How the tide turned for Santhome in 1983

In the corresponding week 37 years ago, the team from this school found itself in a space graced by Lloyd’s mighty West Indians and Kapil’s world beaters

Following the final Test match, which took place between December 24 and 29 (the additional day accounting for the rest day) at Chepauk, the winners and runners-up of the inaugural 1983 Thums-Up inter-school cricket tournament would be felicitated at a function at what was then known as Adyar Park hotel.

West Indies captain Clive Lloyd would give away the winners’ trophy to the boys from Santhome Higher Secondary School, which included P. Unnikrishnan, now a heavyweight in Carnatic and playback singing. India captain Kapil Dev would honour the boys from St. Bede’s who ended up on the losing side in the finals.

A brief report of the awards ceremony carried by The Hindu with a ‘December 30 Madras’ dateline, highlighted how Llyod kept his speech crisp, but crackling with wit.

The report began: “ ‘My speech, like Roger Harper’s innings, will be brief,’ said Clive Lloyd and the entire audience including the West Indian team members (Roger Harper too) burst out in laughter.”

Harper had a brief stay at the crease, and had less than nothing to show for it — a duck it was for the lanky spinner in the first innings.

The report further noted: “During his speech, which was shorter than Lloyd’s, Kapil Dev exhorted the youngsters to ‘work hard and try to play for the country in the future. And if you do, you should play better than we did against these mighty West Indians.’ ”

In the Test series, the rubber had gone to the West Indians with a convincing 3-0 result. The humiliation in the one-day series was total, as team India, the world champions, was handed out a 5-0 drubbing.

  • “In the Thums-Up inter-cricket tournament, we would be provided with a bottle of Thums-Up either during the break or at the end of the innings, which was a welcome change. In other school-cricket tournaments, it would be just water. We would be either bringing the water in a water bottle. Earlier, water would be made available in one place, and we would drink it with a steel or plastic tumbler. Having a cool drink during the break did wonders for our self-image: Suddenly, we felt like Test players.”

Though Kapil’s address to the group of budding cricketers from Santhome and St. Bede’s on December 30, 1983 was marked by a sobering sense of defeat, the golden year of Indian cricket, just two flickers away from passing into history, had clearly changed the tide for India. Though disappointments would keep popping up along the way, the 1983 victory at Lord’s had forever changed the narrative for Indian cricket. It had put a spring in the successive players’ steps, instilling mammoth self-assurance in them.

There are parallels to be drawn here, between the international and the hyperlocal. Year 1983 was also the golden year for Santhome cricket. As the captain of the Thums Up trophy-winning team of 1983 C.T. Natesan points out, that year Santhome hit a purple patch, winning seven titles.

The culture of winning had set in, for Santhome.

To illustrate, B. Srinivasa Rao, who would coach the school team between 1985 and 2012, with a couple of breaks in-between, underlines how Santhome would dominate the Thums Up inter-school tournament, managing a mind-boggling 90 percent success rate in winning titles.

There is a general belief that in the early 1980s, Santhome announced its arrival as a superpower in school cricket. Cricket-playing alumni of the school may however slightly differ on when its star was on a noticeable ascendancy.

  • “At the 1983 Thums-Up awards function, I had the privilege of shaking hands with Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards. The power behind their cricket strokes was evident in their handclasp. When Lloyd shook hands with me, my forearm seemed to be in his palm. As the captain of the winning Santhome team, I received the trophy from Lloyd. The trophy was shaped like the ‘thumbs-up’ sign. If I rememer right, flash photography was not allowed, and this was the only photograph for which the use of flash was permitted.”

“In 1979 and 1980, the first glimmer of greatness was evident. That is when B. Arun, who earned the India cap, was playing for Santhome,” says Natesan. “Though there was potential, it was yet to translate into results. The tide clearly turned in 1983.”

V. Thulasidharan, who would captain the school team in 1984, believes it began around 1982.

Unnikrishnan agrees with this timeline: “When I joined Santhome for Class XI, S. Ramakrishnan was the captain. Popularly known as Ramki, he is the man behind SportsMechanics, which pioneered by introducing sports analytics in cricket. He was with the Indian team for many years. After Ramki left, Natesan became the captain.”

What Unnikrishnan is driving at is that from the players to the school administration, there was a impressive leadership. This factor was pivotal to how Santhome managed to create an atmosphere that youngsters pursuing cricket as a competitive sport found inspiring.

So, there was the trend of students seeking admission in Santhome, because they were good at cricket, and wanted to get better at it. Unnikrishnan discloses that his move from Asan Memorial to Santhome for his higher secondary eduction was driven by the same expectation.

The school management would always manage to create a space for a student who had proven cricketing skills.

“Well, that is how I got admission. When I went for the interview, the principal, Bro. Camillus just asked me, “Do you play cricket?” and he did not look at my marks," laughs Unnikrishnan.

Unnikrishnan points out that Bro. Camillus had learnt from S. Md. Hussain, who served as manager of the Santhome cricket team, about my exposure to competitive cricket. The singer further explains that Hussain would have seen him at the TNCA nets, and was aware that he had been part of the state Under-15 and Under-19 camps. “Hussain would have already told Bro. Camillus about this, and so, they would have already made up their mind to give me admission,” says Unnikrishnan.

Thulasidharan says that from the 1980s to the mid-1990s, there was a succession of principals who would go to great lengths to promote cricket. “It began with Bro. Camillus. During his five-year stint as principal, Santhome was continually in the news for its cricketing exploits. He was succeeded by Bro. Selvanathan who also displayed a similar commitment to keeping Santhome at the summit of school cricket. Then, there was Bro. George. Successive principals wanted to carry on the legacy and that made all the difference,” elaborates Thulasidharan. The cricket-friendly culture that Santhome fostered showed up in tangible ways.

“Those who were in the School cricket team need not attend the last period. The talent pool was quite wide that the school had ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams, which would play against each other, at St. Bede’s grounds. How many matches we have played at the St. Bede’s grounds. The principal was extremely encouraging towards cricketers,” says Unnikrishnan. At Santhome, cricket did not end at close of stumps on the cricket field, but branched into routes that enriched the youngsters’ lives well beyond the sports.

“Because of the great showing in 1983, doors opened for many of us. Five of us were asked to join Vivekananda directly,” says Natesan, who found employment at Indian Bank on sports quota. “Out of this 1983 team, four joined Indian Bank. At present, three of them are still working for the bank, with the other one quitting the job to start his own business. Besides the four, two others work for State Bank of India.”

Source: Read Full Article