Sunday, October 2, 2016

Madanagopal J

The Fate of 'Outsiders' in Cricket 
VB Chandrasekar’s decision to not pick him in 2002-03 after being TN’s top run getter in one- dayers for two successive years remains the most inexplicable decision that Madanagopal faced in his long association with cricket

One of the most likeable characters in TN cricket is still awaiting the big break in Umpiring after nearly a decade 
It was the summer of 1990. I decided to meet with J Gokulakrishnan and J Madanagopal (a school boy cricketer) on a hot day at their home in East Tambaram, one that had a huge open area around where the two spent a lot of early cricketing days. Having accepted the invitation to meet, I did not foresee the  difficulty I would have to endure to reach them. To date, it remains the longest bus trip I have ever made in Madras and the most unforgettable one for I saw the uninhabited suburbs of Madras by paying just Rs. 7 .Starting off in the morning from T. Nagar, the bus number A51 took me through Velachery, Pallikaranai and Medavakkam, a trip that gave a feeling of travelling in the most remote location in Tamil Nadu. Finally I reached their house well over 2 hours after I started. That trip gave me a feel of what it takes to be a cricketer from the districts.

During that phase in the early 90s, Madanagopal would take an early morning hour long town bus into the city ahead of a league match (and other age group matches) and then come back standing in the crowded bus after a long day in the hot sun.

But really in his now long cricket career that is touching 25 years since his league debut, travelling in the crowded bus was the least of the problems he has had to encounter. Just like his elder brother, Madanagopal started his league career with Perungalathur (which had made its way into the TNCA league after winning qualifying tournament). And then he moved up the ladder into the 2nd division where he played for Kohinoor. In those days, the best of the players from Kohinoor graduated into Jolly Rovers but Madanagopal moved to SPIC after VB Chandrasekar offered him the opportunity to play first division cricket.

Not belonging to the ‘Select’ Cricketing Schools (whose privilege it was when it came to favourable selection right through the 80s and 90s) of Madras, Madanagopal always had to fight with his backs to the wall. Throughout his cricketing career, the axe was always held to his neck.

Never did his family explore the possibility of putting his son in a St. Bedes or a Santhome. And his early league teams were the not so fancied Perungalathur and Garnet!!!

 It is a great credit to him that though that a rank outsider from the districts with absolutely no push of any kind he made it to the top grade of state cricket and played over 30 matches, each of which under the threat that a single failure would lead to his sacking.

The transformation - Robin Singh's role
In the 2nd half of the 90s, Madanagopal was a frustrated man. In his early 20s, he had managed to notch up consistent scores in the 1st division league but he was nowhere near the state call. It was also the phase when he was shockingly left out of the TN Junior state team at the toss (his captain (wicketkeeper), with whom I have toured and played cricket and whose many matches I have umpired in the last two decades had included Madanagopal in the playing XI but under the pressure of the team manager (who was renowned in TN cricket in the 80s and 90s for such ‘abnormalities’), Madanagopal’s name was replaced with a more ‘favoured’ one at the toss). It was a death blow for the cricketer from the districts to experience such an unsavoury incident in a game that he had understood from his childhood as a gentleman’s game.

He was on the verge of quitting cricket. There was a professional career in the offing on the accounting front for he had completed ICWA Inter. In that dark hour, it was another silent cricketer from Tamil Nadu, Robin Singh, who turned out to be his saviour.  Spotting the potential in Madanagopal and more importantly liking his character, Robin asked him to give it a shot for another year or two. The then Chief of India Pistons, Venkataramani, too had a professional chat with him and suggested that the player not give up at that stage in his career. It was also the time when he was on the verge of joining RBI and settling down in a career away from cricket (RBI had already dropped down from the 1st division in those times).  It turned out to be the most professional piece of 'cricket management' that he had ever experienced.

He went by their word and decided to stick on to cricket. In those testing times and throughout his playing career, it has been only his parents and brother Gokulakrishnan who stuck with him  and gave him the confidence to carry on.

Madanagopal finally broke through into the Ranji Squad in the 1998-99 Season at the age of 24 (his brother had made it into the Ranji team as a 20 year old).

Despite playing over 30 matches and a rather successful stint especially in one day cricket, the six year phase of his cricket for the state showed to him the systemic challenges and the difficulties for an 'outsider' in Tamil Nadu cricket with no meritorious backing - something that he had already experienced in a lighter form in his earlier days in the 90s. Positions in the batting order were ususally occupied by bigger, 'favoured' names whose performances were rarely questioned. 

500+ runs in his first two Ranji Seasons
He made his Ranji Trophy debut batting at No. 7 in Tirunelveli in November 1998 against Karnataka. After a failure in that match, he was dropped for the next match. A match later, he was included again but only for a couple of matches before being dropped for the first match of the super league in early 1999.

After a 2nd axing in the same season, he was once again included for the 2nd match of the super league against Railways and scored a century in February 1999. He followed that up with a half century in the next match against Orissa. In the last game of the super league, he scored 71 and 199 against Maharashtra. In four innings, he had amassed over 420 runs. By mid March, Madanagopal had played 6 Ranji matches and had scored two centuries in his debut season but had also already been dropped twice from the squad.

His sequence that season read: Played - Dropped - Played- Played- Dropped- Century- Fifty-Fifty-Century.

It was a phase where he was consistently made to feel insecure about his place in the team.

Century on One Day debut 
In between the Ranji matches in his debut season, he also made his one day debut for Tamil Nadu with a century against Kerala in December 1998 this time as an opener. But the very next match after his century, he was shunted to No. 6 where he got just a few balls to bat at the end of the innings. That symbolized his cricket career for Tamil Nadu, perpetually living on the edge and always facing the axe (it was that experience as a cricketer which has helped him relate to current cricketers like KB Arun Karthik and Kaushik Gandhi and their plight in recent years with TN cricket).

Amazing run in One Day cricket
Madanagopal has a stunning record in Ranji Trophy and One Day cricket for Tamil Nadu, something not too many have taken note off over the last 15 years and definitely even fewer have officially recognized.

In his debut Ranji Season, he topped 500 runs at an average of 60. In his 2nd season in Ranji, he once again topped 500 runs. In his third season, he played just three matches but got two fifties in those. In his fourth season, he once again scored two half centuries in the two matches he played. Never did he really have a string of failures at the state level. Whenever someone was to be 'fitted' in, the first axe fell on Madanagopal.

In December 1999, he scored 84 in his one and only Duleep Trophy match!!!

VB does it again
In successive seasons in 2000-01 and 01-02, Madanagopal was Tamil Nadu’s highest run scorer in one day cricket. In both the years, he was among the top 6 in the country in domestic one day cricket out beating most of the reputed names in the state. 
And yet at the beginning of the 2002-03 Season, Chairman of Selectors VB Chandrasekar dropped him for the entire one day league season.

In Madanagopal’s long 25 year connect with cricket, apart from not even being in the Deodhar Trophy squad, this decision to not include him in the TN one day squad after topping the runs for the state for two years in a row probably remains the most inexplicable of decisions (this probably also explains how the state association is run and why the state does not produce cricketers who really want to play for the team) that he encountered in cricket.

Credit to his professionalism, Madanagopal answered with his bat when given the chance in the knock out phase and was the 2nd highest run getter for TN in that!!!!

Also, in December 2000, Madanagopal played one of his more satisfying innings in one day cricket at the Guru Nanak College ground. With Tamil Nadu having to chase down Kerala’s 185 in under 25 overs to top the South Zone league table, Madanagopal was sent in as the sacrificial goat to open the batting with Sharath and to 'go for it'!!!! And he scored a blistering 80 off just 70 balls to take TN home in 24 overs, thus pushing Karnataka to the 2nd spot by the narrowest of margins in the run rate.

Where's Meritocracy
Despite topping the run chart for two years in a row and being the 2nd leading run getter in the knock out for the state in the third year, Madanagopal was never in the Deodhar Trophy squad, quite a shattering blow for meritocracy in this part of the country!!! ( TA Sekar was the Chairman of the  TN Selection committee and would have been a strong voice in the selection of the Deodhar Trophy squad at that time - Sekar was also in the national selection panel in that phase)

As has been his character, he played his cricket silently without ever raising his voice in dissent even once at the shabby treatment meted out to him.
The one positive note from the early 90s was the timely help rendered by Vijay Sankar (now the Chairman of Sanmar Group). Madanagopal had been struck on the head in a match in Coimbatore that soon turned into a serious blood clot. It was Vijay Sankar who supported the family during those dark couple of days. With Vijay Sankar’s support, his parents rushed into Coimbatore and it was his personal support that helped Madanagopal recover quickly in a hospital in Madras.
Coaching plans dented even before it started
Having been an ‘outsider’ all through his playing days and having understood the feelings of ‘neglected’ cricketers, Madanagopal wanted to take up coaching soon after his days as a state player but his application for Level 1 coaching was ‘softly’ rejected and ‘buried’.  That day Madanagopal gave up any idea of taking up to coaching. Since that rejection of something that was very close to his heart and an area that could have helped bring the best out of the players, he has never coached any age group side or the state side in the last decade.
 Instead he chose an area of individual decision making. He took to umpiring in the 2nd half of the last decade. As a Ranji cricketer who had played over 25 matches, he made his way through directly into the VIVA and stood first in the country.

Umpiring – The Same Story
And yet, it has been the all too familiar story over the last decade - the story of his cricketing days has been played out all over again during his umpiring career. He made it to the top 25 well over 4 years ago and has umpired some of the important pressure matches involving Bombay in each of these years. He had also received a positive sign off from Sourav Ganguly for the bold LBW decision handed out against the former India captain. Despite KS Viswanthan, the Hony Secy of TNCA, telling this writer 5 years ago that he has been the best cricketer turned umpire from the state since Venkataraghavan, Madanagopal’s umpiring career has been chequered and rather stagnant despite consistent performances year on year over the last many years with more 'quality' opportunities not forthcoming.
Former State fast bowler B Kalyanasundaram has watched Madanagopal umpire from close quarters during his stint as a match referee over the last many years. He too has high words for Madanagopal 'His technical skills are very good and is well versed with the laws of the game. More importantly, I found his communication skills as an umpire to be excellent.'Just like in his playing career, he has gone about Umpiring in a quiet way trying to give his best and leaving the rest to destiny.

Since his Ranji days, Madanagopal played 10 long years of competitive 1st division cricket also mentoring and coaching league players from his team along the way with a great deal of success. His track record as a mentor-coach of 1st division teams such Grand Slam and Vijay CC over the last many years compares with the best in the city. And recently, he (with his brother Gokulakrishnan) coached Tuti Patriots to a win in the inaugural edition of the TNPL.

With meritorious support, he could have easily played over a 50 Ranji matches. He surely should have played in the Deodhar Trophy on the basis of his cricketing performance in the period 1998-2000 but more ‘favoured’ names were chosen ahead of him. He bore it all then, silently. And without any signs of annoyance, he continued to persevere. And it is that same perseverance that is helping him now in his umpiring. He has umpired over 30 Ranji Trophy matches but really the big knock out matches, and the Duleep and Deodhar matches that eluded him during his playing days is proving elusive once again. Umpiring in the IPL too remains a dream.

At 42, Madanagopal is in no hurry and is in it for the long haul. Later this month, at the beginning of the new Ranji season, he will once again be umpiring a match involving Bombay (which is generally seen in cricketing circles as a prestigious match).

It is hoped that meritocracy will play a part somewhere in the life of this likeable silent 'un-networked' human being and that he will be able to make it into the real big league in Umpiring.


Unknown said...

Was hoping that one day you d cover "Maddy Anna" (to many of us who were fortunate to be guided by him). He has not only thought us cricket but gone beyond that to lead a life in this sport with dignity and respect. A true gentleman and a sincere mentor.

Got given this stat a few years back - his list A average was 2nd best to only sachin tendulkar during those 3 or 4 years..

Anonymous said...

Superbly written article
(Ranji Cricketer)

Anonymous said...

Very well written piece. One more instance of a talent gone waste on account of politicising of Indian cricket. It only shows that for every Tendulkar or Dravid there are so many who fall by the wayside.

Anonymous said...

Very nice article

The muck of politics and arbitrary decision making ( they call it strategizing ) has ruined so many meritorious candidates that one loses counts . . . but there are determined people like Madanagopal whose love & interest for the game keeps them going.

A great read. . .



Shruti said...

Great article that really sheds light on the internal power dynamics in the Tamil Nadu cricketing scene.

Anonymous said...

madan has been a very silent performer over the years and it's a very nice article to highlight his achievements
Keep it up

( former Ranji cricketer and league captain)

Viji said...

Madan, Life is all about what we have in front of us. Forget the harshness of past and March ahead....

balu said...

There are many unsung heroes like Mr Madnagopal. And, there is no answer or end to nepoptism or favouratism in sports- whatever be the game. God save not only
mother India but also Mother India's Sports Sister

Anonymous said...

Another WOW story, Prabhu... Simply brilliant. While we readers get to know about how another good player suffered because of inconsistent selection and other policies, I hope it also reaches and impresses the powers to be to at least try change :)