The Wankhede Stadium holds a special place in KN Ananthapadmanabhan’s heart. After all, it’s here that the television umpire for the ongoing Ranji Trophy quarter-final between Mumbai and Maharashtra enjoyed one of his best outings in first class cricket.
Umpire KN Ananthapadmanabhan is all smiles at the Wankhede on Thursday. Pic/Suresh KK.
Ananthapadmanabhan, who claimed 344 wickets in first-class games for Kerala and 87 wickets in 54 List A matches, took a memorable fifer here in a Challenger Series match against India Seniors to help India ‘B’ win by 19 runs in October 1997.
“That was my only match at the Wankhede Stadium, but it will forever be etched in my memory,” Ananthapadmanabhan told MiD DAY. “I did not expect to be in the playing XI in the first place. We had Anil Kumble and Sunil Joshi as spinners in our ranks. So, naturally I would be the 12th man. But to my surprise, Kumble included me in the XI. That was his greatness. Although I was one of the leg spinners doing well on the domestic circuit, Kumble never saw me as his competitor. In fact, in that match, he encouraged me a lot.
“He read my mind well after just two overs. He told me that he wanted wickets and stressed that I bowl naturally. He told me that since Joshi and himself would be played with caution, I would be the surprise package. So, that gave me a lot of confidence,” he added.
Ananthapadmanabhan was one of the several promising players who toiled hard in domestic cricket, only to miss out on the India cap. He largely remained on the sidelines because Kumble was going great guns in that period. But Ananthapadmanabhan has no regrets. “I have to accept that Kumble was the best leg spinner in India at that time. He played international cricket for 16 years, the time I spent in domestic cricket. Obviously, there was this dream of representing the country at least in one match, but to get a result was not the only reason I was playing cricket. I did so because I enjoyed bowling a lot. So, there is no frustration,” said Ananthapadmanabhan, who played a club level match last year.
Ananthapadmanabhan recalled how he was known as Kerala’s Kumble after getting noticed. “We were one of the weakest teams. Other teams would play against us with the intention of getting match practice. We played in an era when only lunches would be complimentary. So, our aim would be to stay in the match for all three days only to have those free lunches.
“We started doing well after a few players figured in the Chennai league. People also started believing that Kerala could compete after I started getting wickets of a few known batsmen.
“Our confidence developed with time and the time between 1993 and 1998 was when we started beating some tough sides on a regular basis. My teammates started to trust me to get wickets and I sort of was looked upon as their Kumble,” he concluded.