Sadagoppan Ramesh © Getty Images
Sadagoppan Ramesh © Getty Images

Those who watched him bat against the likes of Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar and Saqlain Mushtaq in his debut Test series in 1999, would have believed that this man was certainly the future of Indian cricket. Minimum on footwork but a brilliant timer of the ball, Sadagoppan Ramesh, born October 16, 1975, represented India in 19 Tests and 24 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) in between 1999 and 2001. On his 40th birthday, Suvajit Mustafi presents 17 facts about the Tamil Nadu superstar.

1. Frustrations that led him to give-up pace bowling

Ramesh started playing at the age of 10 with tennis ball. He played Under-13 cricket as a medium pacer. Despite picking wickets in selection trials, he failed to make it to the team. Ramesh in an interview with Rediff said, “I gave up pace bowling, just got fed up, I thought what the heck’s the use of running in from so far and putting a lot of energy into it and not even getting picked to play? Then I started bowling off spin, even though my brother told me not to. For the Under-16 trials, I went as an off spinner, and to my surprise I was in the team.”

2. When his off-spin helped him enter the record books

It was a Coca-Cola Cup match against West Indies in 1999 and it was the first time Sourav Ganguly was leading the Indian side. Surprisingly, he asked Ramesh to bowl in that game and the latter picked up a wicket with his first ball in ODIs. He got the wicket of Nixon McLean. He became the first Indian to achieve this feat and many years later, Bhuvneshwar Kumar repeated the feat. Coincidentally, Wavell Hinds too picked up a wicket with his first ball in the same game in 1999, thus making it the only ODI where two players have taken a wicket with their first ball in ODIs.

3. Middle-order to opening

Ramesh, who batted at No.8 or 9 in Under 16 cricket, later developed as a sound middle-order batsman. During a club game, an untimed injury to one of the openers led him to open the batting. He scored in bulk and made a name for himself in that position.

4. First-Class debut

Ramesh made his First-Class debut in December 1995 against Hyderabad. In the first innings he scored a 59 and in the second, he struck 132. Two days prior to his First-Class debut, he played his first List A game. However, he wasn’t that successful and got out for 18.

5. Good domestic season

Ramesh had a good domestic season in 1998-99. He averaged 52 in the Ranji Trophy. His good form and retirement of Navjot Singh Sidhu, saw him earn a India cap.

6. Test debut

Playing against Pakistan in January 1999, at his home ground in Chennai, Ramesh made an instant mark and won many hearts. Against the likes of Wasim and Waqar, he wasn’t expected to last long. However, he timed the ball to precision and scored a 41-ball 43. In the next innings, he was dismissed for 5 but he had caught the eye of Indian fans and media.

7. A memorable moment

When Ramesh got to an unbeaten 30 at the end of day one in his debut test. The then Indian skipper Mohammad Azharuddin hugged and told him, “I’ve never seen any youngster or anybody bat Wasim like this.” Azhar gifted him a pair of shoes and Ramesh reckons that moment as one of his most memorable ones.

That Test however ended in a heartbreak for Indian fans as Sachin Tendulkar’s 136 brought India at the brink of winning but after a back-injury claimed the Master Blaster, the lower-order collapse resulted in India’s defeat.

8. Crucial role in the ‘Kumble Test’

Ramesh’s second Test will be remembered for Anil Kumble’s heroics. The leg-spinner replicated Jim Laker’s feat and bagged a 10-wicket haul in the second innings against Pakistan at Delhi. However, Ramesh was another hero of the game and ironically not many remember that. His 60 in the first innings helped India set a platform in what was a difficult track. In the second innings, Ramesh’s watchful 96 helped India set a target of 420, in the Test that India eventually won by 212 runs.

9. ODI debut

After a good start to his Test career, Ramesh was immediately drafted to the ODI side. Making his debut against Sri Lanka at Pune, in March 1999, Ramesh opening the batting with Ganguly, scored 24. India won the game by 51 runs.

10. World Cup 1999

Ramesh made it to India’s World Cup 1999 side. He defined that moment as a dream come true. He had just made it to the side earlier that year and less than four months later, he was playing in the World Cup. Ramesh played 5 matches, scored 144 runs at 28.80. His 55 against Zimbabwe was his solitary half-century in the tournament.

11. Indian Cricketer of the Year and Australia tour

Ramesh, for his fine displays in Test cricket, was named the Indian Cricketer of the Year in 1999. He was then picked for the Australian tour at the turn of the millennium. The tour proved to be disastrous for India as they lost the Test series 3-0 and Ramesh’s lack of footwork was exposed. Ramesh scored 60 runs at 20 in the Test series and in the 3 tour games he played, he managed to average just over 32.

12. Part of history

Ramesh played in the historic Eden Gardens Test of 2001, against the touring Australia. India won the Test after being made to follow-on and Ramesh played his part in it. He caught Shane Warne at short-leg, the wicket that helped Harbhajan Singh complete his hat-trick and he became the first ever Indian to do so in Test cricket.  Ramesh, who scored a duck in the first innings, made a quick 30 in the second. However, that India innings will be remembered for Ramesh’s former opening partner VVS Laxman’s 281.

13. Unfortunate

Ramesh played his last Test in Sri Lanka in 2001. India lost the series 2-1 but he ended up being the second highest Indian run-getter in the tour. He scored 223 at 37.16. He got three scores in 40s and got a 55 in his last Test innings. It’s a surprise that he was dropped after that.

14. A surprise move

Ramesh made it to the Australia tour in 2003-04 and in the tour game against Victoria; he batted at No.3 and top-scored with 87. Surprisingly, in India’s next practice game against Queensland Academy of Sport, Ramesh was made to bat at No.7. He was run out for 21. He wasn’t picked for any of the four Tests that India played Down Under.

15. Record

Ramesh, who retired from First-Class cricket in 2008 with a batting average of 43.23, played 19 Tests for India and scored 1367 runs at almost 38. He averaged 28.08 in ODIs. Ramesh averaged almost 56 in his first 7 Tests but could score runs at only 26.55 in his last 12.

16. Steve Waugh’s advice

Ramesh in an interview with ESPNCricinfo, mentioned how Steve Waugh’s advice helped him. He said, “Steve Waugh told me a very important thing: “When you are going through a tough time, never be around people who tell you negative things like, ‘You can’t make it’, ‘They are going to destroy you’, ‘Whatever you perform, they are going to sideline you.’ If you find those kinds of people, stay away from them. Be with people who talk positive things. Life is larger than this. So what [if you are not picked]? You have got nice things, you have a nice family. There is so much to look to on the other side.”

When I went through those tough times, I was married and my daughter was born in 2004. Being dropped was like a breather for me. Whatever depression or difficult times I had in my cricketing career, God compensated me with a beautiful kid and a beautiful family. I was able to see that life was larger than cricket.”

17. Film star

Post cricket, Ramesh became an actor in the South industry. He began his acting career with M Raja’s 2008 Tamil movie Santhosh Subramaniyam. He starred alongside Jeyam Ravi, Genelia D’Souza, Prakash Raj, and Sayaji Shinde. Ramesh’s performance was applauded and the film won many nominations. In 2011, he played the lead in Potta Potti 50/50 alongside Harini.