KOCHI: Even though Thiruvananthapuram was never a serious landmark in India’s cricketing map, the city was venue to some interesting matches in the 80’s, including a couple of international ones. The University Stadium in Palayam with a seating capacity of 20,000 was the closest to a cricketing ground that it had. The focus shifted to the Nehru stadium in Kochi in the late 90’s where six ODIs came to be staged. But water seepage issues in the ground’s outfield forced the Kerala Cricket Association to look out for better alternatives resulting in the spanking new Greenfield stadium in the suburb of Kariavattom.
The West Indians are said to have played a match in the city as far back as in 1961. Their legendary opening batsman Conrad Hunte hit Kerala’s fastest bowler so far out of the park that the ball was never retrieved. I was a sixth grade student at the city’s St. Joseph’s school when England under Keith Fletcher toured India in 1981. The only remarkable event of that dull 6 Tests series was a double century by Gundappa Viswanath at Madras. The Englishmen visited Thiruvananthapuram to play a friendly one-day match against the state team.
Seeing the news headline ‘MCC vs. Kerala Chief Minister’s XI’, I naively believed that the State’s C.M., Mr. E. K. Nayanar would pad up and play! The farcical match ended in pandemonium as star visitor Ian Botham, fielding in the deep, lit a cigarette and casually tossed the butt. The dry grass caught fire on that summer afternoon. Fire force had to be summoned to douse it.
The year 1983 saw India progress from also-rans to world champions. Riding the crest of this wave they won a few ODI tournaments in the subcontinent. West Indies under a 40 year old Clive Lloyd came to India and humiliated us 3-0 in Tests and 5-0 in the short format to avenge the loss at Lord’s. Midway through the tour they came down to Thiruvananthapuram to take on India Under-23. Windies rested Greenidge, Lloyd and keeper Dujon.
India’s wrecker-in-chief in the Tests Malcolm Marshall played twelfth man. Indian youth were led by Manoj Prabhakar (who went on to open the batting and bowling for India before long). Sadanand Viswanath kept wickets. Batting first, our cubs ran up a tidy score, thanks to a century by opener lad Jignesh Sanghani. Windies started their reply on the second morning, Haynes and Richardson going hammer and tongs. Mike Holding got on his knees and casually flicked a bowler over the ropes. Comic relief came in the person of Marshall running to catch it from outside the boundary. (Fifteen years later this lovable speedster from Barbados was to surrender to colon cancer).
The much awaited batsman, the Captain Courageous, gum-chewing King Richards of the famous swagger, came in six down, minus his trademark maroon cap. He did not last long as the spinning guiles of a skinny 17 year old lad called W.V. Raman got him for a beggarly 1. (Raman who took five wickets that day went on to make a mark as a first class batsman and wore the country’s cap. Sheer laziness came between him and a longer India career).
A Wills Trophy one-dayer quarter-final between Haryana and Baroda was staged here in Feb ’84. Haryana led by the medical practitioner Dr. Ravinder Chaddha and boasting of Chetan Sharma and Rajinder Goel (45 years old and with 600 domestic wickets. Sadly, never played for India as his prime coincided with that of the famed Quartet) in their ranks beat Baroda (with bespectacled veterans in Captain Anshuman Gaekwad and Surinder Amarnath as well as to-be India stumper Kiran More) by 17 runs. Sharma Mankaded an impetuous non-striker in Wadkar. Saad Bin Jung top scored for Haryana with 84. A nephew of Tiger Pataudi, he later gave up cricket for wildlife conservation. Ranji Trophy champions Bombay took on Rest of India in a two day match one time.
Before being blooded in Tests, the former captain Mohammed Azharuddin played for Hyderabad against Kerala in a Ranji trophy match and scored centuries in both innings at the Medical College ground.Cricket fever reached a high pitch in the city as the first international match there was announced between India and Australia. The date was 1st Oct 1984. India was led by Sunil Gavaskar and the Aussies by Kim Hughes. The ‘pace pitch’ of the University stadium was exploited to the hilt by Carl Rackemann bowling from the Museum End and Geoff Lawson from the Church End. The opening pair of Gulam Parker and Surinder Khanna (also the keeper) found the going tough.
The batsmen struggled and we folded up in 37 overs. But one man had stood out like a majestic warrior with a gem of a knock. When ‘Colonel’ Dilip Balwant Vengsarkar, prevailing like an Ozymandias among the ruins, got out for a 77 with two sixes, the stadium rose to a man and applauded. The second highest score in India’s 175 was Sandeep Patil’s 16. Tom Hogan scalped four wickets. The Kangaroos’ reply started thunderously with openers Kepler Wessels and Graeme Wood on song. Kapil Dev trapped Wessels lbw. Allan Border joined Wood and a mix-up during a run had him flat on the pitch with his clothes soiled.
The crowd cheered every ball of Kapil and Sharma as the duo sent down maiden overs. Rains intervened in the 8th over with the visitors 29/1 causing the match to be abandoned. Hughes later bid a disgraceful adieu to Tests and led a rebel tour to apartheid-ridden South Africa. Border went on to lead his country to the ’87 Cup victory and beyond. Wessels retired prematurely in ’86 and resurfaced six years later to captain his home country South Africa after their readmission.
A one-dayer finally did play to its full in Thiruvananthapuram, in ’88. This time too, the rain gods showered their blessings, but thankfully after the match was over. One of the umpires that day was Vikram Raju, who two years earlier had booked his berth in history by dubiously signaling Maninder Singh out leg before to herald a rare Tie in a Test at Madras.
Long twenty nine years have sped by since the city last hosted an international cricket match. Fittingly it is a T20 match, the rage since a decade now. As Thiruvananthapuram’s sporting fraternity eagerly awaits the toss of the coin on the Ind-NZ match of 7th November, I too can’t wait to see Virat Kohli rattling sabres with Tim Southee firing on all cylinders from the Technopark End.