The Kerala in-swinger
Will Tinu Yohannan's success inspire more Kerala youth to make it to the national cricket squad?
Fifty years ago, even the great Nostradamus would have failed to predict that Kerala would produce a Test cricketer by the dawn of this millennium.
When Tinu Yohannan made a memorable debut at Mohali for India against the touring English team, a new chapter was added to the State's cricketing history. Many now wonder why Kerala, till Tinu's entry, had failed to produce a cricketer of national stature?
The Kerala Cricket Association came into existence in 1956, with Colonel Goda Varma Raja as its first president.
Lack of proper infrastructure was the bane in those initial years of existence. "Quality pitches were rare those days, with only a few standard tournaments," says S. K. Nair, president of the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA). Tournaments such as the Pooja cricket tournament at Thripunthura, conducted under the patronage of the royal family of Thripunithura, were the rare ones that attracted good players from all over the country.
In spite of the poor infrastructure and lack of quality tournaments, players such as Balan Pandit, C. K. Bhaskar, I. V. Govind, P. Raviachan and S. P. Malik made a mark in the Ranji trophy from the mid-1950s to the late 60s. Among this group, Balan Pandit, who worked as the manager of a plantation, and C. K. Bhaskar, a doctor, performed remarkably. They are still remembered by many old-timers. Even though C. K. Bhaskar made his debut for Kerala, he later shifted to erstwhile Madras and even played in an unofficial test match for India, under the captaincy of Tiger Pataudi.
The early 70s saw a galaxy of players, namely Mohammed Ibrahim, J. K. Mahendra, T. Sivadas and Ashok Sekhar, entering mainstream Kerala cricket. But it was those who came in the 80s and 90s who gave the game a professional touch. Says Ranjit Thomas, who has played for Kerala and the South Zone for many years, "When I first played my Ranji match in the late 70s, we were in a state of excitement when pitted against the players of the calibre of Gundappa Viswanath, Brijesh Patel, Kirmani and Venkataraghavan. The Kerala players used to spend the time watching their idols play. Now this mindset has changed. About 80 to 85 per cent of Kerala players are employed as professional cricketers in cities such as Chennai, where they are play against quality opposition, on quality pitches. This is definitely going to enhance their performance. When these players come back and play for Kerala, it will do a lot of good for Kerala cricket."
Among the major factors that hindered the development of Kerala cricket were financial constraints. "Matches of importance were allocated to the State only in the late 80s.The revenue from those matches helped build the finances of the KCA," says S.K. Nair. The first major match, which was conducted, involving players of international reputation, was the one featuring the MCC and the Board Presidents XI at the University Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram. Later, one-dayers against the visiting Aussies and the West Indies took place at the same venue. "But the synthetic athletic track at the stadium prevented further cricket at that venue. But the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Kochi came as a blessing," says Nair.
Matches held here ignited the passion of many talented youngsters. Tinu was one among them.
Tinu was a student of Bhavan's school, Elamakara, when the South Africans played Karnataka in Kochi. The then S.A. team captain, Hansie Cronje, visited the Bhavan's school and Tinu was one among the kids who garlanded him.
It was while playing for the under-19 Kerala team that Tinu caught the attention of T. A. Sekhar, coach at the MRF Pace Foundation. Tinu got admitted to the Foundation, where he came under the wings of the legendary pace bowler, Dennis Lillee.
"For Tinu, the metamorphosis from a raw talent to a polished cricketer took place at the Foundation," says Sanjay Mohan, a Ranji player.
Tinu was later blessed with a dream debut at Mohali, where the conditions were conducive for fast bowlers.
But, will Tinu's entry into the Indian team and his recent selection for the West Indies tour, be a boost to Kerala cricket? Do we have the infrastructure to produce more like him?
"Yes," says a confident Nair. "Take the case of Orissa, before Debashish Mohanty got into the Indian team. Not much was heard about the State. Now, there is S. S. Das. The same thing can happen in Kerala too."
But what about developing infrastructure? "We are planning to lay more turf wickets in the near future. An indoor wicket is also on the cards," says Nair.
R. VIMAL KUMAR
Send this article to Friends by