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Vol. XXIX No. 17, December 16-31, 2019
The 2019-20 season of Ranji Trophy, the premier domestic first-class cricket tournament, is underway at the time of publication of this issue. With Tamil Nadu entering the tournament on the back of a strong showing in the limited overs leg of the cricket season, it is an appropriate time to profile one of the oldest surviving Ranji cricketers, Group Captain S. Ganesan, who had the distinction of representing two domestic teams, Madras and the Services.
Born in Mettur on August 15, 1929, Ganesan had his early education in Vellore, where he studied at the Voorhees High School. His cricketing career took roots here, before blossoming at Madras where he moved to for higher education. He completed his Intermediate course at the Loyola College, before going on to graduate from the Presidency College with a BA Honours Degree in Economics and Political Science.
Ganesan established a reputation for being a crafty off-spinner and a handy batsman who would later go on to open the batting for the Services side. His exploits at the college level won him a place in the Madras University side, where he served as its Vice-Captain. In a brief profile in 1948, The Hindu wrote about him as a player whose ‘class is discernible to those who have an eye for cricket’ and described his bowling as one whose ‘length can restrict even the hardest hitter in Madras’. Ganesan also represented the Egmore Recreation Club. With continued success at the University and league cricket levels, he caught the eye of G. Parthasarathy, the diplomat and cricket administrator and soon, a Ranji trophy call came. This meant that Ganesan got to hone his skills under the tutelage of several seniors such as A.G. Ram Singh and M.J. Gopalan, not to mention A.F. Wensley, the Sussex all-rounder who made several visits to Madras in the 1950s to coach upcoming cricketers.
Ganesan made his debut against Mysore in the 1949-50 season at Chepauk, a game which also saw the debut of C.D. Gopinath. While Gopinath’s debut was marked by a pair, Ganesan recorded a five-wicket haul in the second innings of the game, which Madras won by 3 wickets. Though Madras stumbled in the semi-finals that season, Ganesan recollects a personal special moment, that of dismissing future India captain D.K. Gaekwad for a duck. Ganesan’s stint with Madras was however a short-lived one, for he joined the Air Force in 1951 on his graduation from the Presidency College and moved to Delhi. This shift would bring him the best years of his cricketing career.
Early on in his tenure, he represented the Air Force in the All-India Services tour to Sri Lanka in 1952-53. Ganesan remembers the tour vividly for reasons not wholly pleasant, for though he starred at the top of the batting and bowling averages, it was also the scene of a major injury. ‘I was batting on 47 with tea time approaching in the fourth or fifth game, when Nathaniel, a left arm, quick bowled a bouncer. I missed the hook and collapsed from the impact of the ball, which hit me near the eye. The injury required multiple stiches. When news reached my mother, she prayed to Shirdi with an assurance to send me there once I recovered, which I later fulfilled’, recalls Ganesan.
Ganesan’s stint with the Services cricket team between 1952 and 1963 coincided with its strongest phase as a top Ranji side, when it regularly made the knockout stages. Ganesan featured in four semi-finals and two finals and credits its skipper Lt. Col. Hemu Adhikari for its creditable showing during this period. ‘He was a shrewd and astute captain who could quickly grasp the ground conditions and change his tactics accordingly’, says Ganesan. The title however proved to be elusive. Ganesan’s exploits were also instrumental in the Air Force winning the Inter-Services tournament for the first time, a feat repeated for several consecutive years thereafter.
Ganesan’s cricketing career came to a halt under rather unfortunate circumstances. His elder brother, Major S. Rajan of the Sikh Light Infantry was killed in action during the Indo China war, leaving behind a young widow to be cared for. The mantle of shouldering the family, which included their aged mother, fell on Ganesan, who signed off from cricketing assignments. His association with the game continued though, for he served on the selection committee of the Services and Air Force cricket teams for some time.
Ganesan had a distinguished career on the official front too, with several commendations from the likes of Air Vice Marshal Victor Srihari and Air Marshal R.K. Nehra. Attached to the Logistics Branch (LGS), his work included coordination with the technical personnel and aircrew to ensure that all spares, assemblies and special equipment required for aircraft was kept in operation readiness. He was appointed Wing Commander in 1975, before being made the Acting Group Captain in 1980 and Group Captain the following year.
Ganesan retired from active service in 1984. He follows the sport closely on television even today, wistfully reminiscing about the time when it was truly a gentleman’s game.