In 1992, I published a book on India’s favourite sport. One reviewer, a Mumbaikar named Rajdeep Sardesai, commented in exasperation that ‘Guha’s sometimes excessive love for the cricketers of Karnataka may lead to another Cauvery dispute’. A decade later, in an article in a national newspaper, I wrote that ‘I do not care whether India wins or loses, so long as Dravid scores runs and Kumble get wickets’, receiving a stream of angry mails in response.
In truth, the state of Karnataka has a secondary claim to my cricketing loyalty. My primary affiliation is to the Friends Union Cricket Club in Bengaluru. I joined the club in 1966, when I was eight, and have remained a devoted member ever since. Even now, I go several times a year to watch my club play in the Karnataka State Cricket Association’s First Division League.
The FUCC was founded in 1936. There is only one cricket club older than ours in Bangalore This is the Bangalore United Cricket Club, which was founded exactly a century ago. Growing up, I was taught to regard BUCC and Swastic Union as bitter rivals. Our hostility to Swastic was undisguised and total. On the other hand, our attitude towards BUCC was more ambivalent. Of course, we always wanted to beat them on the field; but we nonetheless retained a deep fondness for the club’s moving spirit, a man named Keki Tarapore.
Our family home in Bengaluru was in Jayamahal Extension. Living in the same locality was a certain Syed Mujtaba Hussain Kirmani. I grew up hearing stories of how Kiri learnt to keep wickets in our colony’s park, using a brick in either hand; and how it was Keki Tarapore who bought him his first gloves, took him to the BUCC, and made him a Test player. The other future Test cricketers Keki mentored included Roger Binny and Sadanand Vishwanath.
Notably, Keki Tarapore’s mentees included many who had never played for BUCC. In January 1994 Bengaluru hosted a Test match, India versus Sri Lanka. It was widely expected that the young fast bowler Javagal Srinath would figure in the playing eleven. Srinath had bowled superbly in recent overseas tours of Australia and South Africa, so well that he, and we, were certain that he would play in this, the first Test on his home ground since he had become an international cricketer.
The selectors, sadly, thought otherwise. Srinath was now without question India’s finest new ball bowler; but Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar were more capable batsmen, and at home it was thought wise to go in with three spinners. So Srinath was made twelfth man. I watched that match from the Chinnaswamy Stadium’s ‘P2 Stand’, adjacent to the KSCA’s Diamond Box. On the first day, as India batted, I witnessed Keki Tarapore speaking as often as he could to Srinath. Knowing the man, I could guess the meaning of what he said. The wise old coach was telling the youngster to put this disappointment behind him. His time would come. As it did. Some years later, Srinath won a Test in Ahmedabad against South Africa with what remains the most devastating spell of fast bowling by an Indian on Indian soil. I hope Keki saw that spell on the telly.
Among all of Keki Tarapore’s wards, none has achieved greater distinction than Rahul Dravid. Dravid now serves as BUCC’s honorary president. Earlier this month there was a public celebration of the club’s centenary, which was attended by many former and present Test players. Dravid, Kirmani, Binny, S. Viswanath and K. L. Rahul of BUCC were there, but so too were Anil Kumble, G. R. Viswanath, Venkatesh Prasad, and Karun Nair, who played for rival clubs. Asked to speak on behalf of FUCC, I said that while I could not gainsay that BUCC was founded earlier than us, my club had two distinctions our rival could not match. For one thing, it was FUCC that had produced Karnataka’s first ever Test cricketer, the off-spinner V. M. Muddiah. For another, while BUCC had thought of having a club tie designed only for its centenary, our club had one specially made for its fiftieth anniversary itself. With red and brown stripes, and the FUCC crest, this was the tie that I was wearing that evening.
I had come however not to boast but to pay tribute, on behalf of a younger and lesser cricket club of Bengaluru to an older and greater one. At the entrance to the venue was a board displaying the names of the eleven BUCC players who had represented the country. I pointed out in my talk that two BUCC players were in the eleven that won India’s first cricket World Cup, at Lord’s in 1983. These were Syed Kirmani and Roger Binny. I added that while three Mumbai players were in that team, they played for three different clubs in their home city. BUCC had the even greater distinction, I said, of providing two players in an All Time Indian Test XI. These were Rahul Dravid and Syed Kirmani. This time I added that, having made this assertion, I was not going to show my face in Ranchi anytime soon.
The BUCC centenary event was a wonderful reminder of the real bulwarks of Indian cricket, the unsung club coaches and club secretaries who have sustained the game in the towns and cities of this land. The spirit of the late Keki Tarapore hovered over us that evening. May that spirit continue to animate cricket in Bengaluru, and beyond. For while most young boys who passed through Keki’s hands became better cricketers, all became better human beings.
CELEBRATING CLUB CRICKET IN BENGALURU
(first published in Hindustan Times, 24th March 2019)