Srinivas Venkataraghavan Biography
Srinivas Venkataraghavan did not have an action as picturesque as Bishan Bedi’s, variations to match EAS Prasanna’s, or was nowhere as unpredictable as Bhagwat Chandrasekhar at his devastating best.
Instead, Venkat was tall, slim, agile, and bowled with subtle variations. Playing invariably as the third spinner of the side, he had to resort to line-and-length bowling, but he had crafts of his own: he was a master of round-the-wicket off-spin bowling; and there was one that came off the pitch at uncanny pace, catching the best of batsmen unaware.
Venkat’s 530 Ranji wickets rank next to only Rajinder Goel’s 637. Of Indians, his 1,390 First-Class wickets are next to only Bedi’s 1,560. Despite not being in the class of the other three with the ball, he was a gritty batsman and an excellent fielder, making him a utility cricketer.
Despite that, he lost out on what could have been a longer Test career, had his career not coincided with Prasanna’s, that too when the latter was in his prime. When Prasanna was away from Indian cricket in the mid-1960s, Venkat took 12 for 152 against New Zealand at Kotla, becoming the second cricketer to dismiss all 11 men in a Test.
Prasanna returned, but Venkat kept delivering: his 20 wickets on the England tour of 1967 came at 27.95 in the limited opportunities he got, for Prasanna was the spinner-of-choice for Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi. As Prasanna scaled new heights with the ball, Venkat was pushed back into oblivion.
Things turned when Ajit Wadekar came at the helm. During India’s historic twin tour wins in 1971, Venkat was the leading wicket-taker with 35 wickets at 31.25. He played crucial roles in both wins: he had 5 for 95 at Queen’s Park Oval, and followed it with 20-4-44-2 to support Chandra’s rout at The Oval. On the England tour he claimed the only 9-for by an Indian in a representative match (9 for 138 against Worcestershire).
By then he was also India’s vice-captain. He earned a contract with Derbyshire. The stint did him good, for he now had limited-overs experience on his CV along with accurate bowling and immaculate fielding. He led India in the first two editions of the World Cup, albeit with disastrous results. The English, unable to pronounce his name, called him Rent-a-Wagon.
He remained in the background, wheeling away over after over for Tamil Nadu, before the Pakistan tour of 1978-79 ended Prasanna’s career and jeopardised Bedi’s and Chandra’s. All of a sudden Venkat found himself captain of India’s tour to England in 1979; he was sacked almost as suddenly (and unceremoniously, for the announcement came from the pilot on the team’s return home). He was not a popular captain, for he laid emphasis on discipline and fitness — concepts not in the rage in Indian cricket at the time.
He outlasted his spin-mates, playing for 18 years 214 days — a span bettered by only Sachin Tendulkar and Lala Amarnath. He had made his debut alongside Vijay Manjrekar; and toured West Indies in 1982-83 with Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Maninder Singh, men who were not born when he had made his Test debut. He was still sharp in the slips, sent down 190 overs in 6 innings, and took 1 for 24 in India’s maiden win on West Indian soil, at Albion.
After a brief stint as match referee, Venkat went on to become one of the most celebrated international umpires, standing in 73 Tests and 51 ODIs (including two World Cup semi-finals). He was awarded the Padma Shri in 2003 and the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004 (along with Bedi, Chandra, and Prasanna).
Tall, dark, handsome, an Iyengar intellectual, and a First-Class-First in Engineering from Madras School of Technology who took out time to visit Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa during India’s 1978-79 tour of Pakistan, Venkat was a much-sought-after ‘eligible bachelor’ in his youth. There were even rumours of a marriage with Bollywood diva Hema Malini.