Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXIX No. 13, October 16-31, 2019
As a teenage cricket fan growing up in Madras in the sixties, I followed the game closely either through the running commentary on the radio or by reading books by famous authors. Besides following the careers of cricketers of my time, I also read about the cricketing greats of yesteryear. Books by Neville Cardus, John Arlott, AA Thomson, Jim Swanton, Ray Robinson, Jack Fingleton and Berry Sarbhadhikari became part of my growing cricket library at home. Soon, like an amateur historian, I became more familiar with cricketers of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. One of the cricketing careers that fascinated me was that of Sir Len Hutton. Both as batsman and captain he was one of the most significant cricketers of his time and I had two of his autobiographies in my collection – Cricket is My Life and Just Another Story.
Besides cricket, I followed other sports too, like tennis, football and hockey. It was my childhood dream to have a job associated in some way with sports when I grew up. As luck would have it, I joined the Indian Express in Madras as a sports reporter in June 1968 and thoroughly enjoyed my work.
In February 1970, the public relations officer with the newspaper came to the sports desk and casually mentioned that Len Hutton was coming to Madras on a private business trip. I jumped at the opportunity to meet and interview the great man and pleaded with my senior that I be handed the assignment. A handful of journalists turned up at the airport to meet him and we were told he would have an informal get-together with the press a little later at the hotel in Egmore where he was staying. When we all assembled at the hotel, Hutton was already in the lobby and without even waiting for questions, starting making comments about the Indian cricketers he had played with. “There is no better bowler in the world today than Amar Singh” he said heaping praise on the tireless Indian opening bowler of the thirties who formed a great pairing with Mohammed Nissar.
On and on Hutton went, regaling us with stories and anecdotes even as he readily answered our questions. The typical English humour came through as well as the Yorkshire accent. Asked about the six greatest all-rounders he had seen, he reeled off five and then after a few moments added the name of Wilfred Rhodes. “You must always have a Yorkshireman,” he said amidst laughter.
Hutton was asked which he considered to be his better innings – the famous world record score of 364 at the Oval in 1938 or his dazzling 37 at Sydney in 1946. The latter was such a brilliant knock that it was said even the Aussies were sorry to see him get out so it was not an unacceptable query. Hutton thought for a moment and then in his famous Yorkshire drawl said “Well, 364 is a lot of runs isn’t it?”
Inspired by meeting one of my boyhood heroes, I wrote a report that was well featured in the newspaper and appreciated by my journalist colleagues but the happiest moment was yet to come. The following day was my weekly off and while at home, my senior called me and said that they had another meeting with Hutton at the Madras Cricket Club where he was an honoured guest. My senior told me that Hutton was full of praise for my report and wanted to meet me. Unfortunately I was not at the MCC at the time and he left Madras the same night, so I never got the opportunity to meet him again. Even though it is almost half a century since that day, I carry vivid memories of listening to Hutton and interacting with him. The praise was the icing on the cake.