PK Belliappa led Madras to a Ranji Trophy victory over Bombay in 1967-68. © Wisden India

PK Belliappa led Madras to a Ranji Trophy victory over Bombay in 1967-68. © Wisden India

He was born in Mysore, made a name for himself leading Madras (now Tamil Nadu) with much success, and is now enjoying a retired life shuttling between Coorg and Canada. PK Belliappa, the former wicketkeeper-batsman, played 15 years of first-class cricket, scoring 4061 runs from 94 matches, apart from holding 93 catches and pulling off 46 stumpings.

Belliappa didn’t quite make it to the national team, but nearly achieved the near-impossible feat of leading his side to a Ranji Trophy victory over Bombay in 1967-68. Now 75, Belliappa remembers most events of his career like they happened yesterday.

Memories of Ranji debut:
It was in December of 1959, our captain was CD Gopinath and the match was against Kerala in Coimbatore. I was 19 and quite excited to be picked as the wicketkeeper.

I got seven victims on debut, a record for my state at that time. We had a fantastic side. AG Kripal Singh was a wonderful cricketer, we had AG Milkha Singh. VV Kumar was also there. We won the South Zone competition defeating Mysore. Mysore and Madras always had the best teams from South Zone. We won my debut game quite easily and after the match, I got a very good write-up from SK Gurunathan, then the sports editor of The Hindu.

From 1959 to 1974, for 15 years, I was the wicketkeeper for Madras. I missed out on only one match in all those 15 years because I had to go for my brother’s wedding.

Turning point of his career:
One of the most memorable events was when I scored a century against England in 1964 playing for South Zone in Hyderabad. (ML) Jaisimha was our captain, we had Kripal and Milkha Singh, VV Kumar and quite a few guys from Mysore also. That match was the turning point because initially, I played exclusively as a wicketkeeper. After that hundred, I started opening the batting and that turned my career as a batsman.

After Kripal retired from first-class cricket, I was made the captain of Madras. I led for the next seven years and S Venkataraghavan took over from me. That century against England was the turning point of my career.

Favourite Ranji moment:
The best year of my Ranji career was 1967, when we lost the final against Bombay on first-innings lead and I was the captain.

We had a wonderful side — Venkat, VV, Milkha and his brother Satwender Singh. Ashok Mankad scored a century for Bombay. We got a fairly small total – 270 or 280 (258). When they were batting, we were on track to take the lead. The only recognised batsman left at one point was Mankad, and he was caught at mid-off off VV’s bowling. Satwender took the catch, there was absolutely no doubt about the catch. But the umpire ruled it not out. That was the turning point, Mankad scored a century and got them the lead.

I read years later in some report that Mankad was given not out because the Madras team did not appeal. It was not true. There was no question of not appealing and for the catch to be disallowed was very frustrating.

Madras' VV Kumar bowling to Bombay's VR Karkhanis with seven close-in fielders on the third day of the Ranji Trophy final at the Brabourne Stadium in 1968. Madras had a great year under PK Belliappa, but lost on first-innings lead in the final. © The Hindu Images

Madras’ VV Kumar bowling to Bombay’s VR Karkhanis with seven close-in fielders on the third day of the Ranji Trophy final at the Brabourne Stadium in 1968. Madras had a great year under PK Belliappa, but lost on first-innings lead in the final. © The Hindu Images

We did well in the second innings – (KR) Rajagopal and I put on a century partnership for the opening wicket after they got a slender lead. The match became interesting on the fifth day. Eknath Solkar and Manohar Hardikar, the Bombay captain, managed to play the day out and draw the match.

Till then, we had won every single match. Rajagopal was a fantastic cricketer who unfortunately did not play for India. In six of the seven matches in the lead-up to the final, we got 100-run opening stands. That’s one of the reasons why we had a great year.

The toughest conditions he has played in:
In those days, initially, they wouldn’t cover the wickets. If it rained, we had to play on absolute wet wickets. It was very difficult to play against spinners on wet wickets. We always had fantastic spinners – VV, Venkat, Kripal, who was an amazing offspinner. We enjoyed playing in the rain because the wickets weren’t covered and the oppositions found it difficult.

Against Mysore at the Corporation Stadium in Chennai, we finished a match in one and a half days. In matches like that, even a small total of 50 or 60 would be difficult to chase.

The toughest opponents:
As far as Ranji Trophy was concerned, in South Zone, the winner was always Madras or Mysore. Madras won most of the times but Mysore and Hyderabad were tough opponents. Hyderabad had some fantastic cricketers. Tiger Pataudi played for them, they had ML Jaisimha who was a wonderful personality in South Zone cricket and also Abbas Ali Baig. Mysore were fantastic as well. They had Erapalli Prasanna and BS Chandrasekhar as bowlers and a captain called V Subramanya. He was a brilliant captain.

PK Belliappa opening with Budhi Kunderan for South Zone against West Indies. © Wisden India

PK Belliappa opening with Budhi Kunderan for South Zone against West Indies. © Wisden India

Obviously, Bombay dominated Indian cricket. They had Ajit Wadekar, Eknath Solkar… their team literally had seven or eight players who played for India. They were a very difficult side to beat and even when we lost the final to them in 1967, it was one of those rare occasions where we gave them a fantastic fight.

Most fun-loving teammates:
We had a lovely side overall. As far as pranks were concerned, Milkha and VV were amazing. We had so much fun because cricket in the 60s and early 70s was really a pastime. We had fantastic cricketers but for every one of them, their job was the first thing they cared for and worked very hard at. We loved playing, being with teammates and having fun.

For a Ranji match, we got Rs 10 or something. For Tests, we got Rs 50 a day. It was so much fun – we travelled only by train, and first-class train travel was a real luxury. But cricket was pure fun and great enjoyment. The philosophy of looking at a match was how much you enjoyed playing.

Life after retirement:
I meet cricketers whenever I’m in Chennai. Even otherwise, I’m in touch with people like VV Kumar, Bharath Reddy and Venkat. We played for a club side called Hyderabad Blues. After our first-class careers, we travelled around the world to the Caribbean, England and Australia with Hyderabad Blues. We all still stay in touch.

Jolly Rovers is another great attachment. We had a celebration for 50 years of Jolly Rovers two years ago. We had a nice get-together. I’ve not been into coaching or anything of that sort, but I follow first-class cricket as keenly as I can.