Sadanand Viswanath    Getty Images
Sadanand Viswanath Getty Images

The swift stumper Sadanand Viswanath was born November 29, 1962. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at the man who could have been a champion had his career not been sandwiched between two great wicketkeepers.

If Syed Kirmani was the primary wicketkeeper for India till the mid-1980s, Kiran More turned out to be his natural successor until the first half of the 1990s. Both were excellent behind the stumps: Kirmani was your ubiquitous classical wicketkeeper; More, on the other hand, was gutsy, improvising, and a sledging champion.

There was also Chandrakant Pandit, the best batsman of the three, who even played as a specialist batsman, but was seldom preferred to More as the premier glove-man for the country. It was virtually impossible for other wicketkeepers to break through.

And yet, between the eras of Kirmani and More, there was a belligerent man: he could scream the soul out of any batsman with his voracious appeals, play the most unorthodox of strokes sending the ball out of the ground, and was perhaps the swiftest stumper Indian cricket (if not the world of cricket) has seen.

Sadanand Viswanath had to be seen live to be believed. The batsman s back foot needed to stretch an inch or so over the crease for Viswanath to react: the bails were off in a flash without anyone else realising it.

The stumping took place without a sound; the appeal, not so. It was not even a shout: a war-cry was more like it. The sound came from somewhere deep inside the larynx, the physiologists are yet to find a name for. We were intimidated while listening to him appeal on television (remember, this was an era preceding stump microphones). One shudders to think what the poor umpires and batsmen must have felt like.

With his aggressive style of batting, a natural flair and swagger in his walk, and his handsome looks, Viswanath had become an instant hit with the crowd, especially among the youngsters. In a country where wicketkeeping had seldom been a glamour factor before Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Viswanath used to win the hearts of the fairer sex despite the presence of quite a few stars in the side.

Despite his immense talent, Sada played only 3 Tests (in which he claimed 11 catches) and 22 ODIs (17 catches and 7 stumpings). He averaged less than 10 in each format of the sport, which possibly cost him a long international career. In 74 First-Class matches, however, he scored 3,158 runs at a healthy 30.67. He also claimed 145 catches and 34 stumpings.

Early days

Born in Bangalore, Viswanath made his First-Class debut in the Ranji Trophy match against Andhra before he had turned 18. He scored 1 but picked up 2 catches. Two matches later, he made his Duleep Trophy debut against Central Zone.

Fifties from Parthasarathy Sharma, Vijay Chopra, and Sanjeeva Rao helped Central Zone reach 268 for 8 in the second innings. The hero, however, was young Viswanath, who picked up 6 catches in the innings (out of 8 wickets, it must be remembered).

It took him two seasons to find the groove of some sort with the bat. He scored 55 and 67* against Tamil Nadu and followed it with 46* against Kerala in the next innings. The form continued till the final.

After Bombay amassed 534 in the first innings, Viswanath, now an opener, scripted a dazzling innings of 92. The innings was crucial in Karnataka acquiring an important 17-run first-innings lead. Set to chase 196 in the fourth innings, the tourists were in trouble at 39 for 2, but Viswanath counterattacked and actually brought Karnataka close to a victory. He scored 77 as Karnataka finished with 179 for 5. He also held 4 catches.

Viswanath finished the season with 408 runs at 58.28 with 4 fifties along with 16 catches and a stumping. The next season saw him score his only First-Class hundred: opening the innings against the likes of TA Sekhar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, and the two Sivaramakrishnans (Laxman and Venkataraman), Viswanath scored 102.

He finished the season with 530 runs at 40.76 with a hundred and 4 fifties. He also had 17 catches and a stumping to his name. Picked for Young India to tour Zimbabwe, he failed in both matches with the bat but finished with an astounding 11 catches and 3 stumpings.

ODI debut

Viswanath replaced More for the last 3 ODIs against England at home that season after India lost the first 2 matches. He caught Tim Robinson and Phil Edmonds on debut in his hometown; and in the next match at Nagpur, he stumped Allan Lamb.

Chasing 241, India lost their 3 cheap wickets before Mohammad Azharuddin and Kapil Dev had a blast with Sunil Gavaskar holding fort at the other end. However, the score was 204 for 7 when Viswanath joined Ravi Shastri: there were still 37 runs left.

As Shastri dropped anchor, Viswanath took the attack to the opposition. He scored a 23 not out in 25 balls with 3 fours and finished the match with 14 balls to spare. India lost the series 1-4 after a thunderstorm reduced the fifth ODI to a 15-over affair.

Many called Sadanand Viswanath the swiftest stumper ever    Getty Images
Many called Sadanand Viswanath the swiftest stumper ever Getty Images

One-Day Wonders

When Gavaskar was named captain, he insisted Viswanath be picked for the World Championship of Cricket in Australia. Following the routs against England and West Indies at home, there were voices against India s dominance in the smaller version of the sport. Gavaskar knew he wanted Viswanath, and made sure he had him.

It is difficult to assess a wicketkeeper s contribution to his side from a scorecard. To add to that, so good was India s batting performance in the tournament that Viswanath got to bat only once in the entire campaign, scoring 8. However, he finished the tournament with 9 catches and 3 stumpings from 5 matches. It still remains an Indian record for an ODI tournament with 5 or less matches (Nayan Mongia had later equalled it with 10 catches and 2 stumpings).

Gavaskar had been criticised heavily for going into the ODIs with two spinners, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan and Shastri. Spinners were unfashionable in ODIs, and they were seldom successful in Australia. Gavaskar had persisted with them match after match: he knew that clearing the huge Australian grounds would be very difficult against the two spinners.

What Viswanath did with his deft glove-work was that he instilled that extra bit of hesitation in the batsmen who were willing to use their feet against Shastri and Siva. They knew that the man behind the stumps would not allow them to get away with a single error.

In the second match against England at SCG Viswanath finished with 3 catches and 2 stumpings. He became the fourth wicketkeeper (after Rodney Marsh, Guy de Alwis, and Kirmani) to effect 5 dismissals in an ODI. The feat has subsequently been equalled by Indians but not surpassed.

In the final against Pakistan at MCG (where Pakistan lost 9 wickets: it was the only time in the tournament that India could not bowl out an opposition) India won comfortably to lift the trophy. Viswanath did a spectacular job: as Mudassar Nazar chased a wide one from Kapil, Viswanath was there before the ball had arrived. He did not need to dive.

Pakistan were 33 for 4 before Imran Khan joined Javed Miandad. Chetan Sharma bounced one that kissed Imran s gloves and landed into Viswanath s. However, Raymond Isherwood declared Imran not out, and the pair added 68 runs.

The most memorable moment came later. Pakistan, having just lost Saleem Malik, were 131 for 6. Miandad was the only man standing between India and a guaranteed low target. Siva tossed one up, drawing a hypnotised Miandad forward; the ball spun a significant distance; Vishy was ready; his gloves went up, gathered the ball, and whipped off the bails in a flash in one fluent motion that one might have missed had he blinked.

After the tournament was won by India, the Australian media wrote: This good-looking wicketkeeper may be on his way to becoming India s best ever. Gavaskar himself reminisced in One Day Wonders: People will talk about many other reasons why we won the World Championship of Cricket in 1985 but one of the main reasons was the presence of Sadanand Viswanath behind the stumps.

India also won The Rothmans Cup, the first tournament in Sharjah. Once again, Viswanath s wicketkeeping was faultless and sound as India bowled out Pakistan for 87 and Australia for 139 to win the tournament. At 22, Viswanath was suddenly the pin-up boy of Indian cricket.

The decline

Even before he had made his international debut, Viswanath s father, unable to cope with financial issues, had committed suicide. The incident had affected him deeply but Viswanath had battled on, proving himself worthy of the responsibility he was assigned.

Just before the Sri Lanka tour that followed the Rothmans Cup, his mother had to undergo an open-heart surgery. She never recovered. That, along with a serious finger injury, marked the beginning of the decline. With More and Pandit not willing to spare an inch, Viswanath, affected by the twin tragedies, could not handle the dual pressure of handling his personal life and fierce professional competition simultaneously.

Test debut

He played 3 Tests on India s disastrous tour of Sri Lanka (the hosts won the Test series 1-0 and drew the ODIs 1-1). He held 6 catches in the third Test at Kandy, equalling the record by an Indian wicketkeeper (Yajurvindra Singh, however, had held 7 catches in a Test before Viswanath, albeit as a specialist fielder).

With Kirmani trying his best to make a comeback and both More and Pandit competing hard, Viswanath never played another Test. He probably deserved more chances, especially after the record at Kandy, but More s swift ascent killed all chances Viswanath had.

The recall

Viswanath was overlooked for the next season despite scoring 70 and 40 not out for Indian Board President s XI against the touring Australians in 1986-87 at Bangalore. It was in this match that he hit a ball out of Chinnaswamy Stadium. An astounded Allan Border later commented: The ball probably had ice on it when it came down!

He was recalled for 9 more ODIs in 1987-88. Though he kept wickets neatly, there was nothing astounding that would give him an edge over the batting of the street-fighter More or the dynamic Pandit. He scored only 25 runs from 7 innings and had 5 victims. He did not play any more international cricket.

By this time he had given in to alcohol. Having lost both parents before he was 23, Viswanath was left to fend all by himself in a ruthless world. He could probably have done with a mentor or a friend who could put him back on track. Unfortunately, he sought solace in the wrong places.

He continued to play First-Class cricket sporadically till 1989-90. In his last match against Bihar, he scored 70 and kept neatly, but could not prevent Hari Gidwani s team from knocking them out of the tournament. His career came to an end at an age of 27.

Post-retirement

Viswanath left India for the Middle East in 1991 on a 14-day visa. He got a job offer two days before his visa expired, and he hung on to his job for seven months. However, homesickness got the better of him as he decided to leave The Gulf and come back to Bangalore to take up his old bank job.

When the bank decided to transfer him out of Bangalore, he quit that job as well and ran into financial troubles. He probably loved his city too much. He rented a room in an inexpensive hotel and stayed there for five years in complete anonymity. He made several attempts at organising a benefit match but nothing came out of it.

Then he came back to cricket, clearing the umpiring examinations held by BCCI. I was elated and thrilled when it came about and wanted to continue my love affair with the game as an umpire, recalled Viswanath. He gradually made it to the Elite Panel of Indian Umpires and officiated in domestic matches till 2008-09.

He has also stood in Women s international matches, including a World Cup match in 1997-98 and aspires to go on: As an umpire my job is to see to it that the game is played in the right spirit. Thankfully, I have been doing that for the last 18 years. My life is cricket.

The financial issues were solved when he finally put to use the plot of land given to him by Ramkrishna Hegde, then Chief Minister of Karnataka. With some help from his ex-colleague Brijesh Patel and the Karnataka State Cricket Association [KSCA], he opened an automobile showroom on the land.

He also runs the Sadanand Viswanath Cricket Academy on Airport Road, Bangalore. In 2012, KSCA President Anil Kumble had sought his help in their academy. Viswanath turned down the offer: he wanted to concentrate on being an umpire.

It is his undying hope that keeps him going: I dream of officiating at the landmark venues. I hope to go to Lord s. I wish I can go to Melbourne, where we won the 1985 Championship. I also dream of going to Colombo, where I made my Test debut. With the blessings of god, this dream can come true.

Life had been cruel to him once, catching him unaware. He would certainly not want a repetition.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components cricket and literature though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)