Born July 12, 1947, Pochiah Krishnamurthy was the Hyderabad mainstay behind the stumps throughout the 1970s. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the man whose contribution in India’s maiden series win in West Indies has been long forgotten.
At 5’8”, Pallemoni Krishnamurthy (usually referred to as Pochiah after his father Pallemoni Pochiah) was taller that most Indian wicket-keepers, but that did not curb his agility against spinners on the bouncing turners India produced in the “golden era of spin”.
Bold enough to stand up to the stumps (Wisden mentioned that he actually “enjoyed” doing so) against the quick bowlers (not a common breed in India in the 1970s), Krishnamurthy was more tidy and efficient than elegant and flamboyant.
Unfortunately, his career coincided with those of Farokh Engineer and Syed Kirmani, which meant that competition was always going to be stiff. He was not as belligerent with the bat as Engineer, and neither did could he hone his skills by getting to keep wickets to spin giants like EAS Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar at domestic level.
Though Krishnamurthy was used judiciously up and down the order (he batted at every position in First-Class cricket) his return from 108 matches was 1,558 runs at a paltry 14.98 with 8 fifties. He also effected 218 victims, of which a staggering 68 were stumpings, which gives a fair idea of the kind of pitches he had played on. His 39 stumpings still remain a record for Hyderabad, while his 116 dismissals come next to only Ibrahim Khaleel and Youraj Singh.
His batting was no better in the five Tests on that historic tour of West Indies in 1971 — which turned out to be his entire Test career. His numbers read 33 runs at 5.50, though he finished with seven catches and a stumping.
Krishnamurthy was born in Hyderabad to a family that ran a dairy business. He broke into First-Class cricket at 19, playing for Indian Starlets against State Bank of India, impressing with his neat glovework to Salim Durani. He toured Ceylon with Hyderabad Blues, and made his Ranji Trophy debut in a star-studded Hyderabad line-up against Madras. It turned out to be a no-contest, as Srinivas Venkataraghavan and VV Kumar ran through the tourists in each innings on a spinning wicket.
His first fifty (51) came that season against Andhra at home, and opening batting with Kenia Jayantilal in the Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup quarterfinal of 1968-69, he scored 49 and helped add 90. His career-best of 82 came next season for State Bank of India in the semifinal of the same tournament.
Krishnamurthy’s best season came in 1970-71, when he scored 283 runs at 28.30 with three fifties, in addition to 11 catches and seven stumpings. With Engineer pulling out of the 1971 tour of West Indies, Krishnamurthy was chosen as one of the two uncapped wicket-keepers, the other being Rusi Jeejeebhoy.
Hyderabadi players from the 1971 tour of West Indies : (from Left to Right) Jayantilal, Abid Ali, Abbas Ali Baig, Pochaiah Krishnamurthy and ML Jaisimha
Krishnamurthy played the match against Jamaica before the first Test at the ground. He did a sound job behind the stumps against Bishan Bedi, Durani, and Prasanna, and scored 19, helping Venkat add a crucial 40 that saved the match for India. He won the Test cap as a result.
With spinners dominating the proceedings throughout the series for India, Krishnamurthy did not have a lot of dismissals to show against his name. His victims, however, made an ensemble cast — consisting of Rohan Kanhai (twice), Garry Sobers, Clive Lloyd, and Roy Fredericks.
His only innings of any significance came in the first innings of the final Test at Queen’s Park Oval: walking out at 296 for 7 Krishnamurthy scored 20 — his Test best — and helped India reach 360 in the company of Venkat and Prasanna. His other five innings yielded a combined total of 13. However, thanks to a decent domestic season and his crucial role behind the stumps in the historic series, he was named an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year.
Striving for a spot
With Engineer back for the England tour, Krishnamurthy had to relinquish the Test spot. His outings were restricted to giving Engineer the much-needed rest by taking up the big gloves in the tour matches. Thereafter he returned to domestic cricket, but was on the sidelines for a major part of the 1970s.
He achieved a rare feat in the Ranji Trophy encounter against Karnataka in 1973-74. Batting at 11, he scored 28 and helped Abid Ali put up 105 for the last wicket. With several hundred-run stands as an opener, he became one of the limited few to be involved in hundred-run partnerships both as an opener and as a number 11.
He was selected for the twin tours of New Zealand and West Indies in 1975-76, but could not break through despite a not-too-good performance from Kirmani. However, after India lost the first ODI at Lancaster Park in the two-match series, Kirmani was left out to make way for Krishnamurthy.
The 35-over (46.4 six-ball overs) match was a no-contest: New Zealand scored 236 for 8 before rolling over India for 156. Krishnamurthy scored six (and did the unthinkable by being dominated by Chandra in a partnership), but had managed to stump Glenn Turner off Venkat and catch Richard Hadlee off Chandra. He never played another international match.
Krishnamurthy played on till 1978-79. He led Hyderabad Cricket Association XI in the Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup Tournament of 1976-77. He eventually retired from all competitive cricket after the likes of Bharath Reddy, Surinder Khanna, Daljit Singh, Zulfiqar Parkar, and Sambaran Banerjee appeared on the scenario.
Krishnamurthy continued to work for State Bank of India and served as the Chairman and as a selector of Hyderabad Cricket Association. He passed away on January 28, 1999. He was only 51.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)