For the modern-day cricket follower with a definitive slant towards the international game, MV Sridhar will remain synonymous with cricket administration. But for those that committed passionately to the sport at a time when satellite television was in its infancy in India, and social media wasn’t even in the realms of fantasy, ‘Doc’ will remain a cricketer first and foremost.
Sridhar wasn’t the prettiest batsman ever to grace the game. Playing for a team that has given the sport some of the most stylish, most attractive, most elegant and graceful batsmen to have ever taken guard, he was a bit of a misfit, big and bulky and somewhat ungainly. But he wasn’t un-Hyderabadi in classicism – or the lack of it – alone. There was a steel to his batting that wasn’t necessarily the first characteristic you would associate with a Hyderabadi willow-wielder of his generation. And it was precisely that steel and solidity which allowed the pretty boys around him to conjure dazzling masterpieces.
Fifty-one is no age for anyone to go; especially when it is a dear friend that departs suddenly, without warning, here and then not here anymore, it shakes you up tremendously. Doc is most certainly in a better place, but his demise has most certainly not left our world a better place.
Sridhar was 22 when he made his first-class debut, in remote Kakinada against unfancied Andhra in December 1988. With typical diligence, he announced his arrival with scores of 74 and 129 not out, underscoring his value at No. 3 behind the dashing Abdul Azeem, and ahead of a middle order that would soon feed off his solidity and reassuring presence.
In time to come, as the VVS Laxmans, the Vanka Prataps and the Noel Davids would bring flair and flamboyance to the middle order, they were all emboldened and indeed encouraged to express themselves because Doc was around to steer the ship, to guide it through choppy waters if need be, to plonk that big left foot down the track and grind the opposition to dust through sheer bloody-mindedness married with solid basics.
Doc wasn’t boring – far from it, actually, and especially if he didn’t take it upon himself to pitch tent and bat till the cows came home – but if people viewed him that way like they often did, he didn’t quite seem to care. He also didn’t seem to care too much that despite the volume of runs, he wasn’t always on the radar of the national selectors, but of course those that knew him also knew that he was deeply disappointed as he should be, if not bitterly hurt. Only in extremely private gatherings would he occasionally – very occasionally, and very briefly – lapse into something bordering on self-pity, but that spell would last no longer than a quarter of a minute. Soon, he would be back to his boisterous self, pulling a leg here, playing a prank there, one of several guys that made following Hyderabad cricket in the 90s such an extraordinarily enjoyable experience.
He wasn’t un-Hyderabadi in classicism – or the lack of it – alone. There was a steel to his batting that wasn’t necessarily the first characteristic you would associate with a Hyderabadi willow-wielder of his generation. And it was precisely that steel and solidity which allowed the pretty boys around him to conjure dazzling masterpieces.
The friendships that those players forged – Doc, Kanwaljit Singh, Venkatapathi Raju, Vivek Jaisimha, Narenderpal Singh, Noel David – have stood the test of time, which explains the spontaneous outpouring of grief, shock and disbelief following the all-too-early passing of Doc on Monday (October 30). Fifty-one is no age for anyone to go; especially when it is a dear friend that departs suddenly, without warning, here and then not here anymore, it shakes you up tremendously. Doc is most certainly in a better place, but his demise has most certainly not left our world a better place.
It is impossible to talk Doc and not reflect on his magnum opus, a monumental 366 against Andhra in the Ranji Trophy game of January 1994. The setting was the quaint Gymkhana ground in Secunderabad, then the headquarters of the Hyderabad Cricket Association. Just off the main round, the playing area was separated from the average Joe by only a 10-foot tall circular wired fence. Especially after lunch, fans would gather just behind fine-leg to the right-hand batsman batting at the Pavilion End, and more so if Hyderabad were fielding, largely to nettle the instantly and imminently baitable Rajesh Yadav. The fiery fast bowler would often engage in animated verbal exchanges with otherwise bored spectators looking up to liven their afternoon. The pow-wows would generate much mirth among Yadav’s teammates, several of them struggling desperately not to clutch their stomachs and roll over in laughter. Doc would, quietly, be the chief instigator with pithy, well-timed comments, doing it all with nonchalant, affected innocence.
So, that particular January, he decided to have his share of the pie, wending his way into the record books. He made the highest score by a Hyderabadi in first-class cricket, an epic 366 that ground Fazee-ur-Rehman’s men into submission. For 11 hours and 39 minutes, and over 523 deliveries, he put on a sterling exhibition of mind over matter. There was nothing in the pitch for the bowlers, the bowling was no more than average apart from H Ramkishen, the talented left-arm quick, and GVV Gopalraju, the left-arm spinner. Sridhar just shut everything out, batting not so much like one possessed as someone who knew how not to make a hash of a good thing. Jaisimha Jr exploded in a flurry of strokes on his way to a double-ton, Noel David danced and annoyed (the fielders, of course) to 207 not out, but Doc was both the irresistible force and the immovable object. Blessington Thomas, the wonderfully committed and universally loved scorer, made nary a mistake through that compilation, cherishing that score sheet with the zeal of a tigress embracing her cubs in a protective cocoon of love and ownership.
“Felt bad for them, Raja,” Doc would say at the end of the day of Andhra’s ordeal, only a little disappointed that the magical 400 had passed him by. Forever. But his 366 is still the third highest first-class score in Indian history, and that will remain Doc’s legacy.
As will his grooming of young talent, his tactical shrewdness as skipper, and his courage in walking away from the game when only 33, knowing that the India doors that hadn’t yielded a millimetre at his prime had been firmly battened down on him.
Perhaps, the fact that he had a degree in medicine emboldened him to make that move, perhaps he saw a brighter future in cricket administration. He joined software giant Satyam and was at the forefront of their tie-up with FIFA ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, he became the secretary of the HCA after having served as the coach of the state team in an interim capacity, and then moved on to the Board of Control for Cricket in India as their General Manager – Cricket Operations, a tenure that was at once contentious as it was controversial untill he resigned a month back. As he made his way up the administrative ladder, Doc didn’t endear himself to many including some of his former Hyderabad teammates, but all of them were sanguine enough not to let those differences come in the way of their friendships.
While he was the tournament director when India hosted the World T20 last year, Sridhar’s finest hour in a non-playing capacity came on India’s drama-soaked tour of Australia in 2007-08. The assistant manager on that tour who also doubled up as the media manager, Sridhar and Anil Kumble built on their playing-days’ relationship to offer a sane and formidable front in the aftermath of Monkeygate. Eloquent and articulate, he fielded the verbal bouncers with the same felicity with which he took on Javagal Srinath in domestic cricket, winning plaudits from all quarters for playing his part in defusing volatile situations and making the life of Chetan Chauhan, the tour manager, a lot easier.
Doc donned many hats, performed many roles successfully, and then disappeared in a jiffy. The man who put such a high price on his wicket at the batting crease didn’t, sadly, do the same when it came to his life. He will be sorely missed. RIP, Doc.