By Sidhanta Patnaik
Ravichandran Ashwin’s man-of-the-match-winning performance on his Test debut has brought a sigh of relief for the Indian fans who were slowly allowing themselves to believe that the Indian spinning tradition is a thing of past.
If anyone has the slightest knowledge about Tamil Nadu’s association with Indian cricket, then they would know that knowingly or unknowingly Ashwin carries an unfulfilled promise on his young shoulders.
With a strong league structure in place, it is not surprising that out of the 272 Test cricketers that India has produced, 27 have played for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy. In a span of 77 years, they have cumulatively represented India in 246 Test matches, scored 8,677 runs and taken 264 wickets. Though the figures are appeasing, yet, except for Srinivas Venkataraghavan who remains the lone Tamil Nadu player to represent India in more than 50 Test and Krishnamachari Srikkanth, who redefined the meaning of opening an innings, none from the state have actually gone on to own a place in the national Test XI.
Morappakam Gopalan was the first cricketer from Tamil Nadu (then Madras) to play for India when he featured in the Kolkata (then Calcutta) Test of January 1934. However, it was Cotar Ramaswami whose fine innings of 40 and 60 was the first major contribution as it played a small role in helping India attain a draw against England in Manchester in the July 1936 Test match.
Then there were the Singhs, who to their credit have produced five cricketers for Tamil Nadu, and for a long time were the first family of the state’s cricket ecosystem. It was appropriate that the first of the clan to play for India, AG Kripal Singh, became the 26th batsman overall and 3rd Indian to score a century on Test debut which came against New Zealand in the Hyderabad Test match of November 1955. But, unfortunately, neither he nor his brother AG Milkha Singh could represent India beyond a combined total of 18 Test matches.
Many talented first class-cricketers like Vaman Kumar, Bharath Reddy, TE Srinivasan, TA Sekhar, Bharat Arun and M Venkataramana failed to replicate their domestic heroics at the international level. A classic example in the same league was WV Raman whose four fifties in 19 Test innings does not quite reflect the skills and ability he possessed.
Laxman Sivaramakrishnan failed to climb the ladder after showing glimpses of his richness and variety in the memorable 1985 Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket in Australia.
Similarly, during the early-mid 1990s, off-spinner Aashish Kapoor, whose cricketing story roots back to the hostel corridor of an engineering college in Chennai, was the first to fall by the wayside when the fight for the second spinner slot in the national team was three way between him, Rajesh Chauhan and Venkatapathy Raju.
When Robin Singh broke into the Indian team for the Harare Test match against Zimbabwe in October 1998, a four-year drought of talent supply from the state to the national team came to an end but that was to be his sole appearance in the five day format. There was an air of anticipation around Sadagoppan Ramesh who began his Test career with a breezy innings of 43 in that famous 1999 Chennai Test against Pakistan, but his limited footwork never found favour with the selectors, though his average of 37.97 was pretty decent when there was a dearth of genuine openers across India.
There will never be a clear answer on why the flamboyant Hemang Badani and the handful Laxmipathy Balaji were not given a long run in the national team.
Dinesh Karthik’s debut against Australia in the 2004 Mumbai Test match seemed to have answered the longstanding wicket keeping worries of India, but soon his contemporary Mahendra Singh Dhoni made his debut and the rest, as they say, is history.
Of the current lot, Murali Vijay and Subramaniam Badrinath showed promise in their first strike, but soon their temperament at the top level was found out and there is a fear that time may just run out for them. Abhinav Mukund had a good exposure in West Indies and England, but will have to give a tough fight to Mumbai’s Ajinkya Rahane for the third opener’s slot.
Ravichandran Ashwin exactly knows where he stands and the mandates is clear for him – perform for India and take Tamil Nadu cricket one notch up.
(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sports marketing professional, public speaker and a part time writer. His twitter id is @sidhpat)