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Srinivas Venkataraghavan, born April 21, 1945, was one of the most versatile cricketers the world has ever seen. He was a part of the celebrated spin quartet, the second-highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy, an outstanding fielder, a Test captain, a national selector, a much-celebrated umpire and a match-referee. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an unheralded legend of the sport.
Most people remember Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan as the fourth name of “the quartet”; their respective Test numbers suggest that Venkat was nowhere in the league of the other three, and being the quietest of the foursome on ground, seldom got the attention as the other three.
As Ramachandra Guha wrote in Wickets in the East: Anecdotal History, “Of the great spin quartet, he (Venkat) was unfortunately the least glamorous (only cricketing-wise, that is, for he was by far the best-looking of the four) lacking (Bishan) Bedi’s consummate flight, (EAS) Prasanna’s variations, and (Bhagwat) Chandrasekhar’s turn and bounce.”
On the other hand, Venkat, being the most accurate of the four, was almost always asked to play the foil to the others. Sunil Gavaskar wrote in Idols that Venkat “saw to it that after the two bowlers (Prasanna and Bedi) had finished their stints, runs were not easy to come by off his bowling. His job then was to see that he bowled tight so that both the spinners would come back and strike the vital blows. To my mind, this is where Venkat (Venkataraghavan) lost out to Pras and that too in the larger interests of the team. Venkat realised that he would have to be more economical than Pras. Hence, he sacrificed his natural loop and beautiful flight which he had when he first came on to the Test scene, so that Pras could get the wickets at the other end.”
Guha provided another reason in Spin and Other Turns: Indian Cricket’s Coming of Age: “On his showing in 1971 Venkat (Venkataraghavan) was given a contract with Derbyshire in the English County Championship. It was an offer he could not refuse, but he was to pay dearly for it. Venkat drastically reworked his action, adopting less of a follow-through to conserve energy through the summer. Sadly, he was never quite the same bowler again.”
Unusually tall for an Indian spinner (5’11½”), Venkat, was a master of the craft of off-spin: he was comfortable in bowling over- and round-the-wicket, tossing the ball up and bowling darts. He had also specialised in an off-spinner’s version of the flipper: even the likes of Gundappa Viswanath fell prey time and again to that special delivery that “fizzed off the pitch” at a rapid pace, catching the batsman unawares.
Indeed, those fortunate to have seen Venkat bowl at domestic level (of course, he was the main spinner in the Madras attack) have witnessed the man at his aggressive best: he knew he had to assume the role of the strike bowler, and acted likewise, using his flight, guile, and turn to extract maximum results. Only Rajinder Goel (637) has finished with more Ranji Trophy wickets than Venkat (530). Additionally, thanks to his stint with Derbyshire, Venkat (1,390) ranks second in terms of First-Class wickets among Indians (Bedi had 1,560).
Venkat was also the best (or rather, only) batsman of the four, and an outstanding close-in fielder. Being the fittest, Venkat also had the longest Test career of the four (18 years 214 days). In fact, among Indians, only Sachin Tendulkar (24 years one day) and Lala Amarnath (exactly 19 years) have had longer Test careers.
One must remember that Venkat went on to become one of the most respected umpires in the circuit (he remains the only cricketer to have played and umpired in over 50 Tests), an international match-referee, a manager, a national selector, a newspaper columnist, and a television commentator.
None of these numbers, however, emphasise on the man. Lesser men would have cribbed about the injustice dished out to him by the selectors over time. Not Venkat. There was a reason that Guha called him “a remarkably unselfish cricketer”. H Natarajan, the Executive Editor of CricketCountry, mentioned that Venkat “did not allow these things to upset his work ethics and went about his work with a tunnel vision.” He was always one to accept setbacks gracefully; but more of that later.
Venkat, tall, dark, and handsome straight out of young-adult books, was a First-Class-First in Engineering from Madras Institute of Technology; a connoisseur of literature and music; and a man who was willing to visit Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa on the 1977-78 tour to Pakistan (resulting in blank stares from quite a few team-members). Guha called him “the classical ideal of mens sna in corpore sano (a healthy mind in a healthy body)”.
From 341 First-Class matches Venkat’s tally read 1,390 wickets at 24.14 with 85 five-wicket hauls and 21 ten-wicket hauls. His batting, a somewhat overrated aspect of his cricket (the hype probably happened because the other three did not exactly take the world apart with their batting skills), got him 6,617 First-Class runs at 17.73 with a solitary ton (137 against Kerala at Thalassery, 1969-70). He also finished with a phenomenal 316 catches.
The Test numbers were, in comparison, rather ordinary: 156 wickets from 57 Tests at 36.11 with three five-fors and a single ten-for hardly do justice to his exceptional talent. His superlative close-in fielding, however, earned him 44 catches; he had also scored two fifties in a tally of 748 runs.
The fielder who scaled new heights and the dentist with the bat
Venkat had impressed in his first two Tests, but it was in the third that he became the talk of the town with a catch. Gavaskar, a spectator at the Test, later wrote in Idols: “Ramakant Desai ran up to bowl with that smooth run-up of his, pitched the ball just short outside the off-stump. Barry Sinclair, the New Zealand vice-captain, square-cut powerfully but uppishly and when most heads were turned to the boundary, a tall and slim figure stood with a half jump and snatched the ball with complete ease.”
Indian spinners before Venkat were never renowned for their athleticism: it was a realm reserved for a handful of batsmen, or at most a few quick men who could run fast. Before Tiger Pataudi’s advent there were a mere handful of Indian fielders who could be called competitive at international level, and close-in fielding was certainly not among its strengths (had the fielding been superior, the trio of Vinoo Mankad, Subhash Gupte, and Ghulam Ahmed could have won Tests on their own in their heydays).
Indeed, one of the reasons behind the success stories of Indian cricket in 1971 lay in their pack of outstanding close-in fielders: Ajit Wadekar himself, Gavaskar, Venkat, and Eknath Solkar (Tony Greig said that Solkar’s presence as a fielder gave India “four strike bowlers”). Of them, the first three were stupendous at slip, and Venkat took overhead catches as cleanly as anyone in contemporary cricket did.
Perhaps his most remembered catch was that of Brian Luckhurst (who stood between India and a victory) in the 1971 Test at The Oval that every Indian cricket fan remembers: the ball from Chandra had taken off at a rapid pace, took Luckhurst’s edge, and flew straight to Venkat at an alarming pace; our hero made the difficult catch look extremely simple.
It was not only as a fielder that Venkat had made an impact: he had also a keen eye for upcoming talent. On the tour of New Zealand in 1975-76, Venkat had found a potential close-in fielder in young Dilip Vengsarkar; for close to a decade the Mumbai batsman remained India’s top bat-pad fielders.
Rajan Bala had called Venkat a dentist with the bat who was “poking, pushing, hedging, provoking”; getting him out was as difficult as “the extraction of a stubborn tooth”. Venkat was not an outstanding batsman, but he ensured the opposition had to get his wicket: there were few free lunches.
The fourth of the quartet
Venkat had made his debut against Mysore in 1963-64 at Bangalore, finishing with a solitary wicket. The match witnessed four men who ranked among the finest spinners India had produced — VV Kumar, Chandra, Prasanna, and Venkat himself. The spin rivalry between Mysore (later Karnataka) and Madras (later Tamil Nadu) had taken off.
Kumar and Venkat ended up with 948 Ranji Trophy wickets between them. Kumar later said in an interview: “We (Venkat and Kumar) always complemented each other well. When Venkat decided to impart spin, I would focus on straight ones, and when I turned them big, Venkat would keep it straight and tight. We also used to discuss and plan batsmen out — what we call ‘set them up for a particular kind of dismissal’.”
When Ceylon toured India in 1964-65 he ran through them with figures of six for 51 — his maiden five-wicket haul — at Madras in the absence of Kumar. A few days later, in a Ranji Trophy bout against Andhra at Coimbatore, he went a step ahead with figures of six for 32 and six for 50. Less than two months later, with Prasanna out of action for his studies, Venkat made his debut against New Zealand at Chepauk.
Dismissing the entire pack
The third man in an attack consisting of Bapu Nadkarni and Salim Durani, two bowlers vastly different from one another, Venkat toiled hard to bowl Graham Dowling and Sinclair. He sent down over after over in the Madras heat he was so used to, finishing with marathon figures of 48-23-90-2. Venkat claimed three for 86 and three for 15 (from 17 overs) in the second Test at Eden Gardens. He did little of note at Brabourne Stadium (barring the catch mentioned above); then, with the series levelled 1-1, came the final Test at Kotla.
John Reid batted first, and after a few regulation overs from Ramakant Desai, ML Jaisimha, and Venkataraman Subramanya, Pataudi summoned Venkat and Chandra. Venkat struck with the wicket of Dowling after about an hour’s play. The ball “slithered past his (Dowling’s) bat like a snake on a polished floor,” wrote Vizzy in The Indian Express the next day.
Vizzy bracketed him with Lance Gibbs, Jim Laker, and Ghulam Ahmed in his piece; the comparisons may have been exaggerated, but Venkat had bowled magnificently that day; with Chandra not at his best early in the day, Pataudi summoned Nadkarni, who did what has always been his USP: he finished with a match haul of 35-21-31-0.
Terry Jarvis was bowled; Bevan Congdon, on the lookout for quick runs (he hit three sixes), holed out to Chandra; the great Bert Sutcliffe was bowled as well, as were Terry Jarvis and Vic Pollard; Venkat eventually finished with figures of eight for 72 from 51.1 overs. They would remain his career-best figures.
Hundreds from Dilip Sardesai and Pataudi helped India declare with a 203-run lead; then Venkat struck again; John Reid, Bruce Taylor, and Richard Collinge — the three men who had escaped him in the first innings — all fell to him, while Jarvis was dismissed for the second time in the Test.
Venkat finished with figures of four for 80 from 61.2 overs; the haul of 12 for 152 would remain his only ten-for as India overhauled the paltry target of 70 with ease. It was in this match that Venkat became the second bowler (after Laker) to dismiss all eleven opposition batsmen in a Test (Geoff Dymock, Abdul Qadir, Waqar Younis, and Muttiah Muralitharan have later emulated the duo). He was named an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year.
The nemesis returns
After an ordinary home series against West Indies, Venkat toured England. He did a decent job on the tour, finishing with 20 wickets at 27.95 that included three for 32 and five for 45 against Cambridge University at Fenner’s Ground. Despite his decent outings he got to play only seven matches on the tour, since Prasanna was Pataudi’s off-spinner of choice.
India were whitewashed 0-3 in the series; crippled by injuries of all three seamers (Rusi Surti, Subrata Guha, and Sadanand Mohol) in the dead rubber Test at Edgbaston, Pataudi was forced to play the spin quartet for the only time in history, getting wicketkeeper Budhi Kunderan to open bowling.
Pataudi’s lack of faith in Venkat was evident: while Bedi sent down 51 overs in the Test, Chandra 52.5, and Prasanna 44, Venkat got a paltry 15 overs; a haul of 30 runs with the wicket of Dennis Amiss was not a bad return (given how the others had bowled throughout the series), but Pataudi was never keen on Venkat. He missed the 1968-69 twin tours of Australia and New Zealand that established Prasanna as India’s premier off-spinner.
Venkat played in the 1969-70 home series against Australia (where India lost 1-3), and did an excellent job in the final Test at Madras in tandem with Venkat: while Prasanna finished with four for 100 and six for 74, Venkat played the foil with four for 71 and two for 26. India lost the Test and the series, but it was evident that Venkat was not willing to give up the battle with Prasanna.
Looking back at the series, Partab Ramchand wrote in The Gentle Executioners: “As regards Venkat (Venkataraghavan) it was clear that (Tiger) Pataudi under-bowled him. Convinced that (EAS) Prasanna and (Bishan) Bedi were the answer to counter the quick-footed Australians Pataudi at times used Venkat as no more than a change bowler.”
Pataudi was sacked as captain following the series. To keep in tune with the changes in the Indian society, monarchy gave way to the urban middle-class: the new selection committee, led by Vijay Merchant, appointed Wadekar as captain for the tour of West Indies. Pataudi pulled out of the tours. Venkat was named his deputy. His time would change.
A great year and bizarre selection policies
When an Indian cricket fan recalls the twin tours of West Indies and England in 1971 that rewrote new chapters in the history of the nation, what are the names that come to his mind? Wadekar, the captain; Gavaskar and Sardesai, for their exceptional batting in West Indies; Chandra, for the day the elephant came at The Oval (to steal a Mihir Bose phrase); Solkar, for his outstanding fielding and gutsy batting; and maybe Durani, for those two deliveries at Queen’s Park Oval.
Amidst all the glamorous names, the role of Venkat is easily forgotten. How good was Venkat in those eight Tests? Let us find out:
Clearly, Venkat was Wadekar’s “chosen one”. It is generally forgotten that it was Venkat’s five for 95 in the third innings that had restricted the Indian target to 124 at Queen’s Park Oval. He had also helped India to a near-win in the last Test, also at Queen’s Park Oval, where he picked up four for 100 and two for 11. In the same Test he had scored 51 in the first innings, helping India add 113 for the last four wickets.
Venkat finished the series with 22 wickets — the most from either side — five clear of Jack Noreiga’s 17. An obvious choice for the England tour that followed, Venkat was keen to improve on his 1967 numbers (which were rather good, to begin with); Bedi and Venkat picked up nine wickets apiece against Glamorgan at Cardiff, and India won by 102 runs.
The next tour match at Bournemouth did not promise a lot: he managed a single wicket in Hampshire’s total of 198 before hundreds from Ashok Mankad and Viswanath got the tourists to a lead of 166. What followed was history: Larry Worrell (a cousin of Frank), batting at number nine, was dismissed by Solkar; Venkat claimed the rest of the lot to finish with nine for 93.
It was the first nine-for by an Indian overseas (Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan are the only ones to have emulated him). While Srinath’s nine for 76 (the best figures by an Indian overseas) for Gloucestershire against Glamorgan at Abergavenny and Zaheer’s nine for 138 for Worcestershire against Essex at Chelmsford have both come in the County Championship, Venkat’s haul remains the only nine-for by an Indian in a representative match.
An obvious choice for the Lord’s Test, Venkat finished with two for 44 and four for 52, following the feat with three for 89 at Old Trafford. Then, in the historic Test at The Oval, he once again reverted to his anchor role; as Chandra scythed through the English line-up, Venkat removed Basil D’Oliveira and Alan Knott, finishing with two for 44 from 20 overs.
He finished with 13 wickets, joint-best with Chandra, but had an average of 26.92 to Chandra’s 29.15. He was the vice-captain of the side. That year he was also honoured with The Arjuna Award. At 26, Venkat’s career was finally on the ascent. Not for long.
In India’s next series, against England at home, Venkat bowled only 24 overs in the first Test at Kotla; Chandra ran through the opposition in the first innings with an eight-wicket haul, and England won by six wickets. Venkat was dropped from the side somewhat unceremoniously, only to be brought back for the last Test at Brabourne Stadium, where he got to bowl 30 overs.
Suddenly, from being the leading spinner in the side, Venkat found himself as the fourth option. Gavaskar later wrote: “With Pras (Prasanna) coming on with his flighted guile, Venkat (Venkataraghavan) found himself relegated to the rear. This must have been a severe blow to one who was the vice-captain of the country the previous year. This, however, went on to strengthen Venkat’s resolve not to give up.”
More selection quirks
Wadekar was sacked after the infamous Summer of 42 (where Venkat got to bowl a mere 37 overs from two Tests). Pataudi included both Prasanna and Venkat, along with Chandra, for the first Test against West Indies at Bangalore: Venkat put up a gallant show, finishing with four for 75 and two for 79, but with both Pataudi and Farokh Engineer out of action, a nine-man team never stood a chance.
What followed was bizarre. “I was told on the eve of the first Test that I was appointed vice-captain but not to make it public,” wrote Gavaskar. In fact, when Pataudi had left field without informing anyone who would lead, a pandemonium followed, and an embarrassed Gavaskar had to inform his seniors that he was in charge.
Things took a further twist when Gavaskar injured his index finger while playing a Ranji Trophy match against Maharashtra at Nasik. With several seniors in the side many names came up; things got more convoluted when Gulabrai Ramchand, the manager, announced: “I know who the Indian captain is going to be but I am not telling.” While Ram Prakash Mehra, President of Delhi & District Cricket Association, said “I know who it is, unofficially of course. It is (Farokh) Engineer.”
It was only on the day of the Test that Chairman of Selectors CD Gopinath announced that Venkat would lead the side. Prasanna was brought back at the expense of Chandra, who had troubled a debutant Viv Richards at Bangalore, dismissing him for four and three. Now, in the absence of Chandra, Richards single-handedly mauled the Indian attack to score an unbeaten 192 and guide West Indies to an innings win.
Pataudi was back for the third Test at Eden Gardens, as was Chandra; Venkat, who was appointed the captain at Kotla without prior announcement, was relegated to twelfth man just as suddenly. As if this was not baffling enough, Venkat was appointed captain for the 1975 World Cup (Prasanna and Chandra were left out), and was sacked immediately afterwards.
In between all the confusion (and humiliation) Venkat was offered a contract from Derbyshire in 1973. Peakfan’s Blog (acknowledged by Cricket Derbyshire) wrote: “They enjoyed his ability to spin the ball too. From a short run up, a quick arm action sent the ball fizzing down the wicket, often fairly flat and almost always accurate. Erapalli Prasanna might have been the more favoured off-spinner by his country’s selectors, but Venkat was a class act himself. 1390 career wickets at 24 confirms that and Derbyshire have had few, if any, better spinners in their long history.”
Peakfan added that, “He (Venkat) was just the wrong man at the wrong time, though those of us who watched him bowl long spells will remember a beautiful bowler; a man of genuine humility and a ready smile.” Not used to driving, Venkat preferred to be ferried by his teammates, with whom he was a popular man.
The only problem Derbyshire had was with his name. Peakman wrote: “Can’t wait for the fans to start chanting ‘Gimme an S… gimme an R… gimme an I…’ said Neil. ‘They’ll have bowled ten overs by the time they’ve done. ‘Rentacaravan’ was one moniker given to him, a lack of deference for a bowler of genuine quality. Mind you, they were Nottinghamshire fans, so it didn’t really count…”
The name Rent-a-Caravan could have stuck, but they thought Rent-a-Wagon sounded better (sources claim that Tony Greig had come up with the name). Venkat played for Derbyshire till 1975. A haul of 171 wickets at 27.87 on English conditions was worth the bargain.
The end of the trinity
Following the Kotla Test, Venkat played for India only sporadically, especially at home. India lost the first Test against England at Kotla in 1976-77 (Venkat removed Amiss and Tony Greig); India won by an innings, Prasanna was brought back, and though England won the series 3-1, Venkat was not recalled.
He was recalled for the WACA Test of 1977-78 after India lost at The Gabba. Venkat managed only two wickets, and was left out for the rest of the series: India were back to Bedi, Chandra, and Prasanna again.
It would not last: Bedi, Chandra, and Prasanna were butchered in the 1978-79 tour of Pakistan, especially by Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad. Chandra, Bedi, and Prasanna shared 16 wickets between them; Prasanna’s career ended in that series; and Bedi and Chandra’s did not extend for long, either.
Suddenly, at 34, Venkat emerged as the only remaining member of the quartet. He was now the leader of the pack. As he showed in the home series against West Indies, his days were far from over: with four for 55 and three for 47 at Eden Gardens (West Indies drew the Test after being nine wickets down in the fourth innings) and three for 60 and four for 43 at Chepauk (India won the Test, and eventually the series 1-0) in consecutive Tests he firmly established himself. There were four seamers in the top five wicket-takers of the series with Venkat, with 20 wickets at 24.75, as the lone spinner.
It was at the fourth Test at Kotla, though, that Venkat the man had emerged. After Gavaskar had declared on 566 for eight Venkat removed Basil Williams, but thereafter it was all Kapil and Ghavri; Venkat and Chandra came back only to finish the tail as West Indies crumbled to 172. Kapil and Ghavri led the team away from the ground.
Guha later reminisced: “Venkat (Venkataraghavan) was following the heels of the feisty duo, but he suddenly stopped at the pavilion gate and turned around to see the shy, nervous (Bhagwat) Chandrasekhar bringing up the rear with his Karnataka teammate, the wicket-keeper Syed Kirmani. Where the rest of the team and the crowd itself had eyes only for (Karsan) Ghavri and Kapil (Dev), Venkat caught Chandra’s eye and clapped his hands in applause. Indian cricket may no longer have had much place for the art of spin, but Venkat would not abandon his fellow craftsmen.”
Re-appointment and further ignominy
Gavaskar was replaced by Venkat for the England tour of 1979. “I was deposed as captain, allegedly because of some statements my wife had made to the media,” wrote Gavaskar in Idols. India had a disastrous World Cup, but did somewhat better in the Tests. They lost the series 0-1, but had almost chased down 437 at The Oval, finishing on 429 for eight thanks to Gavaskar’s monumental 221.
The series also witnessed Chandra and Bedi play their last Tests. On their way back home from England, the Indian team heard the pilot of the aircraft broadcast on the public announcement system that their captain had been replaced by Gavaskar, yet again.
The strict disciplinarian
With his insistence on fitness and stamina, Venkat was not the most popular of captains in an era where physical fitness was certainly not among the top qualities required to make an Indian Test cricketer. Gavaskar wrote: “As a captain Venkat (Venkataraghavan) was difficult to understand mainly because he set very, very high standards. If he found anybody falling short, he was not averse to giving the player a firing. In fact, his temper has become something of a joke in the Indian team.”
In an interview to Natarajan, Wadekar had echoed the same views but focussed on the positive aspects: “Venky (Venkataraghavan) is a misunderstood person because of his short-tempered nature. But he is a 100% team man and a good thinker of the game. I also liked the fact that, unlike so many players, he never allowed his morale to drop when the opposition held the upper hand.”
The difference between the smiling Derbyshire professional and the angry Indian captain was striking. Captaincy did not suit Venkat: in fact, from five Tests as captain, Venkat managed only seven wickets at 64.57.
Australia toured India for a five-Test series that winter, and Venkat was dropped after the first three Tests, only to be replaced by Shivlal Yadav. With Kapil and Ghavri leading a rise of pace and Dilip Doshi (not to speak of Ravi Shastri) also coming to the forefront, Venkat found himself out of contention yet again.
The surprise comeback
Venkat continued to deliver in domestic cricket. After being axed from the side he picked up 85 wickets at 22.89 over the next seasons. Then, after a period of over three years after he was dropped against Australia, Venkat was chosen to tour West Indies in 1982-83. The other two spinners on the side — Maninder Singh and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan — were not born when Venkat had made his Test debut.
The West Indian commentators were full of praise of “wily Venkat, full of guile” and “amazin’ reflexes at slip of a 38-year old man”. India lost the series 0-2 but were not exactly humiliated. Though Venkat managed only ten wickets he played all five Tests, wheeling down 190 overs in six innings. Not a bad effort from a 38-year old!
He also played all three ODIs, and was a part of India’s first ODI win over West Indies at Albion. In his final ODI at St George’s, Venkat removed Richards and conceded a mere 24 from his eight overs. When the Indian team left for the World Cup of 1983, it was the first time they would do so under a captain other than Venkat; he was not even in the side.
The final outing
Venkat had not played Pakistan in 1978-79; he finally got the opportunity to play them at Bangalore soon after the World Cup. He got a solitary wicket in the only innings, and did not manage any in the only innings at Jullundur. He was replaced by Raghuram Bhat in the final Test at Nagpur, and never played a Test again.
He played First-Class cricket for another season; even in his final season he finished with 30 wickets at 21.06 (including seven for 69 and three for 63 against Karnataka at Salem, one for 24 and five for 81 against Andhra at home, and six for 90 and three for 93 against Bihar, also at home.
Tamil Nadu seemed strong for the title, but though they scored 409 in the semifinal at Wankhede they were overhauled by Bombay and were knocked out of the competition. Venkat quit First-Class cricket after the match.
The man in the white coat
Venkat hailed from an orthodox family of Tamil Iyengars (on both sides); his grandfather was a Diwan and his father worked in an insurance company; both were strict disciplinarians and had instilled the values of discipline in Venkat at an early age. Additionally, he “knew the rule-book back to front”, and despite his temper, had the ability of keeping things under control on the field.
These qualities obviously meant one thing: stepping into a match official’s shoes would be a seamless journey for Venkat. His career as a Manager at Southern Petrochemical Industries Corporation (SPIC) was over. He was already a celebrated columnist and commentator. He had been the manager for the Indian tours of Australia in 1985-86 and West Indies in 1989; a national selector in 1991-92; and the Secretary of Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) from 1986 to 1989.
In 1992-93 he assumed the role as an International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee, officiating in five Tests and eight ODIs. Three months later, while still a match-referee, Venkat stood as an umpire in the ODI against England at Jaipur, shortly followed by the Test at Eden Gardens. Starting in the era of television umpires, Venkat went on to become one of the most celebrated umpires in cricket, standing in 73 Tests and 51 ODIs; this included two World Cup semifinals (1996 and 1999) and a television umpire in a World Cup final (1999).
When Venkat finally decided to stand down, Malcolm Speed, the CEO of ICC, had admitted: “He (Venkat) has stood the test of time in an exceptionally demanding profession. He has seen international cricket and international cricket umpiring undergo extraordinary change and has stood up to the scrutiny that now comes with being involved in the game at the elite level. His integrity and passion for cricket are of the highest order and he has helped ensure that the spirit of the game remains intact for those that will follow.”
Venkat was honoured with the Padma Shri in 2003. The next season he shared the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award with his old partners-in-crime — Bedi, Chandra, and Prasanna. Later that year Venkat was honoured by ICC for his contribution to the sport. The Hindu described the award: “In recognition of his service to the game of cricket, the ICC presented him with a bronze replica of the man, depicting his distinctive gesture of giving a batsman out — right arm held to his side and the elbow bent. A gentle nod indicating the firm decision.”
ICC President Ehsan Mani commented: “Venkat has been an outstanding performer as an international umpire and it is fitting that the ICC should mark his tremendous contribution to the game in this fashion.”
Brought up in a conservative Iyengar environment, Venkat was rumoured to be a suitor of actress Hema Malini, also an Iyengar (who later went on to marry co-star Dharmendra, with whom she forged a pair that produced several Bollywood blockbusters). Venkat later married Ranjani (another Iyengar, obviously).
Their sons Vikram and Vinay both studied at Southern Methodist University, representing them in tennis. Both Vikram and Vinay played tennis at national level.
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