I first went to a cricket match at Bangalore’s Chinnaswamy Stadium in March 1974 when I was just short of my 16th birthday. I have watched countless matches there since, played between clubs, states and countries. It may not be the prettiest or most well-equipped sporting venue in the country, but it remains the place I most like to go to watch cricket because I am a life-long follower of the Karnataka Ranji Trophy team and this is its (and thus my) home ground. That the Chinnaswamy Stadium is a mere 15 minutes’ walk from my home, and a cricket ball’s throw from my favourite park as well as from my favourite café, further consolidates the special place it has so long occupied in my heart.
The stadium is named after the man who was instrumental in building it. A lawyer by profession, M Chinnaswamy was an altogether atypical cricket administrator. That is to say he was untainted by either corruption or cronyism. He was utterly devoted to the game of cricket and to the cause of Karnataka cricket in particular.
From the early 1960s, Karnataka, then known as Mysore, began sending a steady stream of cricketers to the Indian team. However, unlike other strong Ranji teams such as Tamil Nadu, Bombay, Delhi and Bengal, the state side had no ground it could call its own, playing its home matches in Bangalore’s Central College. Chinnaswamy single-handedly set out to correct this. He got the government to allot a piece of land in the heart of the city (previously empty, but technically in control of the army) on a long-term lease to what was then still the Mysore State Cricket Association of which he was the secretary. The paperwork for the lease completed, the Association hired an architect and a contractor, who, working under the secretary’s supervision, built the stadium. Because of him, no bribes were given or taken.
Celebrating the greats
That the home ground of the Gujarat Cricket Association carries the name of Narendra Modi is a scandalous disgrace. On the other hand, that the home ground of the Karnataka State Cricket Association carries the name of M Chinnaswamy is befitting. However, it is surprising, as well as disappointing, that the different stands of the ground have not yet been named after the great cricketers of the state. The Wankhede Stadium in Bombay has stands or gates named after Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Vijay Merchant, and Vinoo Mankad (among others).
The Feroz Shah Kotla ground in Delhi was recently (and regrettably) named after a politician, but at least the stands or gates themselves suitably honour the deeds of Bishan Bedi, Mohinder Amarnath and Virender Sehwag. Cricket grounds in England and Australia likewise have stands and gates named after cricketers who made their reputations playing there – Shane Warne at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Clarrie Grimmett at the Adelaide Oval, Denis Compton and Bill Edrich at Lord’s, Jack Hobbs at The Oval. In Bangalore, however, the major cricket ground does not celebrate the contributions to Karnataka and Indian cricket of such remarkable figures as GR Vishwanath, Erapalli Prasanna, and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar.
This lack of public respect for the players from the past who made Karnataka a powerhouse in Indian cricket has long grated not just with me but with all cricket fans in the state. I once raised this issue with Brijesh Patel who, before he became a cricket administrator, had played in the first Karnataka team to win the Ranji Trophy back in 1974. About a decade ago, when he was still running the KSCA, I urged Patel to name stands after Vishwanath, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar. For it was largely due to Vishy’s batting and the bowling of Pras and Chandra that Karnataka defeated Delhi and Bombay en route to winning the Ranji Trophy. Earlier, in 1971, this trio had played critical roles in India’s first series wins in the West Indies and England. By honouring them, Karnataka cricket would be honouring itself.
Brijesh Patel was not welcoming of my suggestion. Then everybody will begin asking for their names to be put on stands, he said. I told him that no one – and especially not later greats like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath – would ever grudge Vishy, Pras and Chandra being honoured before them. Dravid, Kumble and Srinath had all grown up idolising this trio and would be very content waiting their turn.
Earlier this year, I raised the issue afresh, again with a cricketer who had been a junior colleague of Vishy, Pras and Chandra in the Karnataka Ranji team before going on, like Patel, to becoming a cricket administrator himself. This is Roger Binny. We found ourselves at an airport, waiting to check-in for a flight that would take us both back home to Bangalore. I thought I must not allow this opportunity to make the case for my fellow fans to go abegging. So I asked Binny whether he would support the naming of stands at the Chinnaswamy Stadium after the great Karnataka cricketers of the past.
To my query, Binny rather grandly replied that he was president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, responsible for Indian cricket as a whole, and not for a particular state unit within it. I reminded him that he had previously served a term as the president of the KSCA. Had he done anything at all to pursue the matter then? The enquiry was met by silence.
The queue was taking its time, so I berated him further. Surely, I told him, it was past time to name stands in his and my home ground after Vishy, Pras, and Chandra as well as one after Shantha Rangaswamy, the first great female Indian cricketer, also a resident of our state? I reminded him of his own personal and professional debt to his seniors. Binny shifted uncomfortably on his feet as I spoke – he would not acknowledge the merits of the case, but at least he did seem somewhat embarrassed.
As Roger Binny stayed silent, I offered a telling parting shot. I told him that Salman Rushdie had, in his most recent novel, named three characters Erapalli, Gundappa, and Bhagwat. When writing about Karnataka, even an Anglo-American novelist with no known prior interest in cricket sought fit to honour Pras, Vishy, and Chandra for what they had meant to the history and people of the state.
In their tenures as cricket administrators, both Brijesh Patel and Roger Binny have had ample opportunity to do the decent thing and have stands named after these cricketers older and greater than themselves. Why haven’t they done so? Might it be that they are fearful of offending commercial sponsors, such as those that run the local IPL franchise? Or could it be that drunk with the arrogance of administrative power, they resent other cricketers being publicly appreciated?
Let me speculate no further. Let me only say that the proper and just thing to do would be to, as soon as possible, name stands at the Chinnaswamy Stadium after Vishy, Pras, Chandra and Shantha and, perhaps a few years down the line, name some other stands after another great quartet who selflessly served Karnataka and Indian cricket, namely, Kirmani, Dravid, Srinath and Kumble.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the first time Karnataka won the Ranji Trophy. As I have argued elsewhere, that was a truly epochal event in the history of Indian cricket, for, by dethroning Bombay, my side opened the way for other teams such as Delhi, Hyderabad, Tamil Nadu, Baroda, Railways, Punjab Haryana, Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Saurashtra and even Gujarat to put their names on the trophy in later years. Karnataka themselves have been Ranji champions on eight further occasions. In recent years, while Bombay has won the tournament quite often, it has never remotely been as dominant as it was in the years from 1958 to 1974.
The decentering and democratisation of Indian cricket began at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in the spring of 1974. I was there when it happened, watching every ball as Karnataka beat Bombay on their way to their previously long-elusive goal. However, this column is not written for personal reasons. That the Chinnaswamy Stadium does not yet have room and space to honour the great Karnataka cricketers of the past should offend every Indian cricket fan, even those who do not live in this state. Perhaps the KSCA can wake up to this injustice and belatedly make amends, inaugurating stands named after Chandra, Pras, Shantha and Vishy on October 20 when the first of the five World Cup matches to be played in Bangalore takes place.
The updated edition of Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi is now in stores. His email address is email@example.com.
This article first appeared in The Telegraph.