Commandur Rangachari  (right) and Don Bradman
Commandur Rangachari (right) and Don Bradman during India’s tour of Australia in 1947-48. Photo Courtesy: National Library of Australia

Commandur Rangachari  was born April 14, 1916. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at one of the fastest bowlers in the early days of Indian cricket.

Indian cricket may have had its high moments in the 1940s, but fast bowling had never formed a part of that. Gone were the days of Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh, who had captured the imagination of the English press: the era of spinners and medium-pacers had started in Indian cricket, Dattu Phadkar being the only exception.

Amidst all that, there emerged a fast bowler who, if given a longer run, may have made it big at the highest level. The somewhat unusually named Commandur Rajagopalachari Rangachari should have made it bigger after a successful domestic career: unfortunately, he languished in relative obscurity after the War took his best days away.

Equipped with a whippy round-arm action, Rangachari was gifted with the ability to move the ball away from the right-hander at a rapid pace (despite his 5’9½” frame). Playing in an era when Vijay Merchant and Vijay Hazare (among others) competed with each other in a nationwide run-fest, Rangachari played 62 First-Class matches and finished with 199 wickets at 26.11 with 14 five-fors. Four of these were Tests, and they fetched him nine wickets at an ordinary 54.77, though it must be admitted that all his wickets came from only two innings.

With bat he was a rank tail-ender, being unable to score in 5 of the 6 innings he batted in Test cricket. In First-Class cricket, too, he averaged a mere 7.74. Unusually for a fast bowler, Rangachari was a good close-in fielder, preferring silly mid-off. He claimed 42 catches.

Early days

Rangachari was born in Mamandur, Tamil Nadu in a well-to-do family; his father was a property owner along with being the manager of a major book store. Rangachari went on to study at Pachaiyappa’s College for an Intermediate BA. He played for Chepauk United Club when the Madras League had taken off in 1932, and later shifted to Triplicane Cricket Club. Along with MJ Gopalan, Rangachari formed a lethal opening pair that terrorised batsmen for Triplicane.

 

’Ranga’ shot into prominence after his 9 for 45 in an inter-Association match. He made his First-Class debut in the Ranji Trophy match against Hyderabad, finishing with 3 for 26 and 2 for 43. In the next match, for Indians against Europeans, Rangachari guided his side to a four-wicket victory: he picked up 2 for 27 and 3 for 43 (Gopalan had 2 for 14 and 1 for 20).

He struck a purple patch in 1940-41: in three consecutive he returned figures of 5 for 41 and 3 for 30 for Indians against Europeans, 5 for 75 and 3 for 31 against United Provinces in the Ranji Trophy semi-final, and 4 for 71 against Maharashtra in the final. The brilliance of Hazare, Chandu Sarwate, and Ranga Sohoni, however, denied Madras their maiden Ranji Trophy title. Rangachari (19) finished third on the wickets tally after Sarwate (21) and Ram Singh (20).

His bowling average never dipped below 26 for five seasons on a stretch, but the War kept him away from international action. He had another good run in 1944-45, when he bowled out Mysore for 78 (finishing with a career-best 7 for 34) and 159 (adding another 2 for 55). In the next match — the semi-final against Holkar — Rangachari had a haul of 7 for 110, but once again Madras were knocked out by Sarwate.

He was surprisingly overlooked when India made the 1946 tour of England, but an excellent performance in 1946-47 (23 wickets at 22.86) he was selected for the tour of Australia.

Test debut

After two ordinary matches, Rangachari first came into prominence in the tour match against Tasmania. It was an exemplary display of what could have been: Rangachari finished with a haul of 6 for 45, routing the hosts for 142. After Lala Amarnath and Hazare gave the tourists a 264-run lead, Rangachari claimed 3 for 35 to help his side to a massive innings victory.

With India down 0-2 in the series after three Tests and everything to play for, Rangachari made his debut in the fourth Test at Adelaide Oval, and was up against a line-up as formidable as they make them, including Sid Barnes, Arthur Morris, Lindsay Hassett, Neil Harvey, Keith Miller, and the Daddy of them all: Don Bradman.

As things turned out, Bradman top-scored with 201, Hassett was left stranded on 198, and Barnes added 112 more as Australia amassed 674. Rangachari did not embarrass himself: he toiled hard, finishing with four for 146 from 41 overs (54.4 six-ball overs); none of his wickets required the assistance of a bowler.

India then surrendered for 381 and 277, as Hazare became the first batsman to score hundreds on consecutive days of a Test. Batting at eleven, Rangachari never got to face a ball in the first innings, and scored a three-ball duck in the second before Ray Lindwall claimed him.

His good show with the ball helped him retain his place for the next Test at MCG. This time Harvey smashed 153, Bill Brown was run out for 99, Sam Loxton got 80, and Bradman tore a rib muscle and had to retire after scoring a mere 57. He declared the innings closed at 575 for 8: Rangachari went wicket-less.

Vinoo Mankad’s hundred helped India reach 331, but they were blown away for 67 by Johnson and Doug Ring. Rangachari was bowled by Johnson for a golden duck in the first innings, and once again did not get to face a ball in the second. His tally, after four innings, read 4 balls faced, two dismissals, no runs scored.

He finished the tour with 19 wickets at 30.63, finishing only next to Mankad and Amarnath on the wickets tally. His performance made him an Indian Cricket Cricketer of the Year in only its second year.

Back home

Rangachari’s next First-Class match turned out to be India’s first against West Indies; it was on the first morning at Kotla that he showed what he was made of: Amarnath opened bowling with Phadkar, and the moment he noticed the bounce and movement the strip had to offer, he replaced himself with Rangachari.

Rangachari bowled a beautifully shaped out-swinger to get Allan Rae caught-behind, and had Jeff Stollmeyer squared up with another, trapping him leg-before. The big wicket came when he clean bowled George Headley, leaving the tourists reeling at 27 for 3.

That was, however, the last bit of joy for the Indians in the Test: Clyde Walcott (152) and Gerry Gomez (101) added 267 for the fourth wicket; Everton Weekes (128) scored his second hundred on the trot, while Robert Christiani (107) joined in the fun as well. Rangachari succeeded in removing Christiani and polished things off having Denis Atkinson caught-behind: he finished with 5 for 107 as West Indies put up 631.

Despite a fighting unbeaten 114 from Lt Col Hemu Adhikari the Indians were bowled out for 454; promoted to ten (above Keki Tarapore), Rangachari hit one back to John Goddard for a duck. He thus went past Tommy Ward’s record of batting most innings without a run since debut (other than Ward, Brendon Bracewell is the only one to have equalled Ward’s tally of four, but Rangachari’s record of five still stands). India saved the Test thanks to an unbroken 80-minute 6-wicket stand between Adhikari and Sarwate.

The next Test was almost another encore: Weekes scored his customary hundred (194 this time) while Rae got 104; four other batsmen went past 65 before Goddard declared on 629 for 6: Rangachari went for a hammering, sending down 32 wicket-less overs for 148.

India followed-on again after they folded for 273, but something unusual happened during the course of the innings: Rangachari scored runs! Eight of them, in fact, dominating a last-wicket stand of 12 with Probir Sen before the wicketkeeper was claimed by Goddard; they remained the only runs of Rangachari’s career.

A splendid rearguard performance from Rusi Modi, Hazare, and Amarnath helped India draw the Test: Rangachari never played another Test.

Later days

Rangachari did well for another season, but thereafter his bowling lost its sheen. His last four seasons yielded only 14 wickets from 11 matches. He led Madras in his last match against Ceylon Cricket Association (in a Gopalan Trophy encounter), picking up a solitary wicket.

The only high came during this period came in a Ranji Trophy match at Chepauk in 1951-52. Rangachari picked up 3 for 61 to restrict Madhya Pradesh to 268, before coming out to join NJ Venkatesan with the score on 275 for nine. What followed was a 130-run partnership between the pair; while Venkatesan remained unbeaten on 75, Rangachari went on to score 60, the only fifty of his First-Class career. A dejected Madhya Pradesh then slumped to an innings-defeat.

Post-retirement

A police-officer by profession, Rangachari spent his final days in Madras. He passed away on October 9, 1993 at an age of 77 years 178 days. His son Commandur Rangachari Vijayaraghavan was an umpire who stood in the famous India-Australia Test at Chennai, 2000-01 as well as in two ODIs.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in and can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)