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Talent that was never tapped

Eighty four-year-old S. G. Deenan looks back on his cricketing career that never took off despite his being a capable all-rounder.

M J. GOPALAN, A.G. Ram Singh, C.R. Rangachari... names that represent a bygone era, names that are familiar to even a casual follower of cricket in these parts.

However, among these names, there was yet another name, another player. A prodigious young talent who was selected as a permanent member of the SIAA premier side in Madras at the tender age of 13 and who played with the likes of C.K. Nayudu for the Indian XI against the European XI. He was selected to the Indian squad led by Vijay Merchant to play against England XI, led by Lord Tennyson, in Madras in 1938. And he had hardly crossed his teens.

S. G. Deenan, now 84 years, is a forgotten name. Born Deendayalan in 1918, his affinity for the game and his exploits on the field soon brought him in touch with some famous names in the game then.

An all-rounder, he was a devastating medium pace bowler and a good batsman. His records speak for themselves. Starting with a nine-wicket haul in an innings for 30 odd runs in an inter-school match playing for the Hindu Theological High School, Deenan was set for greater things.

After this feat at the age of 11, he soon made the ranks in the Madras Senior A Division, playing for SIAA, Minerva Cricket Club and Soundar Cricket Club. Against the touring Ceylon XI, he took seven for 40 in Madras representing SIAA. He also toured Ceylon, Bombay and Calcutta playing for Minerva.

Then came his selection to the Madras Presidency team to play the three-day Pongal match against the European XI in 1939. Soon followed his selection to the Ranji team where at the age of 17, he was the youngest player to be selected.

Alas, his full potential was neither utilised nor nurtured. A bitter man now, his eyes welled with tears as he spoke about his exploits on the field and what could have been, had not fate dealt him a raw deal.

Consider this. He took five wickets for eight runs in a Ranji Trophy match against Mysore but was inexplicably not utilised as a bowler in the next match. This, when he was the opening bowler in the Senior Division. In the next Ranji Trophy encounter against CP and Berar in Nagpur, though he was selected and sent as vice-captain of the team from Madras, to his dismay he was not played at all.

The ways of the selection committee were as enigmatic then as they are now. However, the series of setbacks didn't stop Deen Kutty (as he was fondly called) from performing and excelling in the field whenever he got the chance.

A chance encounter with the Raja of Ramnad opened up a new avenue for him. The Raja, a regular visitor to Madras, had seen this young man play in the league and also in the Ranji Trophy. Nurturing a desire to play in the premier tournament of the country himself, the Raja extended an invitation to Deenan to be his personal coach.

At a princely salary of Rs. 75, Deenan accepted the offer and began his second innings.

"Coaching the Raja was the greatest challenge for me. He then was nearly 230 pounds. I had to help him to knock off some pounds and he weighed 180 pounds. The Raja formed his own team and we took part in the Ranji championship,'' says Deenan.

The Raja kept the promise he had made to Deenan. He said that should Deenan manage to get him to play in the Ranji Trophy, he would ensure that he was sent to England for further studies.

Around this time, the British Empire had come up with the Bevin Scheme, where selected boys were sent to England for further studies. The Raja using his good offices, managed to send Deenan to England.

And in England too Deenan, as usual nattily dressed in white flannels, trousers and a green cap, was never far away from his beloved cricket. With a letter of introduction from the then Honorary Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, K. S. Ranga Rao, he approached the officials at the Lords Cricket Ground. He was soon playing in War Fund matches representing the British Empire XI against the England XI, which had the likes of Len Hutton and Wally Hammond in its ranks.

Col. C.K. Nayudu and Vijay Merchant also recognised Deenan's potential.

"When Col. Nayudu first saw me at nets, he thought that I was son of one of the members. Though he laughed when I told him I was a player, he soon began to admire my game and invited me to play at Indore.

"Vijay Merchant too invited me to his house to bowl to him in the nets. He appreciated my talent," says Deenan.

Even as he values the commendations he got from stalwarts of that era, bitterness creeps in when he talks of the subsequent treatment meted out to him by the State association.

"Despite being a good bowler and batsman, I was not selected. I feel I should have at least been invited to the Golden Jubilee function of the TNCA. It was only after I wrote a protest letter that I got an apologetic reply from the TNCA secretary.

For a man who started his career very young, he hung up his boots very late. He played his last Ranji Trophy match, this time for Andhra Pradesh, in 1969, which speaks volumes of his physical capabilities at that age. He not only played for Andhra but also captained it twice, against his former team Madras and then against Kerala. He was on the Ranji Trophy selection committee for many years.

He is disappointed that the association has not taken cognisance of his many representations and appeals. Will it wake up and give him his due?

S.V. SRIRAM

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