Published on July 24th, 2012 | by Sambit1
One – der -Sadagoppan Ramesh
They are the ones who made a splash without a preamble. They are also the ones who left us longing for an encore. But like flashes of brilliance, they were to be seen but only seldom. Like the careless dash from a master painter, there was no desire to qualify the brilliance with substance. It was just there. For you to gape and move on muttering “What if…”.
The lanes of memory town are lit with the shadows of such tales, sometimes giddy with euphoria but often poignant with tragedy. The spirit of Jake LaMotta lives here.
Caveat Emptor – Everybody loves a story. And as Indians, we love our stories to have closed endings. No ambiguous possibilities for us, thank you very much. Even our grandest epics have been monotones with the morals drilled into neat submission. Yet, the stories you’ll read in this section will often lead you to chase wild geese and red herrings and sundry other irascible creatures. Beware of the rabbit hole. There’s no end to that. So, here we go…
The man with two left feet
Growing up playing gully cricket in India, most right-handed boys like me would often fantasize about playing left-handed. Going against the grain and trying to trick your own brain, it was an easy way to be cool. There was something about southpaw batsmen that made them look like instant rock stars. Think Gary Sobers, Zaheer Abbas, David Gower, Brian Charles Lara, Saeed Anwar, Saurav Ganguly & Yuvraj Singh. Flourish. Disdain. Flamboyance. Adjectives, that easily lend themselves to these men and their wrong way of plying the gentleman’s trade.
Those are the very words that best describe Sadagoppan Ramesh, aka – the answer to India’s opening woes in the late 90s. A batsman who was as lazy on his feet as he was quick in his head, he had the unique ability to piss off pundits and pacers alike with his inch-perfect timing and non-existent footwork. While Sehwag is the current high lord of the stand-and-deliver school of batsmanship, Ramesh can truly lay claim to being one of the best practitioners of this art.
His way was more of brinkmanship than batsmanship. A typical Ramesh can be described thus: An upright stance with a high backlift, it was almost as if he had lulled himself into a trance. Everyone, but him, on the ground getting the impression that he was too distracted to care as the ball was delivered. An invisible shift in balance later, almost as an afterthought, the blade swung down. And you were left asking yourself “Did that really happen?”
But to attribute all that je ne sais quoi to nature would be an affront to the steel that a batsman can only cultivate with careful conditioning. A lot of the edginess came from the confidence and conviction that Ramesh carried with him like a talisman.
A debut against a fearsome Pakistani attack featuring the legends Wasim, Waqar & Saqlain showed a sign of things to come. Runs always came at a fast clip. He seemed in a tearing hurry for someone with so unhurried a style. Racking up an average of over 50 in his first six tests, he seemed to be on his way to becoming India’s mainstay in the troubled opening slot.
Things started unraveling as the century turned though. To be fair to him, a man can only make good of the chances he gets. And Ramesh wasn’t exactly destiny’s favorite child. A victim of a back injury and the game of musical-chairs, played by the selectors, Ramesh found himself often sidelined from the big games.
A case, however, can be made for his lack of big-match temperament on the bouncier tracks of Australia. A man whose aggression was only apparent in his batting, he could never shake off his detractors. Constant doubts over his ability to negotiate bouncier tracks outside the subcontinent did make their way into his head. Although the statistics have been kind to him, it was his style that definitely took a beating. And almost like the hero in a Greek tragedy, he didn’t see a point in scoring runs if he couldn’t score them his way. The 40s & the 50s were plenty but what went against him was the absence of an appetite for big scores.
Where other players have evolved, changed and in extreme cases, killed their game in order to give birth to something sustainable, Ramesh held on to a fatalistic idealism that only finds place in cinema and fiction. Such stories have predictable endings.
Ramesh returned to find himself dropped not only from the national squad but his home Ranji team as well. He played for a couple of years for Plate teams (Kerala & Assam) after that.
Unlike many other sob stories in Indian cricket, life beyond the bleachers has been much kinder to him. The man faulted for his footwork found his feet in another trade – Showbiz. Known to be always ready with a quip, Ramesh found a ready acceptance for his talents in cinema.
From 22 yards to 70mm, the dimensions of his arena have changed, but one thing remains and that’s his ability to see the joke that is life.