first between India and New Zealand) is usually remembered for Polly Umrigar’s 223 — then the highest Test score by an Indian — and Kripal Singh’s debut century on an absolutely placid pitch that had nothing for the seamers. After Ghulam Ahmed declared on 498 for four Swamy opened bowling with Dattu Phadkar.

Ghulam gave him eight overs, in which he conceded 15 and did not pick up a wicket. India used eight bowlers, and the three star spinners — Subhash Gupte, Vinoo Mankad, and Ghulam himself — bowled over 150 overs between themselves. New Zealand managed to reach 326 despite Gupte’s marathon seven-wicket haul.

Following on, New Zealand finished with 212 for two with Bert Sutcliffe remaining unbeaten on 137. Swamy sent down ten overs and conceded 30 without a wicket (Phadkar did not get a wicket in the Test either). Swamy never played another Test.

One remarkable aspect of the rubber was the rotation policy used by India throughout the series in terms of opening bowler: Phadkar and Swamy at Hyderabad; Phadkar and Sadashiv Patil at Brabourne Stadium; Gundibail Sunderam and Gulabrai Ramchand at Kotla; Phadkar and Suderam at Eden Gardens; and Phadkar and Ramchand at Madras.

The last few matches

Back to domestic cricket, Swamy responded immediately with four for 52 and four for 31 against Patiala and Eastern Punjab States Union at Kotla. When West Indies toured India in 1958-59, he rose to the occasion as he (five for 32) and Phadkar (five for 29) bowled unchanged to rout the tourists for 76 for North Zone at Amritsar. Unfortunately, the wrath of Roy Gilchrist and the guile of Lance Gibbs were too much to handle for the hosts.

He played a solitary match after that, against Bombay at Brabourne Stadium in the Ranji Trophy semifinal that season. He went wicket-less, and Bombay won by a ten-wicket margin.

Post-retirement

Back to the frontier, Swamy had larger responsibilities to assume. He served the Indian army with distinction and retired as a Major. Following his retirement from the army, Swamy was a staff at Regiment of Artillery in the Nasik Road Camp.

Swamy passed away at Dehra Dun on May 1, 1983. He was 22 days short of his 59th birthday.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)

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