I was well over 40 when I scored my first hundred in any class of cricket.
It was a league game at Chepauk, and I walked in with the score a sad 102 for 7. This was actually a promotion in the batting order I had earned from No. 10 after a couple of fighting half-centuries at that position in earlier games that season.
The wicket was seam-friendly, but the quicks were tiring, and the opposition needed to improve the over-rate to stay within the norms in force. I took advantage of the bowling changes at both ends and raced to 30 with a flurry of boundaries against the slow bowlers before they could settle down to a steady rhythm. By the time the faster bowlers returned, I was well set, and continued my good form from the previous match. I was standing tall and driving through the line most of the time and, when the ball was pitched short, I cut and pulled with great assurance.
We eventually made nearly 300 all out, with my contribution a rapid-fire 124. We gained first-innings lead points without much ado, and consolidated our position in the league table. Two more hundreds followed in the next few games and I finished with a batting average of 65 for the season, easily my best ever, as I had never averaged more than 20 in all my career, nearly 30 seasons old.
Before you ask uncomfortable questions about the veracity of my claims of belated batting excellence, let me confess that what I have related here is the story of a recurring dream that made waking up in the morning such a pleasant experience for days on end a couple of decades ago. A bowler all my life, I derived more happiness out of this delightful wish fulfilment — albeit not rooted in reality — than all my actual bowling performances put together. The dreams were so realistic that it took me a few moments of wakefulness each time to realise that they had, in fact, been no more than dreams.
The most spectacularly prophetic dream by a cricketer I have come across was one that AK Sarangapani, the legspinner, dreamt on the night before the second day of the Ranji Trophy final between Madras and Holkar in the 1954-55 season. He told his captain Balu Alaganan that he dreamt of scoring an unbeaten 74 in the Madras first innings. Incredibly, Sarangapani made exactly 74 not out in a last-wicket century partnership with MK Murugesh, the left-arm spinner, who was run out for 30 priceless runs.
A bowler all my life, I derived more happiness out of this delightful wish fulfilment — albeit not rooted in reality — than all my actual bowling performances put together.
Kripal Singh, for whom the match had been postponed by a day as he was writing his university exams, had made 75 and CD Gopinath 133, but when Sarangapani walked in to bat, the score had not been big enough to unduly trouble the strong Holkar batting line-up. Alaganan, who batted at No. 9, had just been dismissed for nought by Chandu Sarwate, but Sarangapani and Murugesh laid merrily into the bowling like a couple of schoolboys on vacation to take the Madras total to a formidable 478, when the fateful run-out brought about the exact fulfilment of Sarangapani’s dream.
The last-wicket pair was also among the wickets when Holkar batted, taking three each, with Kripal Singh, the offspinner, claiming three more. Kripal (91 and 4 for 113) and Murugesh (36 and 5 for 114) did the star turn again in the second innings, with Murugesh getting involved in yet another last-wicket partnership, this time with Alaganan (56 not out).
The match was full of thrills with Holkar chasing a target of 382 and falling short by 46 runs. Neither Alaganan nor Sarangapani (from whom I have heard first-hand accounts of the match and the dream) is alive today, but Murugesh, who now lives in the United States of America, still remembers the story of Sarangapani’s dream, and the wonderful camaraderie that prevailed in the team leading to that maiden Ranji title for Madras.
I wonder if Sarangapani, primarily a legspinner, ever dreamt of bowling success. In my own case, my only cricket-related dreams were about my batting, actually my weak suit in the game, and there must be some rational psychological explanation for that.
The dreams about my bowling were actually daydreams, strongest in boyhood and early adulthood. I started watching Test cricket at the age of eight, and my earliest Walter Mitty experiences involved my walking, running, bowling on the street in Subhash Gupte’s action, bowling unplayable leg breaks and googlies. Dattu Phadkar was my next hero, much to the consternation of unsuspecting pedestrians startled by my sudden pre-delivery jump that threatened to knock them over. Ghulam Ahmed replaced the paceman in a couple of years, and my walk was now a lazy swagger, before I accelerated and delivered vicious off-breaks on busy Mylapore streets on the way back from school.
I started watching Test cricket at the age of eight, and my earliest Walter Mitty experiences involved my walking, running, bowling on the street in Subhash Gupte’s action, bowling unplayable leg breaks and googlies.
I am sure greater sportsmen than I can throw light on their visualisation techniques and there must be excellent sports psychology manuals on the subject, but speaking from my own experience, daydreaming — structured and constructive perhaps but daydreaming nonetheless — was a constant companion in the years I achieved some success on the field as an offspinner. In my mind’s eye, the batsman was under constant pressure from my bowling, rarely middling the ball no matter how great a player he was, edging to short leg if not getting totally beaten or rapped on the pads. Bowling the best of them through the gate, or getting them caught at bat-pad while attempting a cover drive, was a much repeated scenario in my mental storyboard.
The visualisation was so strong on match days that I was raring to go the moment we reached the ground, and was invariably disappointed — irrationally, I admit –when we won the toss and batted first. To take the field, and have a go at the opposition, often before lunch on the first day, was the ultimate dream fulfilment for me. I never realised then that there would come a day when aging limbs and waning enthusiasm would make me hope for the exact opposite, and welcome the chance to relax in the dressing room before we fielded. It was a clear signal that it was time to call it a day.