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History of Kerala cricket
By Professor AS Balakrishnan

When India became free in 1947, Kerala was made up of two princely states, Travancore and Cochin and Malabar which was under the direct administration of the British. Later, with the reorganisation of states in 1956, Travancore-Cochin and Malabar were united to form the State of Kerala.

One of the great legacies left behind in India by the British has been the glorious game of cricket. Though football is the first love of most Keralites, there were a few pioneers who patronised the willow.

The home of Kerala cricket is the tiny little town of Tellicherry, sandwiched between Cannanore, up north and Mahe, a former French Colony of the British Malabar area. The game originated around the year 1880.

It is said that Lord Wellesley, who was stationed at Tellicherry, regularly played the game and "The Town Cricket Club", one of the oldest cricket clubs to be established, was a hub of cricket activity drawing its members from the elite of society. The great Colin Cowdrey had his baptism in the game on the cricket grounds of Tellicherry.

Then there was the legendary Kunhippakki, the palm tree hitter. He strongly believed that the ball was there to be hit and that too with all one's might. Crowds gathered just to see him bat and loft the ball over trees and house tops. He would have proved an ideal one day player. CK Klansman, the Olympian, was another Titan. He could well be called the forerunner of Baud Macaroni of the 1970's. Bowling against Hobbs and Sutcliffe, he sent down six consecutive maidens and the great pair had no answer to his wily art. Hobbs later said that batting against CK was a "unique experience".

The Menially family of Clincher contributed enormously to the enrichment of the game. PM Raga, who led the first Travancore- Cochin state team in the Ranji Trophy in 1951 was a hard hitting batsman. A useful change bowler, he was an astute captain and a gentleman to the core. It is a pity that this fine cricketer could never become the president of the Kerala Cricket Association, a position which he richly deserved.

Another Menially scion was Raghavan's illustrious younger brother, PM Anandan. Perhaps one of the finest medium pacers of his day, on par with G Kasturirangan of Karnataka and Kannayiram of Tamil Nadu, Anandan's calibre went unnoticed because he belonged to a state which was yet to made a name on the national cricket scene. Anandan's bowling was poetry in motion. Physically built like a whip, his bowling was like the cracking of one. He had a nice flowing action, there were no inhibitions in his movements. From the first ball, he strained his nerve and sinew to achieve his sole purpose - that of bowling fast. Anandan ran to bowl like a bull at a gate. He did not leap to a climax like many of his trade and his favourite delivery was the leg cutter. Often his genius came into full play with the old ball. Changing over to bowl with the wind, he increased his speed percept ably through the air to present fresh problems to the batsman. On days with a cross-wind from mid on, his slower ball developed the barest whisper of an out-swing late in its postponed flight. In Travancore-Cochin's first outing in the Ranji Trophy against Mysore, Anandan claimed six wickets yielding 100 runs in 27 overs in the first innings. His victims included LT Adisesh, the master batsman who was included in the Indian team that toured the West Indians in 1953, bat who did not make it because of personal reasons, and the wicket keeper K Srinivasan who later played for India.

Anandan enjoyed his batting as well. Once promoted to open the innings against Andhra at Guntur, Anandan scored 39 in the second innings. In all Anandan played nine times for Kerala claiming 30 wickets and scoring 156 runs. Statistics fail to do justice to the great contribution he has rendered to the state.

Other greats who hail from this part of the state include the Aaron brothers Leslie and Sandy - both as players and administrators, JK Mahendra, now a flourishing garment exporter in Chennai who played for the Indian schools team in England, A Satyendran, CM Ashok Sekhar, OK Ramdas and A Babu, just to name a few.

Cochin, the Queen of the Arabian Sea has one of the finest natural harbours in the world. Mr.Antias of Scottish origin, and an engineer by profession was assigned the task of building the harbour at Cochin. He was also the inspiration behind the formation of the Trippunithura Cricket Club in 1935. Originally it was called the Prince's Club started by the Cochin Royal family, a century earlier. The members of the Cochin Royal family were cricket families and devoted much of their wealth and time for the advancement of the game. Thripunithura Cricket Club is the only club to have a stadium and turf wicket of its own. The Pooja knock out tournament held by them during the Navaratri season is a prestigious event. It started on a small scale with only the local clubs taking part. Gradually however its fame spread far and wide and today, clubs from other parts of India also vie for honours.

Words cannot express the patronage bestowed on the game by the Royal family of Cochin. Generous to a fault, they were excellent administrators of the game. In their hands, cricket developed and prospered. KV Kelappan Thampuran was the livewire behind the great achievements of TCC. The gentle, soft spoken Thampuran, who always wore half-sleeve shirts when he played, was a great leader and administrator. He encouraged the game so dearly that Cochin became the cradle of Kerala cricket.

Cochin has also produced some of the finest cricketers in the state. One of the most outstanding all rounders, Ravi Achan was the blue eyed boy of Trippunithura cricket. A dependable, middle order batsman and a wily leg spinner, Ravi Achan led Kerala with distinction. In the 55 matches he played for his state, he scored 1107 runs and claimed 125 wickets.

Trivandrum is a beautiful city built like Rome on seven hills. Like Mysore in Karnataka it has always been a pensioner's paradise. A quiet, idyllic city, Trivandrum has been the seat of learning and efficient administration, thanks to the far sighted, benevolent monarchs who ruled it. Football was the favourite of most people and then came volleyball and basketball. Cricket was relatively unknown and the few who played the game came mostly from the schools and colleges and a few private clubs in the city.

Model School, Raja Kesavadas High School, Sasthamangalam, Salvation Army School and SMV School always fielded good teams. Then there were the colleges, Trivandrum Engineering and Medical Colleges, University College, Government Intermediate College (the present Arts College) and later Mar Ivanios and MG College. Of the private clubs, we had Keston Club, Kaudiar and Trivandrum Cricket Club (TCC). The first schools tournament on a knockout basis began in 1955 and unearthed several promising players like CK Bhaskar, V Manikanta Kurup, S Rajagopal, DAS Sarma, D Ram, VN Ramaswamy, AS Balakrishnan, Thanappan (Ranji player TP Ajith Kumar's father) and a host of others. Bhaskar also played an unofficial Test against Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1965. He also represented the Railways and Madras. D Ram and Manikanta Kurup played for the state with Manikantan, a battle scarred veteran becoming a state selector.

From the colleges came PV Shivadas, who later became Principal of a private educational institution, GM Menon and K Ramachandra, N Padmanabhan, Prabhakaran and K Madan Mohan of Medical College, TVS Moni, C Sethunath, TS Venkatachalam, KNN Menon, D Balakrishnan, H Ranganathan and that fine all rounder Mohammad Ibrahim. K Ramachandran, popularly known as `Lindwall Ramachandran', became president of the Kerala Cricket Association.

From private clubs we had PM Krishnan, of the Mampilly family and brother of PM Raghavan. Krishnan was a founder member of the Trivandrum Cricket Club and one of the secretaries along with KV Kelappan of the Tranvancore-Cochin Cricket Association. Krishnan's sons PMK Mohandas, PMK Raghunath, PMK Premnath and Ranjit Thomas all rendered yeoman service to Kerala cricket at a later stage during the evolution of the game.

Then came the trio of Sathi (Satya Vageeswaran), PS Mahadevan (Balan) and `Douglas' N Subramania Pillai. Subramania Pillai who became Deputy Mayor of the Trivandrum Corporation was Douglas to everyone. An ardent fan of the Hollywood matinee idol Douglas Fairbanks, he was a guiding spirit.

The first coach in Trivandrum was KS Kannan of Madras. In the early 50's he trained mostly the college and private club players. Then for a few weeks the great CK Nayudu coached there. The colonel was a task master and he never tolerated shoddy fielding. Next it was the turn of the NIS coach Bhoopathy of Hyderabad.

With the arrival of Balan Pandit, a new era begun in Kerala cricket. He came with a great reputation. A product of King George School, Bombay, he worked with the BEST for sometime. Balan played for Kathiawar and saw at close quarters BB Nimbalkar's huge score of over 400 runs. Naren Tamhane who donned the gloves for India was Balan's understudy during his Bombay years. Handsome is what handsome does and in whatever Balan did there was touch of class and elegance. In Balan's first batch of students there were eight boys, including me, all drawn from the local schools. As a coach, Balan was exacting. Nothing short of the best pleased him. He was the Sir Oracle of Kerala cricket and it was the fond dream of every budding cricketer to emulate him as a wicket keeper-batsman. H Devaraj and SM Ramakrishnan did exactly that.

Balan Pandit's batting was sheer poetry. He cut and drove with elan and his masterpiece was the late cut. Perhaps, the only other name that comes to mind in the execution of this stroke is the great Vinoo Mankad. In the 14th match he played for Kerala against Andhra at Palghat in 1959, Balan made an unbeaten 262. After 41 years, it still remains the record though KN Anandapadmanabhan came close by scoring 200 against Orissa at Cuttack in 1997. Against the formidle Hyderabad led by Ghulam Ahmed, Balan made a scintillating 106 out of a total of 241 at Trivandrum in 1953. I had the good fortune to watch these two great knocks.

As a wicket keeper Balan had few equals. He was agile and swift and his reflexes were sharp. He could whip the bails off in no time and some of the acrobatic catches he took behind stumps were amazing. He kept wickets for South Zone against the visiting New Zealand team at Bangalore in 1955-56.

It was during my tenure as treasurer that Lt Colonel Hemu Adhikari came to coach at Trivandrum. Suave and soft spoken, but every inch a soldier, Adhikari was a brilliant stroke maker and an outstanding fielder at cover point. His fielding abilities invite comparison with Jonty Rhodes. When the chips were down, Adhikari was in action. Fielding was an obsession with the colonel and naturally his coaching centred mainly around the fielding aspect. I cherish to this day every minute I spent with a fearless cricketer, tireless administrator and outstanding coach. Justice was finally done to Hemu in 1971 when he was made manager of the Indian team which was the first to win a series in England. Recently Adhikari was justly honoured with the prestigious CK Nayudu award.

Yet another stat wart who toiled for the growth and promotion of the game in Travancore and later in Kerala was SV Pandit. A business magnate and president of Chamber of Commerce, Pandit remained President of Travancore District Association till his end. At every election he offered to step down and every election found him unanimously elected to the post. But for Pandit's munificence many of our teams would not have travelled outside the state to participate in Ranji Trophy matches.

But the greatest figure who dominated Travancore - Cochin and Kerala cricket like a Colossus was the legendary Col.Godavarma Raja of the Travancore Royal Family. A Prince among sportsmen and a sportsman among princes, Col.Raja was responsible for putting Kerala on the sports and tourist map of India. It was under his inspiring leadership that a few members from the Trippunithura royal family and cricket enthusiasts from Trivandrum and Kottayam met in 1950 and formed the Travancore-Cochin Cricket Association. From this, emerged the Kerala Cricket Association.

Calm must have been the middle name of Col. Raja. He possessed the Midas touch. He was the undoubted CEO of all sports and games organisations in the State. A keen sportsman himself he played all the games, but tennis and polo were among his favourites. An endearing personality, with a gentle smile always on his lips and mischievous, twinkling eyes, Col Raja was one of God's good men. He was the first from this part of the state to become a Vice President of the BCCI. Prof. MV Chandgadkar, a former secretary of the BCCI one told me how Col.Raja walked into the conference hall at Jaipur where the Board was in session, clutching his tennis rackets! The Raja was ever ready for a game of tennis once the day's business was over.

Col.Raja's hospitality was proverbial. He played host to Vijay Merchant, Col.CK Nayudu and Lala Amarnath when he came as manager of the Railways athletic squad and the Kumararaja of Venkitagiri who led the Andhra side and scores of other worthies. For 13 years from 1950 he was the President of the Kerala Cricket Association and had he lived - he died in a tragic an crash, in an aircraft piloted by himself - he would have become President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. Col Raja still lives in the memory of all lovers of the game and the GV Raja pavilion at the University Stadium is a fitting tribute to this great son of Kerala.

Today, besides Trivandrum, Cochin, Calicut and Tellicherry, the traditionally established centres, cricket is being played at Quilon, Kottayam, Malappuram, Palghat, Thiruvalla and Trichur. For holding the maximum number of first class matches in different venues, Kerala occupies the fourth place in India, the others being Uttar Pradesh (29) Karnataka (25) and Madhya Pradesh (23). Of the 22 venues where matches have been played in Kerala, a few are non-existent.

The maximum number of matches at a venue has been the University Stadium Trivandrum, which has played host to 24 matches - 20 Ranji Trophy matches, 2 Duleep Trophy matches and one match each against Ceylon in 1971 and Kerala Chief Minister's XI against Sri Lanka in 1973. In addition, Trivandrum was the venue for the ODI between India and Australia in 1984 and between India and the West Indies in 1988. Today at the Nehru Stadium at Kochi we have one of the finest and most modern cricket stadia in the world.

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