On Saturday, I sat in the Wankhede Stadium press box thinking about all the late writers who wouldn’t have missed Sachin Tendulkar’s 200th Test. I thought about their ability, professionalism and sense of humour that I witnessed as a young reporter sitting in the upper rows of the open-air press box till 1995 before the air-conditioned box came into existence for the 1996 World Cup. The current media box is large and wide, but the view is not as good as what the earlier two enclosures provided.
Last week’s three-day Test wouldn’t have been too short for leg-pulling. I missed Rajan Bala the most. We worked for rival newspapers, but never competed. He knew his cricket too well and didn’t need to indulge in one-upmanship when it came to stories. He cracked jokes, which would have you in splits even if they were on you.
Bala once got into a discussion with members of the Indian team about how quick Javagal Srinath was. He felt Srinath was not as quick as people believed. Nayan Mongia reckoned the Bangalore fast bowler was very swift considering the thuds which his wicketkeeping gloves endured each time the ball missed the bat. One player who was part of the discussion wanted to convince Bala that Srinath was terrorising and hence asked Bala whether he ever suffered from piles. And Bala shot back: “Rajan Bala is a perfect a***hole.”
Pradeep Vijayakar was not only passionate about cricket, but one could safely say it was his favourite sport to cover. Everyone in Mumbai cricket knew Pradeep (or ‘Paddy’ as he was called). The tension of writing out his report and filing it on time didn’t prevent him from speaking into a dictaphone to practice his radio commentary. His pranks would involve ‘informing’ other reporters that a famous cricket personality had just entered the ground after which the gullible lot would search around for the famous one.
SK Sham always seemed to manage some freelance work after retirement. For Tests and one-day internationals, he would bring along his sleek electronic typewriter and would take great care while rolling thermal paper into it. In between, he found time to crack jokes and relate anecdotes. His favourite one was about an Indian journalist of darkish complexion sitting among a group of journalists listening to a visiting West Indian diplomat speak. The man from the Caribbean kicked off his speech by saying that it was nice to see a gentleman from the West Indies at the function.
Sham also loved telling the story about an Indian writer, who read a piece in an Australian newspaper on the 1985-86 tour Down Under and promptly sent it to his newspaper office under his byline.
In the press box, one also heard about a writer who enjoyed his drink a bit more than his sport. After missing a good part of the third day’s play of the 1983 India vs West Indies Test in Kolkata, where Clive Lloyd and Andy Roberts put on 161 for the ninth wicket, the first line of his report read: “Were you there?”
Sundar Rajan, a sound cricket and tennis writer, was always happy to help a young reporter get over his nerves. He could also dish out a tight copy.
All these men would have done full justice to Tendulkar’s emotional exit from the game in terms of words. Accomplished writers Ayaz Memon and Harsha Bhogle grace the commentary box nowadays. The lucid Sharda Ugra couldn’t make it, but at least there was the splendid R Mohan and Rohit Brijnath at Wankhede.
KN Prabhu’s copy would flow like a river, Dicky Rutnagur would not have a single unnecessary word, Bala would be swift, sagely and super, Sham would be just like his column — ‘Point Blank’. They are all gone. And Tendulkar has quit the game.
Cricket is poorer.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor